A Conversation With Tamary Kudita; Winner Of The Creative Category At The World Photography Awards 2021

Photography is an art-form that sometimes feels as if it’s unappreciated in the Zimbabwean creative space. Which in all honesty can be said for a lot of arts in Zimbabwe. Yet photography is as important as any other medium in telling African stories from the perspective of Africans. In recent years African storytelling has experienced it's greatest renaissance and storytellers are rising in all mediums with multifaceted African stories to tell. One such storyteller using photography as their medium is the award winning photographer Tamary Kudita. 

Diving into Africa's history and exploring race, stereotypes & culture through her portraiture works that combine Western and African elements, Tamary Kudita is painting her own path in the photography space. She infuses stories from her own background and family dynamics to tell truly unique tales in her images. Recently honoured with the Creative Award at the Sony World Photography Awards 2021, she's already marked her place in history, literally taking Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole to the world. 

The image titled "African Victorian" that earned her the honour was modeled by Nothando Chiwanga while Angeline Dlamini did the costume design. An honour capping her journey of ever rising recognition that has seen her appear in multiple international publications and being awarded the VAW Journal Most Inspiring Art Piece Award in 2020 and The Voices of African Women Cover Book Award. 

After winning the creative award is currently in contention for the overall open category winner which will earn her the title Open Photographer of the Year and a $5,000 award should she win it. The award winner is set to be revealed on April 15. We recently had a conversation with Tamary about her journey so far and how it feels being awarded a World Photography Award and having her work on display in New York among other things.

So how did your journey into photography begin?


My photography journey started about 3 years ago when I was at university. I studied bachelor of fine arts at Michaelis school of fine art. My degree included fine art disciplines such as printmaking, sculpture, animation, painting and photography. Our very first project was a type of photography called pinhole photography which involved using a pinhole handmade camera. (a camera with a pinhole as an aperture instead of a lens). Unlike digital photography this technique involved a great deal of manual skill. The aesthetic of the images made with this type of equipment harmonized perfectly with the old photographic processes, I decided to use this as a stepping stone to branch out into film photography


I noticed how you used to have a lot of calls for models on your page was that an obstacle in your early days?


when I started my business, there wasn’t a huge surge of interest right away. There were many days I felt like I was letting myself down. After a year or so of this I had a conversation with myself (as I sometimes tend to do) about the kind of life I wanted, and what I was willing to sacrifice for my business and what I was not willing to. At this time, I revamped my business plan to include a style and approach that was very different than what others were offering. I Fine-tuned my brand name and marketing tactics to focus solely on selling my unique specialization and expertise.


What other issues did you struggle with?


When I started out, one of the things that never crossed my mind was the great importance placed on being a woman, even in today’s enlightened age I’ve had a few clients who have surpassed themselves with their stunningly outdated bias. I’ve found myself having to be very assertive to combat preconceived ideas about the weaker gender. There are so many amazing female photographers out there and it saddens me that there is still a preconceived notion amongst some that photography is a man’s job. You see, there really shouldn’t be any differentiation between male and female photographers – we’re all just photographers, with different perspectives, trying to make a living from the craft that we love.


What inspires your art?


I like to think of myself as a visual activist who uses the camera as a tool. I would say that my style plays on the dualities that exist in the world. Contemporary versus historical, Fantasy versus reality, modernity versus tradition and endings versus beginnings. Reflecting on these polarities and creating a visual language where they coexist allows me to constantly push the boundaries in my image making


Has how you express yourself in the art changed from when you began to now? If yes how has it changed?


I found myself having to make the transition from film to digital because the processing laboratories were fewer and farther between. I feel that when you shoot on film you are making the picture because you are developing, scanning or processing the film so the process is much more involved but I was also intrigued by the wonders of the DSLR. The instant feedback from the screen on the back, the "shoot – check the screen – re shoot" 

It eventually proved to be irresistible and I was in. During a shoot, I could switch from colour to black and white, change the contrast all on the same body. It turned me into a fast learner, made me able to make more risks in terms of the photo itself. I would say my style has evolved from having an old-fashioned aesthetic to a new contemporary way of self-expression.


So besides works of the Victorian era and vintage photography do you have any other style forms you dabble in?


No, that’s my only chosen mode of expression.


How was it winning the World Photography Creative Award?


I wanted my work to engage with a wider audience and prove to my peers that photography can take you to places you have only dreamed off and it honestly feels surreal!


If you had accepted the award on stage what would your speech have been?


Photography is just as important of an art form alongside it’s counterparts. Work from the African continent doesn’t often get the spotlight that’s needed. I am glad that I am able to show Inclusive narratives from marginalized histories.

How does it feel to know your work is on display right now in New York?


Being a black female photographer I believe that the history of photography for black women is still being written and it is my role as a photographer to portray truthful narratives about the African experience. I am glad that I received this kind of recognition which in turn allows me to capture the attention of an audience who I wouldn’t typically have access to


What do you think of photography and how it's perceived in Zimbabwe?


Whilst the art world is evolving and starting to encompass all artistic mediums, the same cannot be said for the art scene in Zimbabwe. Photography in particular, has been highly commercialized which has a huge bearing on how it’s perceived in the artistic sphere. Commercial photography, added to the popularity and mass distribution of digital cameras, makes it hard to be considered a medium of its own here in Zimbabwe. However, people are slowly breaking away from this traditional way of thinking and I hope my art form can ignite this process. Furthermore, art spaces and local galleries are increasingly exhibiting photographic work thus putting it at the forefront with other mediums. I believe that photography has changed the way we perceive the world. Modern history has been redefined thanks to photojournalism alone; a single image has had a bigger impact in describing an event than the number of words used to describe it.


Have done any exhibitions locally yet?


Yes I have exhibited at The National Gallery of Zimbabwe, The National Gallery of Bulawayo and Artillery Gallery.


What work of yours would you say you love most?


The artwork I enjoyed creating was the first ever piece for my African Victorian series. Initially I had not envisioned creating a series but as the artwork unfolded I saw potential development for an African women themed series that could be stretched cross-culturally each showing unique points of view. African Victorian was created in direct response to one of Rembrandt’s painting titled ‘Saskia as Flora.’ In this image, I wanted to portray the women in Rembrandt’s life. Approaching this complex theme in the artist’s private life I chose to use one model to play the role of the woman. In an attempt to demythologize my recreations of Rembrandts work, I decided to borrow local African elements such as African print material and domestic tools such as a sweeper (mutsvairo), to add a layer of complexity whilst maintaining relatability. 

I thought about the image of the black female in western art and what it would mean placing an African woman in the realm of mainstream art history. Creating the outfit was the most exciting part. I drew sketches of the model’s costume then I worked with a local designer to make these designs come to life. Reconfiguring the African dress into Victorian attire was the most significant part because in doing this I inverted the power indexed by Victorian dress whilst using clothing to unpick inherited binaries affecting our understanding of differences of the post-colonial identity.

Tamary Kudita also runs Tammy's Antiques which sells handcrafted frames along with prints of her original work. Tammy's Antiques has a showroom in Harare along Enterprise road in the Highlands suburb. 

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