In Early July, Kigali Centre for Photography in collaboration with King’s College London posted a call for application targeting Rwandan photographers who have been negatively affected by the current pandemic.
Each of the five successful photographers would receive a small grant amounting to Rwf280.000.
The grant was set aside to support projects creatively engaging with any aspect of Covid-19 and/or the effects of lockdown. The funding came from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the UK.
According to Jacques Nkinzingabo, the Founder and Director of the Kigali Centre of Photography, the applications were really exciting.
“Previously it was documentary NGO-style photography that was the dominant way of looking in Rwanda. However, in recent years we’ve seen increasingly conceptual work,”
Nkinzingabo at his Kacyiru-based photography centre.
“Many of the applications we received for this call engaged with issues like mental health, boredom, uncertainty, mess. These concepts require creative approaches to make them visible,” Nkinzingabo says.
He says they were energized by the range of projects proposed; from working with rural communities to those focusing on technology.
“It is clear that, the photography community in Rwanda has a great deal to say,” he adds.
Zoe Norridge, a Pro-Vice-Dean for Impact and Innovation (Arts & Humanities) at King’s College London has been working with the center for quite some time. She has been supporting the development of photograph.
The academic at King’s College London, who specialises in cultural responses to genocide and contemporary writing and photography in Rwanda, says Nkinzingabo has contributed greatly to the growth of photography in Rwanda.
“Jacques, as you know, has transformed the photography scene in Kigali through the creation of the Kigali Centre for Photography and his extraordinary work with a range of artists, from the established to those just starting out,”
“When Covid-19 hit it became clear that travel plans that were funded by my current grant were no longer possible. Jacques and I took the money and instead put it into these small grants call to support photographers who have been significantly financially affected by the global pandemic,” she adds.
Nkinzingabo acknowledges that, the fund is not enough but it made a difference, however small.
“We know these grants are only a drop in the ocean but we hope they will provide a little creative thinking space for a few photographers. We are interested in how artists respond to emergencies and our changing world,”
He says that as photographs, the have to look at how coronavirus has shaped new ways of looking at things, thinking and working and in doing so, ensure that Rwandan voices are heard internationally.
Nkinzingabo says this can be done by showcasing the extraordinary work the country has done to protect human health and also talking about the current financial, social and artistic challenges.
According to Nkinzingabo, they received more than 35 projects and it was very hard for them to select five projects only as almost all submissions were very strong.
Many applications came from photographers whose work they didn’t know. They therefore shortlisted on the basis of projects and then requested sample images and social media feeds.
They considered the strength of the project idea and photographic skills to arrive at the final list.
“We are making five awards but a few more projects on a wait list are seeking further funding. We’re really hopeful we’ll be able to support up to ten,”
“We’re also planning to bring mentors on board to work with the selected photographers,” he explains
The five successful five grantees will be contacted through their personal emails with their first meeting expected to take place later next week.
Just like in other fields in the creative industry, the issue of gender imbalance exists in photography too.
They only received two applications from female photographers and gave an award to one of them.
In order to address this gap, the center has actively sought out female photographers.
During Kigali Photo Fest last year for example, they hosted a special panel on women in photography with both Rwandan and international artists. The center has also been running a program to bring women into photography.
In order to abide by the government’s Covid-19 containment measures, the photographers’ activities are expected to comply with current safety guidelines and should not put themselves or anyone else at increased risk.
The selected photographers have less than two months to complete their projects.
We’re requesting images by mid-September. We’ll then work with our networks to share the work in Rwanda, the region and beyond,” Nkinzingabo explains.
The next photography project expected to take place later this year (safety permitting) is a participatory photography workshop exploring time and humanitarian crisis.
The centre is collaborating with AIMPO, a community centered organisation, to enable historically marginalised people in rural communities share their own stories about what is important for their lives; joy, football, intergenerational memory among others.
The Kacyiru-based photography centre seeks to explore and promote Rwandan photography, support emerging Rwandan visual artists and explore beyond the medium.
They conduct training workshops, exhibitions and hosts residencies to visiting international photographers and scholars.