Meet the Fellows: Esther Mbabazi

Esther establishing rapport with her subject for the day. Juba – August, 2017

Esther a 23 year old Ugandan, went to journalism school for a while and her photography has already been featured in the New York Times, but she is reluctant to call herself a journalist. “I am a documentarian,” she says. “I chose photography because it gives you a feeling of the place, time and person. Instead of imagining it, you see it,” she says. If not all photography achieves that, Esther’s does. She spends a huge amount of time with her subjects, negotiates access into their intimate spaces and plays with them to tease out their unguarded and aspirational selves. The result is photography that stunning both visually and in its storytelling.

Esther loves documenting other young people and chose to do the same on her IWMF reporting trip to Juba, South Sudan. The experience was rewarding, if somewhat limited. On one hand, she captured photos that complicate the single conflict narrative that dominates people’s view of South Sudan. Her photos will show her young Juba subjects chasing the universal pursuits of the young: education, fun, fame, and sporting dominance. On the other hand, the city’s 7pm curfew meant that, at least a foreign journalists, she couldn’t go around photographing their night lives. “So, in the photos, it’s like their is only one half of life to Juba. The daytime.”