South Sudanese photographer based in Kenya, Emmanuel Jambo, has made a mark for himself in the photography world, and rightfully so. Having been exposed to photography at an early age, his interest stemmed from his sister.
“I remember, she had the whole darkroom and everything, when photography was serious.” He laughs. “It messed with my head, a white paper, she would place in the chemical and you could see the pictures coming to life.” Unfortunately, he delved into sports leading to him receiving a scholarship for basketball and nearly going professional. In college, in the US, he studied something different but apparently he dragged all his friends to art exhibitions and decided to revive his photography interest. We are thankful he did.
“You will find that some people have capital but lack the passion.”
His first camera was a film camera. He began researching online for equipment and took a course in photography. “Through the year, I accumulated so much theoretical knowledge, I don’t think it helped me.” He was fortunate enough to run into a photographer who used to do work for Martin Luther King and had been doing photography for 40 years. In addition to selling Emmanuel Jambo equipment, that man became his mentor and greatest teacher. “It was a lot of motivation for me. He always pushed me to criticize myself and do better.”
Emmanuel then set up a website and started working on his photography together with his mentor by his side. He started doing portraits and learning about fashion and shooting for local newspapers in Atlanta, Georgia.
After he started photography, he stayed in the US for another two years. He visited home to see his sister and was put in touch with Connie Oluoch, Carol Mandi and Oyunga Pala who then offered him an opportunity to shoot for the then new magazine called Adam Magazine. Emmanuel swiftly returned home permanently after being offered a position.
“99% of the photographers I met in the US did it for passion which makes a difference in quality. Here, most do it for money. No interest in photography whatsoever.” He also mentioned that there are no serious photography schools in Kenya. “In New York, in the best photography school you start with the darkroom, unlike here.” The environment and attitude of being a photographer is different here than it is in the west but he does state that it is now changing.
The education system does not build in you the confidence, he further explains. Nowadays if you go to Peponi, Hillcrest, it’s different and they build in you that confidence to take on the world. He compares by stating that students from public school and private school are astoundingly different because of the confidence element. “That will dictate your life and your career and so many things.”
“You have to be proud of what you do. That confidence will make you dare to do things.”
For those coming into the photography industry and most especially fashion photography, the unfortunate circumstance is that not many people are willing to share their knowledge and experience to those coming up. Forcing them, he states, to make mistakes and not truly harness their passion and skill. That is why Emmanuel Jambo strives to bring up and mentor photographers, such as Thandiwe Muriu, by taking on interns and curating them as future photographers. “I believe in what you leave behind and not success.
When he moved to Kenya initially, he recalls doing a shoot and the PR lady who admitted that his work was better than international/foreign photographers had ironically asked for a discount. The stereotype that local means less quality or should be cheaper is harming the industry. “I have noticed that we don’t support our own as much as other cultures. We have to empower each other.”
“People are more interested in money, girls and fame.” A lot of people have come to work with him solely to meet “famous people” and flirt with girls not for the love of photography, he states. They are more interested in being seen with celebrities and blowing up on social media. “Not many people have that passion and hunger” to take them beyond the fame and money.
The creativity is improving, he says, and the talent is there. The challenge that he faces is the platform to push the boundaries and have more creative work and not playing it safe. “A couple of magazines are playing it safe and it’s boring.” Their needs to be more risk in fashion and magazines, he remarks, comparing to Vogue Fashion magazines. “Creativity, it don’t have a limit.”
“A lot of people do not think that there is a need to push the envelope.”
The most interesting shoot he has done so far was one for the Women’s Rugby Team. “They are living tough lives and are not supported so much by the government but they are passionate.” To them, the photo shoot was the best experience they had as it was for Emmanuel. This photo shoot will change the perspective of the Women’s Rugby Team, he states, as it changed his.
Photography takes you places that you would never imagine, he says. Emmanuel has been working on a documentary for the Blind Kids of Thika. Together with a foundation based in Atlanta, they are working hard to bring books , the dictionary and computers. The dictionary for the blind is a complement of 36 books for one dictionary and the cost renders it inaccessible to many. The photos with their story are part of a fundraiser for corporates to buy and use the money to fund purchasing these dictionaries.
“When you take pride in your work and have passion that is when you become super.”
Recognized by Forbes Magazine in 2012 as one of the most influential photographers in Africa, named the official photographer for Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, Emmanuel Jambo is nothing but humble, passionate, grateful and a mentor. He is also incredibly charismatic, not afraid to speak his mind and a pleasure to be around. His interest is to leave something behind and to produce excellent photography. Emmanuel Jambo loves photography and believes in the art. He is truly passionate and only thinks about stretching his creativity and his art as well as contributing his work for a good cause.
Take a look at some of his work and you will see why he has been recognized for his talent. (All photography in this article courtesy of Emmanuel Jambo Photography).