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Capital’s own 25-year old Mulugeta Ayene is one of Ethiopia’s young and promising photographers. Mulugeta worked as a professional photographer for a couple of years and distinguished himself as one of the most talented and ambitious photojournalists in the country. His work has been exhibited at several solo and group shows in Ethiopia. He is also the winner of Foreign Correspondent Association of Ethiopia’s in photojournalism two years in a raw. He sat down with ESKEDAR KIFLE to talk about his ambitions and how he started the profession he love.
How did you get into photography?
There used to be a small photo studio in the neighborhood where I grew up. I used to go there and help out small things. That’s how I first got introduced to photography and started knowing the basics. Then during the summer when school was closed (I was studying Computer Science) I decided to take photography lessons at Master School of Photography, that’s when I really fell in love with the art. Photography is a form of art that shows reality; I’m not talking about studio or air brushed photographs, I am talking about seeing something interesting and taking a picture, that picture captures a moment as it is, it doesn’t add or subtract anything from it. It is a way to save history for generations to come.
What inspires you when you take a photograph?
I focus on fine art photography and photo journalism. I like taking pictures of people. I find it fascinating to learn about the life styles of past generations, when I know what people did to spend their time; for example when you read about “Wube Bereha” you get a certain image in your head about what life was like then for the younger generation, how they dress. It makes you think about all those things. There aren’t a lot of recorded pictures of that time and we are mostly left with our imaginations when we think of it. So as a photographer, I feel like I have a responsibility to record my generation’s history, so the coming generation won’t have to wonder what life was like for us. There is a lot of transition in Addis Ababa right now, there is change. For example Arat Kilo has changed so much, and we need to remember what that place looked like before all the change started taking place in recent years. Reading or hearing about a certain area is very different than actually seeing it. You are participating in different competitions every now and then, can you tell me about that?
I started participating and winning competitions when I was in school. Then I was chosen to become the photographer for My Fashion magazine, I worked there for a little while. At that time the Foreign Correspondent Association (FCA) award didn’t exist. But a little while after I left My Fashion and after I opened my own studio, they held the first FCA awards but I didn’t participate and I always regretted it because competitions are really good, they show you where you are in terms of how much your skills have grown. After I started working at Capital Newspaper I started participating in the annual competition. I participated in FCA in 2011 and 2012 and I was the winner of both. I also won first prize at the India-Africa photographic competition which was organized by the Indian government to promote cultural relations with Africa. It is very important to participate in international competitions. For example there is this competition that is held in New York every year. This competition has prizes, but even more importantly if chosen, the artist’s work will be shown in Times Square, and also have the opportunity to be featured in a magazine. So it is a huge deal.
Tell me a little bit about the Addis Foto Fest exhibition and what you will be doing.
Let me tell you about the first Addis Foto Festival that was held in 2010. I was invited to a press conference through my newspaper job, that’s when I first learned about the festival. I was interested in participating in the festival and I got to talk Aida Muluneh who organizes the festival; I showed her my work and she thought it was really good. Even though I wasn’t able to participate in the festival that year, I will be showing my works in different exhibitions at this year’s festival. I will have three exhibitions with other photographers; one is on a project called Addis Transformation, the other is a photography project I did in Madrid Spain, and the last one is an exhibition called “Life in My City” which I did with 12 other African artists. The last exhibition has been shown in Nigeria and now it will be featured here. I will also be part of a portfolio review that will be done as part of the festival. My works will be critiqued by well-known professional photographers. It is a really a good opportunity to learn.
Why did you stop doing studio photography?
I closed my studio and went back to photo journalism because I found it hard to work with customers who come to the studio. The customers who came to the studio, especially the women, wanted me to take pictures of them and make them look like models. They did different fake poses and then they wanted the picture to be air brushed. They never want anything real. I just can’t stand that. I just wanted to take the real picture of them. So I just couldn’t agree with my customers.
Where do you see yourself in the future? What are your plans in terms of your career in photography?
I want to save moments, historical events, just interesting happenings that occur during my lifetime, and not just in Ethiopia but everywhere in the world. I want to leave something for the coming generation and be remembered as the best photographer ever in Africa.
How do you look at the art of photography in Ethiopia, do you think it is growing?
It is hardly growing. There are a lot of photographers in this country but the problem is they usually stick to studio works. Mostly, they only want to make money. I am not saying making money is bad but if that’s the only thing motivating you it is a problem. Most photographers want to work on weddings because of the money but there is a lot they could be doing beyond that. But I am sure this form of art will grow eventually.
What do you think the reason is?
The society doesn’t give value to photography. They don’t see the art side of it. All they know is that you just click and you have a picture. It is true, anybody can take a regular picture especially now with technology like smartphones and things like that. But to take a picture in an artistic form is very different. The problem is that the society doesn’t differentiate between a regular picture and an artistic one. The other problem is that people are for some reason scared of letting photographers take pictures of them or their surroundings and then of course there is the issue of lack of schools that teach photography. There are journalism courses at universities but no photo journalism courses. There is also the school of fine arts but they also don’t give courses on photography.