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Education in photography: teaching under African skies

Education in photography: teaching under African skies

© Paul Kariuki Munene

February 2015

Canon Europe recently organised a photography workshop in Kenya, Africa, led by renowned photojournalist and Canon Master Gary Knight. The event showed how important it is to support and nurture local emerging talent. CPN Editor David Corfield discovers more...

Canon Master Gary Knight (centre) stands with students and workshop organisers including Canon Europe’s Katie Simmonds (far left) in Nairobi, Kenya.

There has never been a more timely or appropriate need for photographic education than now. With world events being reported in ever more innovative and engaging ways and technologies evolving on a seemingly weekly basis, it is important to focus on how photojournalists steer a true and steady path on the information superhighway. And that support begins right at grass roots level.

Gary Knight, co-founder of the VII Agency, is a passionate advocate of education in photography and founded the Program for Narrative and Documentary Practice at The Institute for Global Leadership, at Tufts University, USA, where he teaches part of the year. He has long sought to bring that knowledge to a global audience and after recent experiences in Asia, felt that African photojournalists should benefit.

Says Gary: “I have long wanted to explore the possibility of doing something similar in Africa. In 2004 I helped found the Angkor Photo Workshops and Festival in Cambodia, which is now celebrating its tenth year,” he remembers. “The Workshops have been able to support the training of over 200 photographers from all over Asia and with the Festival have helped nurture and support a thriving community of young photographers from all over the region.”

© Louis Nderi

Says Louis on his project: “At 3am on Wednesday 17th December 2014, a five-storey building collapsed near Makongeni Police Station in Nairobi. Most of the tenants were believed to be university students at the Technical University of Kenya. Seven people were confirmed dead with eleven survivors.” Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF50mm f/1.4 USM lens; the exposure was 1/100sec at f/3.5, ISO 100.

Workshop structure

With the emphasis primarily on practical technique and learning on the ground in real-life scenarios, Gary organised through his network of contacts several expert photojournalists to come along and offer advice and encouragement to the students.

He explains: “The workshop was field and practice based rather than classroom and theory. Each photographer chose an assignment in the locality that was germane to his or her own area of interest and through repeated practice and critique they constructed, over a week, an essay or portfolio.”

“The students were exposed to guest speakers with a wide range of professional experience including Tyler Hicks of The New York Times, award-winning Kenyan photojournalist Boniface Mwangi, freelance photojournalist, videographer and writer Nichole Sobecki, independent documentary photographer Mariella Furrer and Canon Ambassadors and renowned wildlife photographers Jonathan and Angela Scott,” he continues.

“The workshop participants were selected by a small panel of Kenyan and foreign photographers and consisted of Louis Nderi, Humphrey Odero, Emma Nzioka, Daniel Irungu, Msingi Sasis, Paul Kariuki Munene, Mutunga Al-Amin, Gathoni Kinyanjui from Kenya, Solan Kolli from Ethiopia and Edward Echwalu from Uganda.”

Putting ideas into practice

Before the workshop began, the students provided Gary with a proposal of a story they wished to cover. Under Gary’s guidance, they were then encouraged to go out every day to work on their projects, using equipment supplied by Canon Europe.

Returning to the workshop later in the day, Gary then reviewed their work on a one-to-one basis and helped the students edit their images for the story they were working on. It was this expertise and personal attention that made the workshop such a success. Spending time and absorbing into the work made for a very rewarding experience and most of the students wished the workshop lasted more than a week...

Said student Gathoni Kinyanjui: “I leave with new skills, skills that allow me to keep shooting in a more dynamic way. I also have clarity in the direction I would like to take my work. Thank you!”

This sentiment was also echoed by fellow student Emma Nzioka, who added: “I feel enlightened! I know now, thanks to Gary, what to look for when creating a story. I have a clearer idea on what direction I would like my own photography to take.”

After refreshments and a chance to relax and swap experiences with each other, the students were invited back to listen to a series of guest lecture sessions each evening, which took take place throughout the week. These lectures, given by successful photojournalists including award-winning photojournalist Tyler Hicks, were case studies designed to show the students how a professional covers a story from concept to eventual publication.

© Solan Kolli

Says Solan on his project: “Most of us complain about our shortcomings without looking into the situations of others. My story is about the children of Kibera who, with all their shortcomings, still can afford to find joy and lend a helping hand to each other.” Taken on a Canon EOS 5D with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 24mm; the exposure was 1/1250sec at f/4.5, ISO 100.

At the end of the week Canon Europe hosted an evening exhibition for the participants and their friends and family to join. With just a little encouragement and advice, all the students took away with them a feeling of optimism and renewed determination to succeed in a challenging vocation.

Reflects Gary: “These initiatives are so important. We want to help everybody advance, not just the cream of the crop; we want to encourage other people, especially women. Women in Africa are particularly representative as storytellers, for example, and we need to encourage this. I’m delighted the young photographers we worked with have all gone away with determination and resolve.”

Commenting on the workshop, Dai Kurokawa, head of the East Africa bureau of the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) and employer of workshop student Daniel Irungu, said: “Thank you so much for the great opportunity you have given Daniel. What an amazing week that must have been for him and indeed everyone else!”

“Unlike some other participants, Daniel was just a kid out of slum with literally nothing going for him when he started with EPA two years ago. I promised him that I will take him to the top, that I will do everything I can to make sure that he builds a career for himself with news photography, and ever since he has been working extremely hard to prove himself.”

© Daniel Irungu

Says Daniel on his project: “The story is about the Matatu culture in Kenya which most of the time people refer to as ‘Moving Disco’ because of the loud music, graffiti, screens and colourful lights. It has become a culture for the Matatu industry to have them fitted with graffiti and loud music as a way of attracting more customers.” Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 32mm; the exposure was 1/100sec at f/11, ISO 100.

“When Tyler (Hicks) asked me if I knew anyone who would be good for this workshop, I proudly recommend Daniel and so did others. Today he told me about all the things he learned at the workshop and how happy he is to have met Gary and the other workshop organisers. He has many things to learn as a wire photographer but seeing him so happy and full of renewed energy and determination after the workshop, I was so overwhelmed that it almost made me cry in front of him! So again, thank you very much for being a great mentor to him and for your friendships. It meant the world to him.”

On a far more practical, yet equally appreciative level, Daniel added: “I am glad I will be taking away a Canon body and lens which will enable me to work more...”

Looking to the future

While the Kenyan workshop has been seen as an undoubted success, it hasn’t stopped Gary Knight from setting his sights on other countries. With the workshops in Asia and now Kenya successfully concluded, what’s next? One thing’s for sure: with Gary’s passion for education and Canon’s commitment to helping the industry at all levels, the future for emerging talent is certainly well-supported.

Biografie: Gary Knight

Gary Knight

British photographer Gary Knight was one of the co-founders and the principle architect of the VII Photo agency. He is the founder and Director of the Program for Narrative & Documentary Practice at Tufts University in the USA, a Trustee of the Frontline Club in London, co-founder and Board member of the GroundTruth Foundation in the USA, two time Chair and twice jury member of the World Press Photo Award and co founder of the Angkor Photography Festival in Cambodia. He is an award winning photographer and formerly a contract photographer for Newsweek Magazine. His work has been published and exhibited in major international media since 1988 (the year he bought his first Canon camera) and is held in private and institutional collections worldwide.


Taken on a Canon EOS 5D with an EF50mm f/1.4 USM lens; the exposure was 1/250sec at f/3.2, ISO 320.