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"I'm prepared for whatever risks I have to take" - Interview with photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
June 21, 2011

Read Inside/Out with Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

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Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi is a leading photojournalist in Zimbabwe. He is former Chief Photographer of the now defunct Daily News in Zimbabwe, which was closed down by the government. In 2002 he was awarded the CNN African Photographer of the Year. His work has been published in several international publications including Newsweek and Time.

How did you end up being a photographer?
It started off when I was at school when I picked up a camera. It was more of a hobby back then. I kept taking pictures and then one thing led to another and I realised I could make a living out of it. I've never looked back.

Is it easy to make a living as a photographer?
It's not easy. I think you have to have the right contacts, and have a respectable portfolio to get particular jobs. You have to market yourself pretty well and know which areas you want to focus on whether its news, NGOs, marketing, advertising or weddings. Once you know that, you have to deliver work on time and it has to be high quality. A lot of people miss out because they are not organised or they don't have the right idea of their strengths or what they want to focus on. Listen

What skills go into being a good photographer?
I think the most important skill is having an eye for particular things. That's one thing that stands out for any photographer, just being able to see what other people don't see. This isn't really a skill. It's more an instinct and that's very rare, the special ones have that.

What is SAMSO?
It's an organisation that is focused on media training, not just in Zimbabwe but also in southern Africa. We focus on training photographers, and look into issues of bringing about developmental tapping into new talent and providing photography services. When we started SAMSO there was a void, there wasn't anybody offering training to photographers. Photography wasn't taken seriously. We wanted to offer up and coming photographers an opportunity to develop their skills and be on par with professional photographers in the region and the rest of the world. Listen

What is the most rewarding part of your work with SAMSO?
I'm a product of SAMSO. I was one of those people who got identified. In my work I have also identified and helped secure training for other people.

Do you have a photograph that you are most proud of?
There was a demonstration and there were armed guys who were patrolling the streets of Harare. I took a photograph of them as they were beating up people; one of the guys had a foot on a man's head. The moment I took the picture, the guy saw me. I was literally involved in a high-speed chase with police in town. I went against the flow of traffic just to evade them. I managed to get away and park my car somewhere out of town. Fortunately it was a hired car.

How do you overcome fear when you are taking photographs in highly volatile situations like that?
Sometimes you get an adrenaline rush and it keeps you going. I get away sometimes, sometimes I don't. I've been caught several times. Being caught is the lowest depth of misery. You get locked up, you get beaten up and your family doesn't know where you are. I know this is going to come as a surprise but I'm kind of used to that. Each time you are out and about taking a picture; there are two things that can happen. You either get the picture or you get caught and you get locked up. I've told myself that this is my job, so I'm prepared for whatever risks I have to take. Last year was the first year in over ten years when I wasn't arrested. I had a barbeque to celebrate. I think it changed partly because of the formation of the GNU that eased the tension a little. Also I think there was a realisation by the leadership that we need to change our way of doing things. Zimbabwe was at one point one of the worst places to work outside a war zone.

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Audio File

  • Making a living as a photographer
    Language: English
    Duration: 49sec
    Date: June 21, 2011
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 780KB

  • What is SAMSO
    Language: English
    Duration: 1min 03sec
    Date: June 21, 2011
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 995KB

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