The Role of the Future and Approaches Towards Photography Education on the African Continent.

Dennis Kimbugwe | Uganda Press Photo Award 10th Anniversary Book | Sunday, June 27th, 2021

In recent years, the world has started to reckon with the fact that the introduction of photography on the African continent was not an altruistic act.Ironically, the same medium that was weaponized to justify violence also bore witness to this violence and ensured that it would never be lost to us. With echoes of these admissible actions still influencing how we interact with the medium today, I believe it is impossible for one to reimagine the future of photography education in Africa without acknowledging these contentious histories.

Today, countless archives remind us that against all odds, Black people in Africa and the diaspora managed to claim their right to work with the medium and have since contributed greatly to its advancement. Their work records immeasurable loss and suffering but also joy, beauty and triumph, aspects that had been omitted in previous portrayals. These archives also highlight photography's contributions to our understanding of history, but if photography educates us about the world, who educates us about photography?

While the discourse around these topics seems to be light-years ahead in some parts of Africa, it is still lagging behind in others. However, many steps are being taken by patrons from both home and away to ignite these much-needed conversations. This endeavor is not without its hindrances though, one being the tendency to conflate photography and the future into the future of photography, a nice but fleeting distraction. Does this distraction inform us about the future in spite of photography? I think not, I fear it concerns itself mostly with aesthetics, technical advancements and statistics, but does not afford us more room to consider consequences for both active and passive participants.

Organizations like the Uganda Press Photo Award (UPPA) realized early that in order to neutralize the perpetuation of violence with photography that has marred our history, any interaction with the medium had to actively include education. The concerns would not only be about how one can use the camera, but why, where, when and most importantly, for whom they use it. Through workshops, screenings, and talks, UPPA has supported a generation of photographers in acquiring knowledge about historical realities concerning their identity and that of the medium.

As Africa continues to find herself, we have to look to the future, not for answers, but simply for inspiration. The role of the future in how we approach photography education in Africa need only be that of a goal we have to attain.Our success in attaining this goal lies in our ability to unify our voice infighting for access, and claiming our right to equal opportunities, and proper representation in this and other forms of media. UPPA’s response to this goal has been supporting the transition from the previous generation of mostly white male practitioners to their younger Ugandan colleagues of different genders, to mentor and educate the next generation of photographers. This bold but sustainable approach ensures that the future of photography education in Uganda is placed in the care of the community of photographers they have nurtured. This way, we are informed about a future because of photography not in spite of it, and this is ensured by the sense of ownership that this approach affords its participants.

In conclusion, despite having brought us this far, the long-term benefits of some of the current approaches are questionable, and this is in part due to their implicit symbiotic relationship with western ideals of beauty and value. There is a need for massive ideological shifts not just in how we see, think, read, and write about art, but also where and when these activities take place, and this means finding ways to divorce colonial ambitions from the systems and infrastructures in which we (hope to) operate. I believe that future approaches to photography education in Africa need to consider the complex relationship between the continent and the medium, as well as the contexts within which the diverse participants exist and operate. The new photography pedagogy must be one which not only acknowledges all the histories that defined this new medium but also one which is free of the confines upheld by the standards and expectations of old mediums.

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