Some photos grab attention. More than others. She looks at me with a sort of smile that isn’t a smile, as though the feat of reaching Margherita Peak is more important than the cold that should be going through her well covered body.
She sticks out. Her melanin blending with the grays of her clothes in the white background of the ice of Margherita Peak. What sticks out on her is the rabbit teeth and the pink framed ice goggles with a rainbow reflection. She rivets me in this spot before I look at the text aside this photo. “Timothy Latim – Summiting Margherita”.
This was the winning photo for the Uganda Press Photo Award 2017. The context to it is climate change, and the possibility that such scenes will be lost forever to the naked eye, kept in the memory of the lens. I could go on about why I love this photo. At the exhibition at The Square, you had to first go past the first set of photos to see it. The contrasts, the smudge of colour on the ice goggles, the whiteness of the background and the beauty of the black woman nestled in it – probably freezing but managing the most possible smile she could. It grabbed one’s attention.
The exhibition of the 2017 Uganda Press Photo Awards winning photos at The Square Place looked like a proper exhibition as compared to previous ones. More space. Better arrangement. I enjoyed taking time to walk into the corridors in between photos without bumping into other people. Last year at the Museum, the space was too narrow. Anna Kucma’s curation was impressive to say the least and the Canon prints delivered some good quality visual expression.
There were seven overall categories : Creative, Daily Life, Nature, News, Portrait, Sport and Story. Photos can be shocking, arresting, relaxing, comforting, educative or sometimes philosophical.
The shocking were in Esther Mbabazi’s “The Acquaintance”- which told the story of the relationship between traditional birth attendants and modern health operators. The images of blood running down women’s thighs, new babies being held after delivery, the lack of smiles of mothers’ faces showed a very serious side to delivery. Captured in Bududa, delivery is not the fairytale of ads that have babies, mother and father smiling.
Another of Timothy Latim’s photos featured in the winning photos – three people with their backs at us looking at a higher climb. However, there were no whites. No snow. There was a dash of orange light in the sky blending with the clouds, plus clouds floating at the level of these three strangers. You wonder whether they are taking the scene in, because yes they look relaxed but there is a higher point and perhaps they are also wary of the next part of the journey.
I like light, so I was drawn to Gilbert Yoti’s “Fire Rain”. It’s captioned “Friends Milton (7) and Sofia (6) shelter from a shower of sparks by hiding under a broken umbrella as they climb up a grassy slope. Being afraid, Sofia holds onto Milton’s shoulders from the back and lets him to lead the way up.”
The naming of the photo, the glow of the sparks, the use of an umbrella, the green in the foreground all come together and make what was first place in the creative category. I am still trying to figure out where these sparks were coming from, where these two friends were going, where this place is exactly. Besides that, a beautiful photo.
Zahara Abdul won in the category of Daily Life. I could tell you why in my opinion it was a worthy win. An askari sitting on a night street surfing his phone. “Night Shift”. The beauty of it is the well silhouetted askari. No one will ever know who he is. He is on his phone while on the job. Would his employer let this work ethic pass? Yet this is indeed daily life. We all know the hustle that askaris face.
Having to be up while everyone else goes to sleep. Having to stay awake while everyone covers themselves. In “Night Shift”, welcome to the world of the askari in one well timed frame.
Badru Katumba won in the Sports Category “Reign of Giants” profiling female kickboxer Patricia Apolot and the defence of her intercontinental title. She was hitherto unknown to me but reading that broke the ignorance that kickboxing is only about the likes of Moses Golola. Funny thing, Google “Kickboxer Uganda”, see who comes on top.
That said, the photo of Mbaleka Jonas of two young boys in the boxing ring taking shots at each other was arresting. Boxing is a violent sport but it is nonetheless a sport and the passion in these two boys makes one wonder whether these two will be the next John Mugabi and Justin Jjuuko.
However, one photo seemed not only to win an award but follow in popularity online. Badru Katumba’s “From Ghetto to Parliament” a photo of Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi also known as Bobi Wine, standing on a boda-boda, legs padded in between rider and another man probably making sure he doesn’t fall. This photo won in the News Category, and the news reflect the mind of the people. You can see the resilience in the subject, the determination but as well as the context – the boda boda. This photo of Bobi Wine is one that shows he is a man of the people yet he makes changes to himself to bring change to his people. Yes, I mean the suit. Dude looks prim and proper in that suit yet on a boda.
Nicholas Bamulanzeki’s “Crying Muslim” is the kind of shot that takes you deep into thought. Captioned “A young muslim is reduced to tears after the International Crimes Division judges of the High Court in Kampala sentenced Sheikh Yunus Kamoga, the leader of the Muslim Tabliq sect in Uganda, and three others to life imprisonment after they were convicted of terrorism offences on August 22nd 2017,” you wonder about a few things. Why was the boy crying? Was it disappointment? Shock? Betrayal? Is he reconciling religion with reality? As a photo, there may not be much remarkable about it but the thoughts it brings.
I didn’t feel a lot for Musiime Muramura’s “Giraffe Translocation” which won in the Nature category. Yes, the photo tells a story. Four midgets in comparison to the Giraffe trying to keep it calm. However, in terms of how Ugandans relate with nature, a giraffe is so unremarkable. And given the level of domestic tourism, touring for wildlife is not as popular as touring for sightseeing. Maybe my reaction is a reflection of a wider view, the story of relocating these giraffes was reported in international media however, only the Ugandans in the sector might have known. David Gonahasa’s shot of a Buffalo herd in Kidepo looks like a painting, the colours are much so. It was calming. I was wondering why this category only had two submissions though.
Ugandans are telling stories. And the camera is coming more and more to the limelight as opposed to earlier years. Not that there have been no storytellers with the camera but exhibitions such as these bring them to the forefront and expose them to not just lovers of stories but fellow storytellers.
Every year brings different photos and a lot can be said about the difference in quality and context. However, I think this year’s was richer and raises the bar for next year’s.