Tamuka Mtengwa talks Photography

Photography | By Tamuka Mtengwa, Photographer | 12 January 2014

What made you choose to study Fine Arts?
Ha ha , its actually quite a common question.You will be surprised to know that i intended to study

Most Zimbabwean parents would not have endorsed the pursuit of such a qualification what was your parents reaction to studying fine art?
Well its funny how you ask , i actually intended to study law but my dad insisted that I pursue fine art. He seemed to have strong beliefs in my artistic potential.

What was it like to be the first black person to study Fine art majoring in photography at Rhodes University?
I didn't really look at myself as a black student of photography. Those days were crazy days were we did not really have many cares.All we worried about was making sure the next photograph would be a hit. We were very inspired as a year group and worked very hard and could be found in the studio in the wee hours of the morning either shooting at night , processing photographic negatives or printing in the dark room. We all thought we were going to become famous lol!
Have you met any famous people in your young but promising career?
Ha ha lets see..mmmm yes I was honoured to be introduced to Salif Keita when I was in Bamako, Mali for The African Masterclass of 2005 at Moufou his studio.I was blown away. He was very humble and welcoming. I guess I really enjoyed that part of the world and its interring culture.You really feel you are in Africa and the nights  magically lights up like a constellation of lightning bugs into an enchanting carnival of music dance, the wonder of the Sahel.
I was lucky enough to be there twice that year.

What other work have you done outside The Republic of South Africa?
Well I have lectured in tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe, and exhibited at the National gallery of Zimbabwe, in Cameroon and Mali. I was honoured to have three images purchased by the gallery as part of their permanent collection.

What are your views on photography in the countries you have worked, outside The republic of South Africa?
There is certainly a lot going on with regards photography in West Africa.I would have loved to spend a year there doing some documentary and fine art photography there.There is so much material there and subject matter of photographic interest, truly speaking its about as African as you can get, besides there is a lot of appreciation for photography there as the International  biennial of African photography is held there, photographs being exhibited at every space possible.I also had the privilege of  visiting the Seydou Keita foundation established in honour of the late great Malian photographer.

Film or digital photography? What can you say about the two?
That question can start a war lol. We studied photography when digital photography was unheard of.There were only 9 of us in our year group, fiddling around in the dark loading film into developing tanks, and running around with thermometers and chemicals.Film was limited to 36 exposures  on a 35 m camera or  10 to 12 if you are using a 6X 7 camera or a hasselbladThose days one really thought about what they were doing and had to concentrate because after processing if you couldn't use any of the film frames then it would have been a waste of time and money. Todays young photographers  don't really have much motivation to think things through since they can always delete and reshoot , or dump their images on their computers and reuse the CF or SD card.Digital is however the way to go with regards commercial photography.

What and who inspires you?
I can't really pin point one single source of inspiration, I would like to think of my self as a student of life anything that makes an impression on me is likely to influence
my level of creativity.

Have you ever gotten into trouble?
Well I can tell you for sure that there was a time when cameras could get you into trouble especially around 2001 when media laws became more stringent.I had my film  confiscated but then again that is another story for another day.I did get it back when the misunderstanding was cleared.Because a great number photographers in Zimbabwe are hard news photographers or photo journalists it is generally assumed that if you are carrying a DSLR you are looking to catch someone out or stick your nose into someones business.

Are you married in this promising and vibrant career?
You will be the first to know when that aspect of my life is finalised (chuckle)

If you had kids would you want them to become artists as well?
I would not encourage them to follow my path,however I would still want them to know photography.It was a risk we took and it didn't pay off immediately like most of the other disciplines. Its only when we got our qualifications that we asked ourselves what we were going to do with them.I think my life after varsity has been more like an adventure and I'm grateful it worked out.I think the advice I would give them is go for your dreams but don't be stupid about it.Its not always that one will eventually make it as the romantic narrative of the life of the artist seems to insist.

What are you currently involved in?

I am currently lecturing at a University in Pretoria ,South Africa.

What do you dislike about photography?
I dread being asked by friends and family to photograph their weddings and for free.Photography is essentially a business like medicine and pharmacy.I would not be drawn  to ask for a years supply of check ups or prescriptions as a wedding gift.I would like to celebrate my friends and relatives weddings rather than to be working on that day, i generally don't mind shooting one or two images though.Sometimes people won't understand and perhaps this is where I would ask who would photograph my own wedding for free ha ha…