I am a self-taught humanitarian photographer based in Addis. I started photography by taking pictures of my surroundings – the flowers in our house, my dog, and the people around me. After finishing my undergrad, I wanted to combine my passion for photography and community development, which is how humanitarian photography captured my attention. Earning my Master’s degree in Developmental Studies helped me in pursuing this. Meanwhile, I taught myself the skills required to be a professional photographer on the internet through YouTube videos and articles.
Most of my personal photography is inspired by social issues. I first chose photography as my medium because my camera was the most accessible tool available to me, but as I learned more, I started to realize how powerful it was as a tool to tell people’s unique stories. In a professional capacity, I have been working with local and international NGOs since 2016 and traveling around different regions of Ethiopia to document development projects.
Inspiration and Process
My projects are usually inspired by various social issues, my personal experiences, and my surroundings. I draw inspiration from different people’s stories, photography projects, books, and news that I come across. Whenever I get inspired for a potential photo project, I write it down in my notebook. I read different articles and resources about the issue I want to focus on. I break down the messages and ideas I want to document or talk about. I create a storyboard and establish a timeline. If it involves interviewing people, I write down interview questions and the people I can reach out to. I run my ideas by my close friends for their feedback. This is how I usually develop my photo projects. As for my on-going projects, I currently have 2 – one on gender-based violence to challenge people’s perception towards survivors; and the other highlights and aims to tackle the stigma of mental illness through people’s personal stories.
Photography and Ethiopia
The photography scene has definitely grown in the past few years in Addis Ababa. Local stories are being told by local photographers, and that is wonderful. That being said, the field is highly male-dominated, and hopefully, more female photographers will continue to join the field. The steady growth in the number of female photographers; especially in comparison to the past few years does inspire confidence
One main challenge is the scarcity of resources. The lack of physical spaces where photographers can get together to share experiences and have different discussions is also disheartening. But I think we are slowly creating these spaces and look forward to seeing them grow and diversify.
Art and social Conversation
I believe that art in and of itself is a conversation, and I don’t think we can separate the two. I believe as a photographer, I stand with people and their lived experiences. How we join a social conversation is with the tools and expertise we have at hand, and I’ve found photography and storytelling to be among the great artistic tools helping us to create meaningful social conversations.
Art can be a powerful voice. Look at the BLM protests as an example, we are seeing how different artists are speaking against systemic racism and police brutality through their art, illustration, graffiti, painting, photography, music, and more. Their artwork tells the stories of many, stir emotions in the absence of words, challenge harmful systems, and document historically significant moments. I believe it’s the choice of the artist to make something their responsibility, but I believe that artists are equipped with powerful tools and skills to create and facilitate social change should they wish to.
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