Badru Katumba’s interview on photojournalism and Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has enforced lockdowns and a state of uncertainty across the globe affecting all kinds of businesses. The photography industry is one among many that weren’t spared due to the measures put in place.

 Malaika Media had a chat with renown photojournalist Badru Katumba about the impact of COVID-19 on the photography industry in Uganda. Mr Badru Katumba also gave some advise to those that are interested in joining the photography field.

Badru Katumba is an award-winning photojournalist. A freelancer photojournalist at The New Vision, GettyImages and AFP. He recently took home an award for his outstanding winning photo at the The Uganda Press Photo Award(UPPA).

Let’s start from the beginning, how did you stumble into photography?

 It all begun during my first year at university, I went to the laboratory and the custodian allowed me to use one of the cameras around campus. I went on to document interesting things and from here the spark was on.

Photography was a passion for me, taking photos because I loved the composition and the story being told. But with time, I decided to turn my passion into a source of income. This was the point of transition.

Badru Katumba
Badru Katumba Posing for a photo: Courtsey Photo
Badru Katumba Posing for a photo: Courtsey Photo

When did your professional photography career kick-off?

I started my career when I was about 23. I had come out of school and went to intern at The New Vision as a photojournalist. I actually didn’t stay long because once my internship ended, I never went back. I became a free lancer working for different agencies and organisations. Through producing good work and building an extensive network, i found myself called upon for projects by big organisations such as Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Getty Images.

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
— Aaron Siskind

What is it that you love about your work?

Going to go to the field to source the content needed. It instills the virtue of hard work that I greatly admire – sometimes getting the perfect shot takes days and nights but it’s all worth it.

Mr. Gonzaga Yiga, 49, the chairperson of Kansanga Kiwafu Zone B in Kampala walks within his village sensitizing people about COVID-19 every morning and evening reminding people to wash their hands, social distance, and stay at home to prevent COVID-19. Photo Badru Katumba

What have you learnt in and from the  photojournalism photography niche?

Photojournalism and photography as a whole has taught me that it’s all about priorities. There are times when you see awesome moments but you choose not to take them and other times, it’s just the right moment to capture the story with your lens. So the fact that I have to follow my heart in all that I do is an awesome thing.

Are there any misconceptions about the type of work you do?

In Uganda, we focus a lot on the surface stories such for instance it is easy to get a photo of the president announcing the lock down measures but we do not dig deeper to find out how these measures are affecting the person at the grassroots yet these are the stories that have a richer context. How food distribution has impacted the lives of the ordinary Ugandan instead of looking at photos of authorities smiling for the press with bags of maize flour.

There is a huge gap in the story telling where people can’t look at the story and get the whole picture of how this is impacting the people who these measures / decisions actually affect the most. People have a fixation of focusing on “big names” in the news rather than touching stories that transcend the realm of relevance for decades. We pay so much attention on news photos that may lose relevance in a week or so.

Story telling is a huge gap in photojournalism in Uganda. As a professional, your photos should tell 70% of the message even before the article is read.

Badru Katumba

How has photojournalism Impacted on your life?

A lot comes to mind but the fact that my job gives me the privilege to travel to so many places; around the country and some parts of the world. Meeting lots of people and witnessing new cultures, the experience is always worth it.

What drives you to keep going everyday?

The love to tell stories and the hope that each day comes with new challenges and stories to tell. I believe that tomorrow has a story to tell that was better than the day before which always keeps me wanting to find that story. In the same way, I reflect on my life knowing I can always become a better version of myself tomorrow and that keeps me going.

What are your thoughts on the covid-19 pandemic?

It’s a game changer and has opened our eyes to look at life differently in all aspects. Life is full of challenges and it’s pretty important how we handle each one of them; however I believe we have all learnt a thing or two from the situation.

How are you coping / adjusting to the lock down on a personal basis and in regards to your work?

Transportation has been a challenge. I use a bicycle to get to where I want because restrictions don’t allow unauthorized vehicles to move. Using a bicycle is quite hard but I am getting used to it. Also, the fact that there are now new guidelines and safety measures that I have to adhere to.

Hasn’t it affected some of your work?

Definitely, due of the travel restrictions ; I can’t work on projects outside the country so I am limited to what I can do within the country. 

Katumba Badru riding on his bicycle along Kampala Road. Photo by: Kibuuka Mukisa
Katumba Badru riding on his bicycle. Photo by Kibuuka Mukisa

What lessons has this season taught you?

I have learnt that there is need to be versatile. It’s key to have the ability to do more than one thing. You can do videography, edit, do some writing and still take photos, learn how to use motor cycles and learn new languages. It’s also taught me the importance of saving for such seasons of crisis. Multi tasking is also a vital human skill that we all should learn.

A police officer chases away a woman on a street in Kampala, Uganda, on March 26, 2020, after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni directed the public to stay home for 32 days starting March 22, 2020 to curb the spread of the COVID-19. (Photo by Badru Katumba / AFP)

Tell us about what you have been working on during this season

Documenting the impact of the president’s decrees on workers during this period has been my goal. Telling  stories through the lens about people working in markets and how they are maintaining their businesses while adhering to the lockdown measures put in place.

Some people had to sleep at their work places for instance the markets so I wanted to find out how they were coping, how they were sleeping, whether they had essential hygiene facilities and much more.

A man sleeping among items to be sold at the Nakasero market in Kampala following a directive from President Museveni that all vendors should sleep in markets for 14 days to avoid contact with their families to curb COVID-19. On Monday, March 30, 2020, he decreed an immediate 14 days nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 which had so far infected 89 people in the country. Photo by Badru Katumba

Biggest challenge during your COVID-19 projects

I wasn’t at ease doing some of this work because of fear for my safety. For instance capturing stories of sellers sleeping at night on their merchandise. These markets don’t have protective fences and it was a huge risk falling victim to the kifeesi (night thugs) who could easily mug me, harm me and take my equipment.

In some markets, people didn’t consent me taking their photos and thereby chased me away; this resistance made it hard for me to get the right photos to tell this stories but I had to find ways around it.

Miscommunication was also a big issue in some places where I travelled to, for instance at a market in Mukono, the Local Defense Unit officers arrested and put me in a police cell for breaching curfew yet I was on the job at a night market. The authorities that were meant to vouch for me stayed a bit far so I had to spend the night in the coolers in Mukono.

Are you collaborating with any other photographers in this season?

Not really, photojournalism is mostly about going to the field as an individual and capturing the stories as they appear. Collaboration isn’t really common especially in these tricky times.

However, I am looking to collaborate with writers to help me tell stories better for the world to see. I am looking at Herbert Okello to help me write some stories and other writers too for the future. Writing isn’t something I am very good at so I need to partner with some brilliant minds since my website will be coming up very soon.

Have you ventured in any other genres of photography besides photojournalism

When I was starting out, I used to do all genres. I still do explore different genres besides my main niche which is photojournalism. I have my reservations about doing events like weddings for money these days. For example I would prefer to shoot a wedding for a client that understands my craft, as opposed to the one who wants me to produce work he/she has seen from somewhere else.

And by the way, I love sports photojournalism more than anything.

Children playing football in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by Badru Katumba

Having successfully defined a signature style for yourself, would you have any tips for aspiring photographers on how they can develop a style and vision of their own?

As a Photojournalist you are required to have at least an idea on all areas in photography just in case  you are assigned because you need to pay bills.  However it’s very important to have  more of your energies directed on themes, or topics you feel more attached to. This way you, you will easily be identified given that now days someone can sleep as a builder and wakeup the next day as a photojournalist after taking one or two pictures. You will also develop a lot of experience in those areas which will give you an upper hand from the rest. It’s okay to do weddings and everything you so wish but create different identities for all. Not just one person covering news, weddings, events, funerals; etc. You will confuse people

I urge aspiring photographers to get as much learning and exposure as possible. Before you call yourself a photographer or a photojournalist, how much learning have you done in regards to the principles and basics of photography? Kick the fear out of you and take photos whenever you get the chance because you will get assignments where you have to take photos of people you hardly know and it takes courage.

Do not copy other photographers but instead get acquainted to them and learn from them. This will teach you much more than xeroxing their work. Find a mentor in photography and always get them to give you honest feedback on the work you have done, this is the only way to develop your skill.


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