Vestina Kalisa defines her trade behind the camera as “capturing people’s memories through the lens.”
She joined the male-dominated field in 2012, and has never looked back nor regretted her decision.
Aside from earning a living through photography, Kalisa says camerawork has always been her passion.
“Joining this field was more of a long-held dream for me, I always wanted to help people keep their memories alive,” she says.
A shareholder with Navity In Black (NIB), a Kigali-based photo studio, Kalisa covers wedding ceremonies mostly and says her journey in this career has taught her a lot.
She has been to glamorous events in the capital Kigali and beyond, trading her skills.
“I don’t think people understand this field that much, hence you have to deal with people who don’t value what you do. Others fail to comprehend how a young woman like me chose photography over other careers,” she says.
To overcome such challenges, one has to warm up to the comfort that comes with doing what they love.
“What is important is that I appreciate my job in every single way. I love what I do and it pays me well.”
Kalisa believes societal scorn is one of the factors that could be prohibiting more women from joining the field. Also, women tend to prefer the white collar kind of professions and most end up choosing office jobs over such careers.
She, however, says that as long as one loves their profession and sees a future in it, they should go for it and do what it takes to make it.
To be successful in this field, Kalisa says, it takes skill and patience with people.
“You need to be creative because if you keep taking pictures of similar things people will get bored. You have to use your brain and come up with what other people haven’t,” Kalisa says.
23-year-old Dua Mugisha who is a videographer at Flash TV, also does photography.
She admits that it was tough at the beginning and that people who kept on judging her didn’t make it any easier for her.
“At first, I was even shy to go to the field because people would stare at me and it made me uncomfortable. But I got used to it and I think that when you love what you do, it gets easier,” she says.
At times working late in the night and carrying around heavy equipment can be rough, but Mugisha says these are details she was willing to accept since they come with the territory.
“The Government believes in us, we need to believe in ourselves as well. Let us explore our potential as women. When we work hard, society will accept that we are able and can thrive in those areas that were previously known to be for men.”
Mugisha plans on expanding her expertise to see that she gets to the next level.
“I want to continue improving my skills, photography requires originality and creativity and this means learning every day,” she says.
Why are there few women in photography?
Jacques Nkinzingabo, the founder of Kigali Centre for Photography, says that professional photography is a new trade, a new platform that women haven’t fully embraced.
He, however, notes that it’s not only in photography, but the creative industry as a whole, that women are still few.
“Some are afraid of venturing into something new; others don’t see photography as a profession they can rely on in terms of finance. They think photography is just about taking photos. But it goes beyond this,” he says.
Nkinzingabo is quick to add that even though women are still few, the ones in the field are doing so well.
“What matters is knowing what to do in order to do this exceptionally. The big brothers and sisters in the field have to inspire them, so there is need to work hard to inspire the next generation to understand the value of photography as a business and its value in art as well,” he says.
Claire Mbabazi, a programmes manager at Flash TV and former photographer, says it’s all in the way women limit themselves when it comes to certain professions.
“The change in perspective for certain careers, in this case photography, can help women overcome these barriers,” she says.
“Women still have limiting beliefs in them, some still bear the mentality that a certain field is meant for men, but this should not be the case. I once was a photographer and I know what it takes, it’s all about loving what you do, otherwise there is nothing hard. We should embrace diversity,” Mbabazi says.
How can we change this?
Christopher Marler, the director of Africa Digital Multimedia Academy (ADMA), says timing in rooting the proper mindset is the best way to instil abilities for women who want to embrace this field.
He says there is need to teach young women and girls right from primary school that this is something they can do.
“We have a class for such courses and we hope that when they are done they will go out there and inspire others. This is something you can do and make money from,” Marler says.
Nkinzingabo agrees with Marler, saying that education is key to addressing this issue.
“There is need to have institutions around to train people in this because education is the key to everything we do. Photography is a skill that can be a good source of income and one can depend on it entirely. I do this and it’s my source of income,” Nkinzingabo says.
Barbara Burabyo, a multimedia student, suggests that more training facilities are needed, but women should also look out for opportunities that come to them.
“I wouldn’t be in ADMA if I had not applied. Society should know that photography is a passion, not a hobby. People think it’s something you do to pass time. If you are serious about it, you can make good money from it,” she says.
How can women be encouraged to join the art industry?
Additional training diverted towards women can help more join this industry. Also sensitising the community about professional photography can make a big difference.
Alexander Tushabe , Photographer and co-founder - Navity in Black
I think women are rare because some people have the perception that it is a ‘cheap’ profession, some are too shy to stand in front of people to take photos. What can be done is to help society become aware of what really lies under this profession; it will help them be more receptive.
Samie Asimwe, Photographer
Women who dream of taking on photography should be encouraged by those who are already in the industry. We need more training, workshops and conferences. Also, women should stop thinking that these are jobs for men, because as a woman in photography, there were many advantages of being a female photographer. I think women have more empathy and are perfectionists.
Assumpta Mukeshimana, TV 1 Sports Presenter
I understand it’s really hard for women to embrace such a field but we are now encouraged to be go-getters. For one to be successful they have to get out of their comfort zone. I think working on women’s confidence is the most important thing, but this should be done earlier in their lives.
Penina Umutesi, Administrator