The most appealing thing about teaching is that it makes me think about the basics of photography. About what I think is necessary to know and experience to understand what the medium is capable of. Without thinking about what to teach people who don’t know, it is easy to get lost in your own knowledge and take it for granted.
This year’s photography workshop, the second of its kind the participants were carefully selected. Considerations such as logistics and intention play a great part in running a successful workshop here in Kampala. So, the most important criteria over and above the applicants photographic skills, was their availability during the workshop period, August 8 – 19, 2011, and their commitment to the project and the people in Katanga whom they will be working together with. Previous experience showed me that most photography here is done using the camera in auto mode, where the photographer had no apparent knowledge of the basic principles of working with light. The start of the workshop therefore had three big components. Firstly, getting to know each other between our 10 participants and myself and working on having a good rapport. Secondly, it has been to have a good start with both the neighbourhood and inhabitants of Katanga which will be our home over the coming next two weeks and last but not least, to continually be thinking about the basics.
One of the first areas that we have been studying deals with understanding how to control the appearance of a photo, regardless of the device. So we have worked our way through the three key elements of shutter speed, aperture and light sensitivity of the plate that captures the image. We have tried to visualise this theory using the available cameras but the process of mastering these principles will take the whole workshop and beyond, but will hopefully lead to more control over the images made, or more understanding of why the images produced look the way they look. I’ll come back to this in later posts.
Now let me introduce the first contribution by one of the workshop participants, Rumanzi Canon. He is a student who is very keen to develop himself through any information that he can get his hands on, and also engage in debate with others. For the Bayimba photography workshop, he is working with Kassim, the LC1 Chairman. Kassim is a community leader, a local civil servant who should be able to offer a good overview of the neighbourhood, an ideal place to introduce us to Katanga. The second contribution will be from another participant Veron. Katanga will be seen through the story she tells about Sula, a resident who earns his living as a garbage collector.
BY ANDREA STULTIENS
Making A Living on The Chair
Text and images by Rumanzi Canon
The chairman, seated on a low bench, using his special leg as a table for writing up a civil confirmation letter for one of his residents needing to acquire a passport. A woman then shows up with information for another recommendation that the chairman ‘must’ endorse. Barely an hour later, a street car mechanic hand is running around with the chairman’s crutches vowing not to return ‘the legs’ unless a case is solved the way he wants it to be.
A group of men, blue-collar workers treat themselves to a relaxed game of Mweso, a local board game of Cushitic origin. There’s money at stake, friendly gambling (hakuna matata, the police know nothing of it!) in progress on the chairman’s verandah. Next the chairman is frenetically searching for a 1980’s car model spare part, I gather a Toyota stout. A grumble is ‘inaudibly’ mouthed about ‘the cameras’ and ‘white-people stuff’ going on and on around. “Are you gonna sell our chairman to Bazungu?” Swahili slang for anyone Caucasian and not Asian. More documents come in and go, more kidnappings of legs, a couple of pleasantries exchange by hand. All the while signs of self-imposed hunger linger in everybody’s demeanor – It’s Ramadan.
The more ‘shady’ guys throw dice in more obscure places, sound from a video hall on the opposite hill somehow dominates the noise, a couple of kids play football somewhere in a valley on a grassless pitch, a garbage truck here and there, the busier people work like they have to.
A typical few hours for Yawe Musoke Kassim Ssentamu, Local Council One Chairman in Uganda. The LC1 chairman is the lowest man on the political food chain. He volunteers his time for civil service to the government , with no record of other means to earn a living surrounding him. You get to thinking, this guy barely has real human legs, supports a family of 10, has 4 kids in secondary school, how the hell does he pull it off, with a ‘non-paid’ job? Remember the pleasantries that must usually change hands for pens to sign documents to get proper ‘lubrication’? In a corrupt society, the crumbs from the upper LC posts; 5 at regional level, 4 in Parliament (Congressman equivalent), 3 at the sub-county level, 2 at the Parish, and 1 at the village/cell, get the highest empirical workload. Yet Kassim is volunteering and must be elected to ‘office’ every five years just like the president and his ministers. Yawe Kassim has been the village leader for over 25 years.
The LC1 is invaluable whereas his influence on the ‘big’ issues, like land policies is as good as a fly colliding head-on with a humvee. So when the arm of construction and development creeps along groping for more ground, more student hostels for the prestigious Makerere University must be built on the ‘vacant’ land. The chairman must thus sign away the place he’s called home for over 3 decades.
He peacefully evicts himself, leaving a huge load of documents and ‘discarded’ belongings behind, fitting himself into a smaller space, and has to ‘rehearse’ coming to terms with watching the big machines move the earth under what was home from a helpless lower ground vantage point.
But this chairman hasn’t missed out on his 15 minutes of fame. January 2006, with a team of researchers from Makerere University, he was part of a month long AIDS research conference with John Hopkins University in the USA, an event he quickly wants to inform me of! He represents the interests of the disabled folks on the parliament of the Buganda Kingdom. He is a founding member of NUDIPU, an organization that caters for the disabled in Uganda.
A look into his family life shows a night-time father, leaving home early coming back long after dark. His effort to encourage physical activity among the children is very salient, perhaps to compensate for his life long polio-induced inability. Woah! Polio still exists? Hell yeah! He is 57, this disease is still very much a part of the African reality! His family houses two serious football players (a girl and a boy) and an acrobat (a much younger boy). His wife (hidden behind a burka, uncomfortable with photos) runs a small business in the neighborhood.
Leading a neighbourhood comprised of a largely semi-literate working class (a string of garages, welding yards, brick-making plants etc…), a rather ephemeral university student population in the hostels that are sending every lower man to ‘sleep in trees’, a good number of retail shop attendants, residents who live here but do ‘better things’ in towns during the day, a large population of children, a Salvation Army causalities of war sanctuary Katanga, a slum in Kampala – Uganda has a life you must see to get the buoyancy of!
As a student photographer, I expected to find a man with one unique and specific story that he would want to share. That story doesn’t seem to be there. There is a man with expectations towards the workshop I am a part of. A workshop somehow connected to white people and therefore to prestige and money. Connected to the survival of a chairman. We play cat and mouse, I take photos. I wait for the right time to clear up the cloud.
Andrea Stultiens does things with photographs. She makes them, collects them, looks at them, thinks and writes about them, and sometimes she makes the results of this visible to the rest of the world. She is amazed by how we are influenced by our environment. By how we take control of that environment, how we mould a fictional variant of ‘real life’ and remember it with the help of photography.
Rumanzi Canon (b. 1991) is trained in visual communication and multimedia and wants to engage in a wide range of challenging visual communication projects to enhance and use his know how. Rumanzi is currently working as a freelance graphic designer.
All images courtesy of the respective artists. All rights reserved.
Where is Kampala, Uganda?