Talent galore at Photography Awards in Nairobi

Thandiwe Muriu won the portraiture award and also tied for Young Photographer award. COURTESY
Thandiwe Muriu won the portraiture award and also tied for Young Photographer award. COURTESY  

Winners of the first ever Kenya Photography Awards competition went on display at Alliance Francaise last Friday afternoon through to December 21st.

Sponsored by the Embassy of Switzerland together with a range of local and international corporations, the Kenyatta International Conference Centre generously hosted the award ceremony for free earlier this month when Kenya’s Chief Justice Willy Mutunga presented hefty awards to the winning photographers.

The overall winner was Thomas Mukoya of Reuters international news agency who earned Sh200,000 in that category. Mukoya also won Sh100,000 for his ‘Cricket Series’ in the Sports category and Sh25,000 more for winning a second prize (or honorable mention) in the Daily Life category.

In all, the Kenyan earned Sh320,000 for his outstanding action images that captured amazing moments in the country’s daily life.

As there were seven categories that were judged, including News, Nature, Daily Life, Portraiture, Sports and Creativity as well as Most Promising Young Photographer, each first prize winner won Sh100,000; and like Mukoya, the runners up were given Sh25,000.

Organised by the year-old Photographers Association of Kenya (PAK) and PAWA254, the competition was open only to both established and up-and-coming Kenyan photographers.

And in spite of the fact that the ‘annual’ competition was only launched this past September, more than 200 Kenyans responded sending in more than 1200 entries.

The cash prize offered a serious incentive for local photographers to submit their best images to the PAK-PAWA254 competition.

But their overwhelming response also reflected the fruits of PAK-PAWA254’s advertising campaign which, according to the competition’s co-founder, Njeri Mwangi, all took place online through Kenya’s vibrant social media, including Facebook, Twitter, the PAWA254’s website and emails to various art centres such as Kuona Trust, GoDown, iHub and members of the PAWA254 community.

The initial cut of the 1200 images was made by Boniface Mwangi, former Standard Newspapers photographer, founder of PAWA254, award-winning photojournalist, social activist and co-founder of the new award.

Mwangi was also the one who called up the other nine international and local judges who took over the rest of the adjudication process.

All professional photographers with impressive credentials, they came from not just Kenya but Nigeria, Sudan, South Africa, UK, and the US. And most had either worked with international news agencies such as BBC, AFP and Associated Press or worked for international newspapers.

For instance, the chief judge was the Pulitzer-prize winning South African photographer Greg Marinovich whose images have appeared everywhere from Time and Newsweek magazines to New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and The Guardian of London among others.

The other judges are also formidable, including Nigerian Babajide Adeniyi-Jones, Sudanese Emmanuel Jambo, Americans Emma Raynes and Ric Francis, Anna Umbima as well as Kenyans Sylvia Gichia, Carl de Souza and Omondi Abudho.

Initially bringing Mwangi’s cut down to 30 short-listed photographers, the adjudicators ended up selecting first prize winners Georgina Goodwin in the news category, Thandiwe Muiru in Portraiture, Karim Kara for his nature images, Joe Kiragu in the creativity category, David Mutua for Daily Life and Thomas Mukoya for Sports.

The most promising young Kenyan photographer award went to both Thandiwe Muriu and Louis Nderi who had to split the Sh100,000 cash prize in two.

One needs to get to Alliance Francaise to see this extraordinary array of Kenyan creativity. One especially striking aspect of the winning images was the way several photographers submitted a series of images all related to one topic.

For instance, Mukoya’s winning sports award was for his Cricket series featuring Maasai players dressed to the teeth in their traditional and colourful regalia.

Georgina Goodwin also won for her powerful Westgate series and despite Collins Kweyu not winning first prize for his Daily Life and News series, his Drug series of images revealed a side of urban African life that is as tragic as it is stunning and sensational.

Njeri Mwangi, whose brain child is the Kenya Photography Awards is thrilled with the outcome of the ‘first edition’ of the Awards. “The idea was to encourage and stimulate Kenyan photographers as well as to expose their excellence – their skill, talent and creativity,” she says.

“There are so many companies and NGOs in Kenya who import photographers from abroad, not knowing how much local talent there is right here,” she adds.
As manager of PAWA254, Njeri sees a multitude of talented visual artists coming to the art centre every week, which is one reason why she believed the competition would be a success.

But she and Boniface Mwangi are especially grateful to the Swiss Ambassador to Kenya Jacques Pitteloud who generously funded the winning prizes for this first edition of the Kenya Photography Awards.

Meanwhile, Dominique Thoemes’ art will be at the Talisman restaurant from December 5th and Kwani? celebrated their final public anniversary party last Friday night with a one-day only exhibition of the art of Kenya’s most world renowned multimedia artist Wangeci Mutu.