Photography is art

The coming of smart phones was thought to be the end of professional photography since anyone can take shots without having to hire a professional photographer. But on the contrary, Malawi has witnessed improvements in professional photography. The future of photography looks promising. Our Entertainment Editor Edith Gondwe had this exclusive interview with the Photographers Association of Malawi (Photama) president Lucky Mkandawire to discuss these issues and others affecting the industry.

Mkandawire: A modern media school is needed to promote photography

Q

: Photography has for a long time been taken as a pasttime activity, but of late we have seen a surge on the number of photogriphers who are now taking it as a business. How is Photama  ensuring that issues of quality and professionalism are being adhered to?

A

: I have not seen photography as a pass-time much in Malawi until quite recently with the proliferation of smart phones. But it is good that the business sense of professionals is developing quite fast though not without challenges. We have been teaching our members different skills as one way of ensuring that they improve quality and professionalism. To be frank, it is really hard to police professionalism because most photographers are not members of the association.

 

Q

: Time and again the media is awash with complaints from disappointed clients due to either shoddy work or delays by photographers. Is Photama involved in refresher courses about professionalism for photographers?

A

: The concept of customer service is an issue in many sectors, including photography. Free market economy is rather new here, it only started in 1994. The way I see it, the whole profession needs to be upgraded. What I think would help enormously is a good photo/video education at certificate/diploma and eventually maybe degree level. The feasibility of this depends on how the market develops. The education should include practical business training. The short courses we have organised, have done a lot for the profession, but they are not enough to reach a high level of professionalism. For that we need longer and more systematic education. In Mozambique the Photographers Association organises a training of three months full time.

 

Q

: Observers have given high marks to the industry, generally for improvements in the art of photography. Do you share this observation?

A

: Absolutely. About a decade ago the profession was much less developed than it is now. A lot of photographs published hurt my eyes. These days both photojournalism and commercial photography are much better. You also see better pay for good work emerging.

In the 21st century many people have smart phones that are capable of automatic exposure, so everyone can snap away. Now as professionals we need to offer something not every person can do: create beautiful images, styling, visual story telling.

We see more styling in photos, attention for the aesthetic qualities as well as the recording of events. Certainly in wedding photography this has gone a long way. But also in advertising and photojournalism aesthetics have improved.

 

Q

: As marketing and awareness campaigns have become an integral part of our society, are you satisfied with the level of local photographers’ involvement as well as the financial benefits that goes to them?

A

: The general economic situation is not conducive for business, this includes photography. Budgets are limited, the market is small, the concept of marketing is rather new to Malawi. It is improving and the availability of cost effective internet marketing has helped a lot. I see more good promotion there than ten years ago. At some point it was not unusual for photographers to publish other peoples work on their Facebook page to promote their business.

 

Q

: How are our local photographers fairing on the international scene? Can they compete with their counterparts? If not, why?

A

: Slowly things are getting there. So far we have Thoko Chikondi, Eldson Chagara and Amos Gumulira who are working at an international level. But to broaden the scene we need much better education in the field. A modern media school is needed.

For media practitioners, old fashioned classroom style learning is not effective. Photography, and other media like video, writing, radio, websites, require a lot of practical skills, and aesthetics, as well as theoretical knowledge. But the skill of making engaging imagery, and coherent photo stories, and understanding the messages that are transmitted in the photos require high levels of skill in creativity, technical areas, visual literacy and artistic sensitivity. We need a contemporary approach to education that enables students to develop these values. n

 

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