“I owe it to my country to showcase it in the best way possible. Luckily Tanzania is gradually being shown in a more positive way to the outside world, because we suffered years of misrepresentation.” Meet Abeid Kumkichwa, photographer, graphic designer and co-founder (together with Abdulrahman Abdulrasool) of Kumkichwa Art Gallery in Dar es Salaam.
You’d expect a photographer like Abeid to shy away from nature photography. After all, the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of shots of trees, forests, animals, wide open plains, mountain regions, waterfalls, etc. we’re all so familiar with are, in a way, a part of that ‘misrepresentation’: ask a European or American who’s never been anywhere in Africa to picture the continent. If they know enough not to imagine images of conflict, there’s a good chance they’ll take their cue from all the photographs they’ve seen of safaris. But then you see how he shoots nature; nothing like the nature photography we’re often shown of Africa. “I have an eye for beauty in its most natural form, which helps me to capture this on camera and share with the world,” says Abeid. “When doing so I have a sense that I owe the world something; a feeling I can only fulfil with photography.”
Besides engaging with nature, Abeid is also keen to capture everyday Tanzania, trying to figure out which image best tells a particular story of his country, be that politically, socially or economically. “I started doing this with black and white projects back in 2010,” says Abeid. “I’ve had a passion for photography ever since I was a child. But working as a photographer was very challenging for me in the beginning because I didn’t know how to approach people or what to focus on. But I’ve learned.”
Abeid splits his time between personal projects and commercial assignments. It’s what a lot of photographers do, but Abeid finds it hard to understand those who stick solely to the commercial side. “I think there’s a big difference between those who work solely in commercial photography and those who work personally. You have photographers who cannot do anything else but satisfy their client, and on the other hand you have street photographers, for example, aiming to expose themselves with their own projects. For me, one feeds the other, and, of course, one provides the funds so I can do the other.”
The growth of Tanzania’s economy (it’s been growing at a rate of 6 – 7% for the past decade) has been mirrored by the growth of the photography industry in Dar es Salaam, and it has gradually become a respectable profession, one you can actually earn a living from. “I think photography is only going to grow bigger and bigger here in Tanzania because of the rising professionalism and the availability of resources,” says Abeid. “We’ve got to keep an eye out for real talent though, because having a lot of photographers doesn’t mean they’re all competent or passionate about what they do.” The rise in the number of photographers has been especially noticeable since 2009, and it was as a result of this growth, and what all these photographers were producing, that the Tanzania Photography Exhibition was staged last year at the National Museum of Dar Es Salaam. “The organiser’s aim was to unite photographers from all over the country and I think they succeeded. Before this event I used to show my images online or privately, but here they were professionally curated, along with those of my colleagues.”
Besides improving and showing at home, Abeid wants what he and his colleagues are doing to be seen abroad, too, to counter all the images that have led some to believe, still, that Africans live primitive lives. “The only difference between us here and people outside the continent is time. We need to let people know what our society is really like, what’s really going on. Once you get people’s attention, you can start to tell a different story, show them a different view. I want to exhibit across the globe. Everything starts on a personal level, after that you go national and pave your way to the international market. That’s where I’m headed.”
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