National Geographic Award
The 2015 National Geographic photo contest winners were revently announced and my portrait of Bwengye, a young man in Kampala, Uganda won first place in the people category. This one really came as a surprise. One that makes you spill a cup of coffee, or a mug for that matter. When I returned from the Photoplus expo portfolio review, I had a great feeling about this portrait. The reason I say this is because each and every single reviewer to whom I showed my work not only spent a few more seconds looking at this picture, said something gratifying about it or just went back to spread once they went through the entire portfolio.
Bwengye is very stylish, fashionable and exudes a confidence and pride of a young man in his early twenties. When I first met him, there was no doubt he spent a good amount of time decorating and taking care of his bicycle. It had handles similar to those of a Harley Davidson and was covered in tightly and neatly knit orange and silver ribbons.
It was a warm and sunny mid morning in Kamwokya. “Would it be alright if I took a picture of you and your bike?” I asked. “Sure,” he said. I went on to tell him that it wasn’t a good time to take the picture and would have loved to meet up later in the evening. He agreed and gave me directions to a playground where he went to watch football every evening.
The playground was like many I have been to and played at. There was no grass. Just two goal posts, a brown football that was once white, and about 100 kids brilliantly dribbling in the dirt. I watched and waited as the ball got kicked and chased back and forth. After about two hours, I thought he had changed his mind about this whole thing. I was wrong. He showed up right before the sun disappeared and we shot a couple of frames.
In that moment, he represented millions of Ugandans. Demographically, Uganda is a very young country with an estimate of 60% of the entire population under the age of 35. Young men and women that seek something to hold on to and cherish. For some, it is the visual and performing arts, for others it is whatever kind of education, and for many it is just the desire to have have any of the two.
I entered this particular picture into the 2015 National Geographic contest not because I thought it would win anything but because I thought Bwengye was very authentic and real. He represents a view of Kampala, Uganda and perhaps Africa that many people around the world haven’t really paid attention to. “This picture challenges people’s ideas about that part of the world, and it is done with dignity,” said one of the National Geographic judges about it.
See 2015 contest winners here.