Seeking that Coveted Photography Award
by Miriam Namutebi
I am a photographer. I love what I do. My journey in photography started when I excelled in my senior six examinations at the age of 18. My Dad rewarded me with a Fuji Film S200EXR camera. Up to today, I don’t know what led him to that choice for a gift. I immediately started using my camera and every photograph I took introduced me to a new world. I loved that.
Today, photography is my profession and passion. As a photojournalist with the New Vision daily newspaper, I get pretty excited when I have a new assignment. I imagine how the day will go, what kind of photos I will take, and the people I will meet. It is exhilarating to be in a world full of political scandals, glamour, and cultural norms, sometimes in the same frame. I am sometimes frightened and nervous to go to some places full of commotion, but have learnt to go through that. I usually go half an hour before my assignment, just to make friends around, and assess the situation; you never know, the same people could save you if things turn sour. This way I have been able to escape rowdy crowds and come out with visually appealing photographs.
Trying for the Coveted UPPA Awards
In 2014 at the age of 21, I was a young photography student at Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts, Makerere University. I saw an announcement on my lecture room door calling for submissions to the Uganda Press Photo Awards (UPPA). Excitedly, I submitted my entry photos because everyone in class was doing so. I wanted to win. I did not win. I got frustrated. I doubted myself. The thought of being an amateur irritated me. I realized that the UPPA competition was a platform I could climb if I worked harder.
I completed my degree the following year and in September 2015 the eagerly awaited for awards came round again. I submitted in three categories. I really wanted to win, not only for myself, but also for my new friends who are now like sisters because of our shared life experiences with a skin disorder, vitiligo. I collaborated with Daphine Walusa, my strong, beautiful, confident sister. My photographs of her were outstanding and won second place in the Creative category.
Who would ever get out there to celebrate a skin disorder that made you an outcast? The UPPA awards helped me share my experience that would otherwise remain silenced in my society. From that day on I wake up, carry my camera, and trek the streets of Kampala, forming photographs in my head till I get a chance to give them life. My confidence makes me believe in myself, my work, and gives me the will to help other photographers. In the beginning, I would get scared of facing people, scared of all the questions that would arise, for being a girl holding a camera, but now I don’t care, I get there, do my best, and pack up.
This year 2016, I won in two categories: Honorable Mention in the Daily Life category with The Prison Warden’s Dance and Second Prize in the Portrait category with Time Repairer. This makes me feel incredibly happy and more determined. I still have my eye on the top prize! Truthfully, I feel empowered because I am a woman in a male dominated profession. I hope to win in the World Press Photo awards, Magnum press awards, Sony world photography awards and if there was an award for coolest female photographer, I would love to get that too, to prove that in whatever you do, believe in yourself, your strength, have a little patience, pray, and it will work out at the end of the day.
I am still learning and getting more experience especially from my job as a photojournalist. The conferences, workshops, and talks I attend are great learning and sharing forums. The portfolio reviews, most of which I get through UPPA are invaluable for one-on-one feedback. People have believed in me. I don’t take this for granted. Mzee Benedicto Mukasa, the watch repairman in my photograph, is always happy to see me whenever I pass by his workplace. He asks jokingly as to when we are taking another photograph. He has told his neighbours about this girl with a camera and big eyes. He also asks himself everyday why I like taking photos but maybe he will never know.
I have learned never to pretend to know everything, to open my mind to new ideas and to read a lot. My daily motto is: I got this.
Miriam Namutebi is a photographer with the New Vision publications. Her participation in AtWork Kampala Chapter 03 in 2015 was pivotal in confirming her belief in her photography work.