“The Journey” is the exhibition’s title and the aim is simple: In a world where virtually everybody has access to a camera and everybody can take pictures, how does a professional photographer stay relevant?
And The Journey is a little different from the countless other exhibitions that usually take place at The Goethe Institute’s Kiyovu base.
It opened on Wednesday April 21, and will run until April 28.
It is a group exhibition that brought together seven young Rwandan photographers who want to curve out a vocation behind the lenses.
The eighth, Kiki did not attend because she did not complete her project in time.
The exhibition comes as the next logical step after a photography workshop in February that was held at the same venue.
Jean-Luc Dushime, a Rwandan photographer who grew up and currently lives in the US, and Jacques Nkinzingabo, a Kigali-based freelance documentary photographer facilitated the workshop.
The training program was an opportunity for young Rwandan photographers to work toward the creation of a photo series.
On display are a wide array of pictures depicting various subthemes: The immense infrastructural and economic transformation of Kigali, the country’s rich cultural heritage captured in regalia, everyday life situations, unadulterated country life, to nightlife, studio portraiture, and celebrations.
Both the preceding workshop and the exhibition came in handy for budding freelance photographers like Jennifer Mudahogora, a fresh university graduate :
“I graduated last year from KIST where I did Graphics Design. In Graphics and Communications design we also had a course of photography and that’s how I got interested in photography. When I finished my studies I just decided to become a freelance photographer,” she reveals before quickly adding:
“But currently I’m looking for a job as a photographer.”
Mudahogora exhibited under the theme of Time and Space.
“The kind of pictures I take are normally abstract which means that most of the time I have my own interpretation and I like it when the audience has their own interpretation so that they can then discuss about the photographs,” she explained, adding:
“It was a very nice platform for me to showcase my work since it was my first exhibition. I got a lot of critique from the people who have attended so far. Most of them liked what I do and that was encouraging. At the same time I was meeting with other photographers and sharing our different journeys in photography.”
“As a curator the reason I chose The Journey as the title for the exhibition is because all of these people are exhibiting for the first time,” revealed Nkinzingabo.
Although not new to photo exhibitions himself, the logistics of getting together seven budding photographers took a toll on him.
He spent the better part of the day running in and out of the institute just to get things ready, down to hanging the portraits up.
The exhibition literally took up every nook and cranny of the institute’s public arena, spilling out of the medium sized conference room into the corridors and the outer quadrangle.
I asked Nkinzingabo what he sought to achieve from the event:
“Today when you talk about photography people think about people who take pictures in the hood and get Rwf 300 for it or those who take passport photos in the studio or those who take pictures for the media,” he rants.
“Photography is not only about that. I believe photography is a language and something we can use to tell stories. That’s why the theme of the workshop was visual story teller.”
For this reason there are no portraits on sale at the exhibition.
“Our purpose is not to make money. It’s to tell stories. During the workshop everyone created a theme for their own project because before the workshop they used to just take pictures. Our purpose was how can you create a body of work or a project as a photographer? How can you tell stories through images? Our target was not to sell pictures but just to show people that we can use photography to tell stories.”
The state of photography:
On opening day (April 21), Nkinzingabo and his colleagues worked hard to convince the crowd that indeed passion ranks over love for quick financial reward in their choice of career.
Statements like “I make money to take pictures. I don’t take pictures to make money,” or “I don’t take pictures. I create images and I capture the moment,” were common.
They also took turns to vent out their frustration at some trends in the local industry at the moment.
“There are more whites than Africans at the exhibition and for me that is a challenge,” complained George Baryamwisaki, who was one of the exhibitors.
He wants to see more Rwandans and by extension more Africans pick interest in the art form.
“The idea was good. I think that all Rwandan photographers should come together in an association to carry this thing forward. We still have a long way to go if we are not united as photographers. There is need for more equipment and expertise and we need to involve more stakeholders that are interested in promoting the culture and image of the country,” he advised.
“The problem we have now in Rwanda is a lack of education in photography. You get a camera and what comes to your mind first is money without any skills,” remarked Jennifer Mudahogora, another of the exhibitors.
Being all freelance photographers trying to find their feet in the industry, they shared another common problem. They were of the view that the people who take photos for large media outlets hoard all the credit because they are perceived to be better than the ones without formal addresses.
When all was said and done, it all boiled down to one thing for them; the fact that “everybody has a camera these days”.
“You may be a photographer but are you an artist?” Nkinzingabo asks rhetorically, before concluding that it is the artist that makes the photographer.