Kizito Gamba carves himself a niche in social justice photography

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019 07:00 |

Everyone with a smartphone or a camera is turning into photography to document their life, fun or as a means of earning some cash. But it’s rare to find one who’s using the lens to fight for social justice such as 27-year-old Kizito Gamba.

Kizito recalls one incident in 2012, as he was going about his business in Nairobi’s Korogocho slums, when a person was shot at his doorstep. Residents started demonstrating from one end of Korogocho  to another and the chaos spread to Kariobangi and Mathare slums. 

Telling a story

Stones and missiles flew right, left and centre. Others started taking advantage of the situation to steal and vandalise property. Kizito felt this was a defining moment for him. He began taking photos. 

“I started documenting the happenings of that day— people throwing stones, others vandalising, police shooting to disperse crowds; it was chaotic,” he narrates. The police noted him taking photos and they arrested him. Without offering an explanation, they started deleting the photos. Luckily, his friends came and bailed him out.

But slowly, Kizito had began getting his footing in social justice. He was selected to work with Pawa 254/Kwani Trust to document the 2012-2013 elections. “Images for me are powerful tool. When I am doing personal projects, I can stay for hours thinking about one image and how I want it to look. Photography is a vital tool, which I believe should be utilised towards change instead of victimising. Photography tells a story from a single emotion, each time I see an image, I imagine what happened before and after that image was taken,” he says.

A picture shows something. A photo tells a story. Anyone can put a camera to their face and press the button. It’s called taking a picture. The ability to transform a picture into something interesting – a photo – is a skill. 

Born in Dandora, Kizito’s passion for photography began when he joined his secondary schools’ journalism club in 2008. In 2010, he was among a group that was selected to represent his school in a two-week exchange programme in Sweden. It was during this programme that he gained his first exposure to the art of visual storytelling. It was also the first time he held a DSLR camera. From then on, he found a new love; photography.

However, while he had plans to be a photographer, his dad wanted him to join Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC). Stubbornly, Kizito went to his uncle who was passionate about film too. Seeing that he was glued to his passion, his parent bought him a second hand DSLR camera, after one year. 

“Though I was thankful for the camera, it didn’t give me exact quality of images that I wanted. That camera spoiled three years later, but it was long enough to have given me enough exposure in the field of photography,” Kizito recalls.

All about passion

It took him another two years of hard work and sacrifice for him to buy a camera. “I had to import a Nikon camera since what I wanted was not in the country. First, I bought a camera, which cost me an arm and a leg. Then I invested in lenses and some lights, which were equally expensive,” Kizito says.

In 2014, he attended an intensive three day-training on film under a partnership between Unilever Kenya and Mofilm, a British company that aims to inspire film makers  and help them further their careers. “After the training, we were requested to write an advert for Unilever. I was awarded the Best Short Film (advert) and Outstanding  Pitch. Also as part of the award, I got a scholarship from Be Kids Australia Inc to study film at Jamhuri Film Academy currently known as the Africa Digital Media Institute. 

After the one-year-course, Kizito decided to give back to the community by teaching children how to tell stories with images. He worked in Korogocho, Dandora, Kibera, Fuata Nyayo and many other informal settlement mentoring young children in photography, publishing children’s magazines and doing exhibitions. This earned him an Emerging Community Champion award in 2016 by The Youth Congress and UN Habitat.

He has also  worked on a short series of images, Within the Shadows that got him a second position in Kenya Photography Award, last year. 

And while there are successes, doing what he loves comes with a share of challenges apart from being arrested. 

“There are limited spaces to show your work locally. Also you can’t fully depend on it. You need to push for other avenues of image story telling. Even the limited spaces that we have sometimes are pricey for most photographers. I mostly show my work in print and online media (magazines and newspapers),” he narrates. 

Kizito is currently a board member at K-Youth media where he is also a project coordinator. Additionally, he works for Tazama World Media as a project coordinator.

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