Manwell Mwaka is a young engineer with nascent signs of deep shutterbug talent. The 23-year-old portrait photographer showcases his craft on his blog; seventwelvephotography.wordpress.com and on Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/SevenTwelvePhotography
You completed your undergraduate studies [at the University of Nottingham campus] in Malaysia. To most Ugandans, that country is synonymous with an escapist CNN ad. Was it a truly Asian experience for you as well?
No, I’d say there are other countries that are truly Asian. It is a really nice country apart from the racism. But their tourism is right on point.
How does the racism manifest itself?
It may be a second world country but the people there still have third world mindsets. They are still getting used to Black people and I do not blame them. I think they first saw Black people in the past 10 or 15 years. So they are also just getting used to the idea. The Nigerians there do not make it any better; Internet scams and all. That makes Malaysians think all Blacks are like that.
How did you develop an eye for photography?
I used to edit most of my friends’ photos a lot. It is something that came naturally, you know playing around with features on iPhoto and all. That was until I got to that point where I asked myself why I was editing other people’s photos yet I could take my own. I had to find a way of getting a camera. Thankfully I got one for a graduation gift.
Take us through the ideal preparations for a shoot…
You have to think of a concept first. Once you get that right, the rest is pretty easy. It is also important to think about the subject/ model’s wardrobe. I like to have mine wear bright colours. That way the shoot comes out right. You can also tell if there was chemistry between the model and photographer through the photography.
There is this thing about [the model] being intimate with the camera. What’s that all about?
It’s actually the chemistry between the model and the photographer that will guarantee a great shoot and not necessarily “intimacy” with the equipment. It is also important that the model/ subject and the photographer meet an hour before the shoot if anything to break the ice maybe.
You have posed for the camera yourself in one of your Facebook albums. Are you looking to compete with your own models?
That shoot was by my Chinese photographer friend at university who had never taken pictures of Black people. I asked him if he wanted to try and he was like; “sure I am open to it”. And through that shoot he got to learn new features on his camera to do with lighting, evaluating and metering.
When it comes to photography is it so much about the camera or the person behind the camera?
I’d say both. You can take amazing photos with a good smart phone. But I have also encountered people with very good equipment that they do not know how to use. My preferred brand is Canon because it is easier to use or probably because I started out using that. I find Nikon kinda tricky.
Is there a particular reason you chose to showcase online and via social media?
That still goes back to the racism issue I raised earlier. One thing I used to be asked is that; “what is Africa like… do you guys live in trees…” You will notice on my blog I do not take cheesy photos, you know the kind they call “development porn” in which a white person is helping a poor Black kid with mucus running down his/her nose. Those are easy photos that will only get people liking your blog as a charity case. I wanted to show the people in Malaysia that we have buildings and that there are beautiful people in Uganda.
Would you call yourself an Afro-optimist?
I am an Afropolitan; young people who believe in Africa but are [upwardly] mobile. They live in cities and are out to develop Africa. There is still a lot to believe in Africa even with the poor infrastructure and bad leadership in most places. That 50% of our population is mostly young people shows that we still have hope and that the bad leaders especially the old ones will soon fade out so that the younger people can take over. To me Africa is home.
Why Seven Twelve?
I am a Christian and Seven is a number of completion. God made the world in seven days.
And the number 12 represents the number of apostles?
No. That 12 has to do with the year I graduated; 2012. So I just put that as a reminder.
Text: MOSES SERUGO (email@example.com)