© Joel Nsadha
Bwengye lives in a slum called Kamwokya in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. He cherishes his bicycle more than anything and brings it to this playground in the slum every evening, where he watches kids playing soccer. The image won first place in the people category of the 2015 National Geographic contest.
Joel Nsadha: His photography captures the death in each moment. From the innocence and simplicity of childhood in his home county, Uganda, to raw portraits that capture the sole of man. These moments are eternal to him as a photographer, and yet fleeting encounters with life. His work “challenges people’s ideas about that part of the world, and it is done with dignity.” -National Geographic Judge
Uganda Native Capturing
“The Soul Of Man”
With Chuck Haupt
Q: When did you first realize you had talent to be a photographer?
A: I first realized I had a special passion for photography around 2006 when I went to the Margaret Trowel art school at the Makerere University in Uganda. That opened me to whole new world of shooting with film cameras and developing the negatives myself. I did that for the entire three years I attended the school.
Q: Is there a image or a photographer that has had the most influence on your work?
A: My influences have kept changing for a while, but there are two that have never changed. Joe McNally who has done a lot of work for Time Magazine, National Geographic and most major publications. Joe has a way with light and capturing portraits. The second is a Turkish photographer called Mustafa Seven. Very few photographers capture people the way Mustafa does. He just knows the right moment.
Q: I see that many of your shots are portraits. How do you approach who to photograph, and then how do you interact with them?
A: I always approach differently depending on the situation. If it’s someone that is not on the move, say someone seated at her shop doing something, I will approach them to try and strike a conversation. I will introduce myself at some point and (explain) what I do, then ask if it would be alright to take a picture. If it is someone I think looks very artistic and would make a great color or b&w portrait, I will explain that I really like their colors of shirt or of hat and would love to take a picture.
If it is someone walking on the street and there isn’t much time to talk, I sometimes ask if they’ve got a second. If they stop then I quickly tell them what I’m doing (kind of project, if any) and ask if I can take a picture of them. Sometimes I just ask for the picture right away. All in all, for every 10 people I ask, about three or four agree. You have to be prepared to be ignored all the time. When you get one person that agrees though, it is very rewarding.
Q: In your portraits, it all about dramatic lighting. How did that come about?
A: I think it came up because of my b&w film background. When I started photography I started with b&w film shot in natural light. I always had loved to make high contrast work. When I started to experiment with artificial lighting I always went for emotion and drama.
Q: Some of your images seems to need a lot of planning. How do you prepare for one of your shoots?
A: For some of the environmental portraits it is true that I do quite some planning, but not much. I always went out with a friend who helped hold my off-camera flash. I looked for a location that could best tell the story. I would contact the person about the photo shoot about a week before. I love to work with the sunlight so when I pick a location, that is a key factor. I use the sun as a secondary light source, or sometimes as the primary source. These are things I will figure out in the days leading up to the shoot. What time the sun sets and what is at the location that I either would like to or not include. During the actual shoot, it’s simple lighting and setup. I always use one off-camera flash, which I give to whoever is assisting that day. I work out exposure as we shoot.
Q: What are you hoping to achieve with your images?
A: In my portraits, and generally my people photography, I strive to capture the soul of man in whatever form. It is something between emotion and a story. It is a story of simplicity in a lot of complexity. I capture life as it is around us, sometimes in the most revealing rawness.
Q: Since you won first place in the people category of the 2015 National Geographic contest and all the publicity it brings, has it changed anything thing about you?
A: It has changed the way I look at my work but not necessarily me as a person and how I see the world around me. My work has always been a way for me to tell the stories that I come across, but after I won a huge award I feel more conscious and intentional about my work in a way that I probably hadn’t before. I spent 10 years taking pictures of people and things because I loved the stories and places. I had no idea I was capturing moments and souls. Now I know I have to do it intentionally.
Q: What is the most favorite image that you have created?
A: My favorite image is Mama Maria. She is an 80-year-old lady in Kampala, Uganda. In the picture, she is with her granddaughter. I took this picture in her house. She and her daughter were only lit by daylight coming in from an open door. Uganda is a country that has had almost an entire generation hollowed out by endless civil wars in the ’70s and ’80s. Right now it is one of the youngest countries demographically with over 60% of the entire population under the age of 35. It is very vibrant in many aspects of life. Very entrepreneurial, a very vibrant art, music and sports scene. The young demographic is a blessing, but also a great challenge for the leadership to create jobs and educate them.
Bwengye is definitely one of my favorite photos. I guess I just can’t have one favorite.
Q: What does the future hold for you and do you have a new project that you are working on?
A: I am working on a portrait project called The Soul Of Man. It is now on my instagram account, but will release a weekly blog once I have a large enough body of work collected. I am also working on my show at Orazio Salati studio and gallery in downtown Binghamton along State street, hopefully the first of many in the US.
Joel Nsadha / Photographer
All photos by Joel Nsadha, used with permission.
An exhibit of Joel’s photographs will be held from July 1 until August 27, 2016 at the Orazio Salati Gallery, 204 State St., along Binghamton Artist’s Row in upstate New York. Hours on First Friday of each month, 6-9pm or Saturday’s from 11am-3pm. For more on Joel Nsadha, visit:
About the interviewer:
Award-winning photographer Chuck Haupt is photography and layout editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.