When The Rain
Words Joel Nsadha,
as told to Jacqueline Raposo
Photographs Joel Nsadha
This photo is from September of 2016. I had traveled to Konya, Turkey for a photographers’ convention, then went to Istanbul to play tourist for a day. I was walking through Galata – an entire area of tiny cafés, galleries, and studios – on a rainy day, looking at the art and the environment: people had been walking under umbrellas, sitting in cafés drinking tea. Then the rain stopped falling.
It was the couple that caught me fast, the way they displayed affection… It was like a scene playing out… the contrast between them and then the man on his phone texting.… I watched them, thinking:
“This is a story not to be played out again.”
In those moments, I’m trying to capture as much I can as best I can. I’m freezing the moment. They didn’t notice me for five minutes.
The first thing I would like anyone to see in this photograph is the contrast between those two stories. On the left side of the frame, you have a couple trying to have a moment without any disturbance. And then on the right, the man sitting all by himself invested in his technology. That contrast is how we relate today in the busy lifestyles we live in cities all around the world. I want people to feel a sense of happiness for what’s happening on the left side — to understand what it would feel like to take a moment while on a busy street. And then on the right side, a sense of empathy and “that could be me.” That I could not have enough room for someone else to sit, or not have someone to sit with me, so I’m stuck with my phone, right? Depending on how you look at your life, it’s possible to identify with both sides. I try to capture feeling with my photographs.
That’s something I didn’t do for many years – I just tried to capture a nice-looking portrait. Now, close to 100% of the time, I photograph with natural light, look at people’s eyes, and best capture any emotions they give off. That’s what’s most changed in my work. Before I left Africa — before I left Uganda — I was just another person, and everyone else was just another person. Suddenly, I was living in Europe and conscious of how society looked at you: “Oh, you’re the immigrant; you’re this.” A light bulb went off in my mind. It became far more important to show what we share.
Now, I take my camera out every evening to meet someone I’ve never met before. There’s no makeup, no lights, no nothing; just people in their natural environments being themselves. I want people to see them and who they are. My hope is that people look into their eyes in these photographs, and then care more about people who are unlike them. Those who don’t dress the way they do, eat the same food or worship they way they do — whatever makes us ‘different’ from one another. I hope people care and show more empathy. That satisfies me. I just can’t wait to go out and meet new people.
My work has taught me that the world is a complex and beautiful place. Our differences make us richer. The more we embrace our differences, the better we can learn from each other. Before we visit a new place, we have notions of what the place and people will be. People ask me things about Africa with ideas from the Lion King or CNN. I thought Scandinavians would have the same culture as white people in the U.S. With every country I’ve been to, I’ve been humbled in how different the culture has been from everything I’ve ever known before it. Traveling as a photographer has taught me to expect that reality is going to be different from my expectations.
And with time, I have developed a better understanding of the complexities of humanity. I still view humanity in a positive way. No matter what our constructed cultures and beliefs teach us — it doesn’t matter if it’s a teenager in Cape Town or a kid in Istanbul or Kampala, Uganda — we all desire to be loved, and to earn a livable wage. Despite the boundaries we put up around ourselves, we still have that positive light in us that we need to encourage.
That’s precisely what my work tries to do.
Joel Nsadha is a 2015 National Geographic award-winning photographer from Uganda. He has lived in Europe and throughout the U.S., and currently calls Bridgeport, Connecticut home. His photography and film have received recognition from CNN Africa, the East African Magazine, the German-based Gestalten, and National Geographic. More at joelnsadha.com.
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