This week we will be interviewing John Wambugu, a photographer and philanthropist living in Nairobi, Kenya. John is the winner of #afrikangallerymyhope and the first of our photographers to be selected for interview by our community!
AG: What drew you to photography? How did you start taking photographs?
John: My deep passion to tell stories started when I was around ten years old. My uncle Alfred – would bring me children’s storybooks filled with beautiful and colourful drawings. I was riveted. He would let me operate his beautiful old camera during family gatherings to take pictures of my laughing relatives. Years later as I was finishing my actuarial science degree I knew I wanted to be a story teller – I wanted my images and work to paint a riveting story of people, cultures and social issues just like the books from my childhood. I applied for and was humbled to be awarded the prestigious Film and Television production scholarship by Reuters through the Mohamed Amin Foundation which I pursued for two years. It was not easy but my family was very supportive in this career shift. Photography always awed me of its ability to bring together experiences, emotions, sights, and sounds in one image, one story. It is a convergence of art. Hence even in my filmmaking work I have learnt to view each setup like a photograph. On a bigger outlook I believe Media is a key ingredient to development and to better understand this I am pursuing a Masters of arts in Communication for Development at the United States InternationalUniversity (USIU) in Nairobi.
AG: How would you describe your photographical practice?
John: In any career there comes a time when you really know what kind of work or passion you should be pursuing, but one has to brave enough to make this shift. Documentary photography came naturally to me since it filled a passion that I wanted to pursue. In my work I seek to inspire, give hope, educate and dignify all subjects in my stories. I believe there are always two sides to a story and the side you choose defines your work since it is how you chose to see it. I treat every subject as the most important since each one of us deserves to be valued. I invoke my personality in my work. For example I love portraying vibrance and colour in my photography. On a lighter side, my birthday falls on August the 19th which is normally World photography and humanitarian day. These happen are my two passions.
AG: How do you think the medium of photography can be used to advocate for social change?
John: Every career we choose to pursue can be used to advocate for social impact. Change in society has to inspired and takes time and patience. Hence photography as one of the most powerful inspirational tool can be used to challenge existing notions and stereotypes that affect positive social changes. It gives a voice to the voiceless. More than ever photographers are like guardians in our society. When I get a chance to be invited for talks and through my work as a Canon Certified trainer for the African region the one message I try imprint on aspiring story tellers is that, it is much more that just being a “cool” photographer. It is a responsibility, it is work and very important work that has it’s rightful place in society. They should be proud of it.
AG: Your work focuses on African agriculture, and you describe yourself as a UN Global Goals Advocate. What would you like to share with our audience about agriculture and the changes you believe are necessary for a prosperous Africa?
John: My work focuses not only on agriculture but on many solutions that aim to eradicate poverty, agriculture is one solution to this. Since it effects food security. Indigenous crops that can survive the African topography need to be encouraged and invested on, I am working with like minded organisations to encourage this and for the farmers to understand it. Agriculture can not work alone but other issues have to be sorted out too, climate change for example has affected agriculture by shifting climatic patterns affecting crop produce. Poor environmental conservation is also affecting the weather as we cut down more trees and destroy water towers. We also have to embrace technological solutions and innovations that can aid in this. The UN global goals aimed to eradicate poverty are amazing since they are meant to be a coming together of 17 goals for no one goal can wholly stand on its own. As a UN global goals advocate, I am speaking about these issues from the bottom up and how they are all intertwined. Our people in villages, schools and small towns have to be educated on the the importance of these goals and their effects. For everyone is needed to realise the eradication of World poverty by 2030. Hence through MindMe international an NGO that I founded that supports and raises funds for community projects that have a sustainable solution and goal; based on the level of need, we are doing our part as we seek more partnerships with governments and organisations in this journey to eradicate poverty. In my photography work across Africa, I have seen both sides of a continent that I truly love, my take for a prosperous Africa and the World at large is that our sustainable solutions have to be a balance of social and economic progress.
AG: What advice would you give to young photographers trying to make it professionally?
John: Learn more and always consider yourself as a work in progress; Always remember that you are only as good as your last job; Treat every subject with dignity and as the most important that you will ever have; Try out different genres as you find yourself. Listen to your heart and find your niche; Learn to balance your passion and the business side of photography otherwise people will take advantage of you; Like any career it is not easy but hang it there, don’t give up. Stay humble. Look out for inspiration Share your work.
A big thank you to John Wambugu for his incredible work!