I do photography and video storytelling. That’s the kind of art I do, pretty much multi-media.
When did you start taking photographs?
I started taking photographs by myself. My first interest was doing videos. So I started doing videos and then I eventually started doing photography because a lot of people that I was working with asked if I do pictures as well and I was like, uh, yeah! I ended up saying yes and that’s how I kind of got interested in photography.
What do you most like to take videos of?
Mostly I like to tell stories. Mostly marginalized people. Those are the stories that I love to tell. There is a lot of humanity in those kinds of stories. Whenever people talk about their pain, their success, things that they’ve been through and it’s a true story, I tend to get more attracted to those types of emotions. I feel that sometimes being connected to another human on a human level is the most impactful thing.
Are most of your subjects someone you know?
I may know them like neighbors, we just know each other because of the community, but whenever I hold my camera and start taking pictures and ask them very personal questions about their struggle and things that they’re going through, that’s when I feel like there’s connection. My camera is one of those tools that makes me connect with people on a different level.
It’s almost like we need some medium to really connect.
Yeah on a daily basis you don’t have a chance to talk to people on a deeper level. You just talk about things going on but whenever you’re trying to be specific with a person and they trust you with your camera, that’s when they start opening up. My camera has been one of those tools that helps me know people, we speak heart to heart. It’s something that I will never leave.
Can you tell me about a time you were taking a photograph and had a connection that was surprising to you?
Yeah I had been working with refugees. As former refugees, we know that we all came as refugees but we don’t get a chance to speak on a deeper level like, hey what was it like before you left your home country, what was your story? Yeah and this person they were sharing this story about how he left his country, went to live in a camp and at the camp life was even harder. He lived a very hard life and to this day he tells his stories to his children, sometimes he’ll take off his shoes and his toes are twisted. He tells them he was crossing rivers and mountains to fetch water. His children are kind of like the first generation of immigrants, the children don’t understand it, they kind of don’t get it like why, why were you hungry? Why did you have to go to fetch water from this place. So there are certain things that are taken for granted. I’ve lived in the US for about 8 years and I feel like many people, especially Americans that grew up in a life that I could say there wasn’t too much struggle or war or conflicts, I don't know in the last fifty years here in the United States, they should go to see how other humans live day to day, kind of open up your mind to appreciate humanity, to appreciate what you have as a person.
Why do you think it’s important to remember stories?
History is something that, either it’s good or it’s bad, you always want the next generation to know what that history was about so that the next generation won’t repeat the same thing and they will learn how to preserve the heritage that we have. That it wasn’t given, everything was earned, you have to work for it. I think to grow as a community we have to pass on the history so that history can educate the next generation on how to live positively and how to grow as a community. All of that depends on how that message is passed on.
When you first started photographing were you using film or digital?
I started using digital. When I started with digital one of the things that I loved about photography was how the human eyes get interpreted, there’s a sense of humility, kindness. And that’s kind of what drew me into photography, especially street photography, taking candid moments. The first thing was I was taking photos of people in my community. So I was taking pictures of refugees, children, immigrants. Sometimes I would go downtown Denver to take photographs of people. I wanted to take photographs of a different community of people. I didn’t want to just stick to my own community. So it helped me grow as a person, it helped me also improve my English.
How do you begin that relationship with people?
One of the most challenging things was trying to take pictures of strangers. It was awkward. It’s the most awkward thing but it helped me build my confidence as a person. I met this one guy, one of the things that I usually do if I want to take a picture of somebody walking down the street, I tend to keep my eye on that person, like I’m looking straight at them and they’re like what are you looking at, man, like whatchu lookin at? Then that’s kind of a conversation starter. I make them feel good about themselves and whenever I make them feel good, they’re like yeah, sure. why not.
Has your relationship to your family changed since you started taking pictures?
Yes it has, it has changed. Especially when I got reunited with my mom through the refugee reunification process, my mom did not know what I was doing. Growing up in an African family, my parents think maybe you’re going to be working in an office and you’re going to be wearing suits and working for the corporate world. Then my mom just realized I’m into photography, art, which is something she never expected me to do. She was shocked but over time they impressed me because they were like this guy is real about what he’s doing, it’s something that he loves to do. Yeah over time they accepted me for that. From time to time we can have a conversation and I pull out my camera and just take pictures. They’re used to it. It was hard to break at first but I broke those barriers.
Do you mostly shoot film now?
I mostly shoot film, yes. Whenever I’m doing street photography I tend to use a small camera and that’s why I use my film camera because it’s small. People tend to despise the camera like, “aw it’s a small camera”. So that’s why I use the small camera because it doesn’t draw too much attention, it’s very small and people don’t care about it.
Do you have any big dreams of what you want your photography to do?
I always want my photography to educate people, to speak of vulnerability, about kindness, love. I want my photography to speak of human values that our generation has lost. I want my photography to go around the world. And if it doesn’t make it around the world I don’t care. I just do it because I love it. The love of it won’t stop.
What are you thankful for?
I’m thankful to god. I’m thankful for my family, my community. I’ve made good and bad choices but I surround myself with people who want me to grow as a person. So I learned that to grow mentally, spiritually, morally, you need to have good company. So those are the things that I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for the company that is around me. Friends, family, community. People who challenge me to do best in life. And even those who didn’t want me to grow. I think it’s part of me understanding that as human we go through the ups and downs. The ups and downs are what made me stronger.
What is the biggest thing that art has done for you in your life?
Art has connected me with so many wonderful people. Art has done so many great things that sometimes I get speechless about it because it’s just one of those wonderful things that you didn’t ask for.
What does beauty mean to you?
To me beauty is who you are, inside and out. It’s crazy that the world we’re living in today, beauty is associated with how you look on the outside, how people perceive you, how people appreciate you on the outside. But I believe that true beauty is who you are on the inside, in the heart. I don’t know how to phrase this but there are times that you get to meet somebody who is beautiful from the outside, physically, but they have one of the worst attitudes, and all of a sudden it turns you off. Then that kind of tells you that all that beauty that person has on the outside, it’s all a facade, everything is fake and then you’re like I can’t believe this. But then you meet a person who is not beautiful, is not attractive physically but this person has love, you enjoy the company of this person and the you’re like this is actually what true beauty means. I believe that that is where true beauty resides, in the heart.