A Camera Clicks, a Family Fed
When we paid him a visit one fine Tuesday morning in February, we found him hard in action, working his camera like a filmmaker directing a big budget movie. He was photo’ing two girls, who were giggling excitedly and changing poses as his camera clicked, panned and flashed at them. From a distance, he looked just like any other ordinary person from this rural community. A group of bystanders were watching the young man with keen admiration, mostly because of the professional DSLR camera he was using.
It was no surprise.
In a village like this one, it is rare to find someone carrying such a camera, let alone meet an individual skilled enough to operate such a professional camera. In other words, professional photographers are technically non-existent here.
But the young man is a professional photographer. And he can handle professional cameras.
This skilled young man is Conex Ng’onamo. He is a graduate of the Photography course of our vocational training programme. The two girls whose pictures he was taking, are just among the several loyal customers he has in this area. Conex is very popular and travels a lot to shoot photos because his photography services are in very high demand. He has made a name for himself and his customers trust him but Conex’s story starts somewhere in 2013.
“My father died in 2013, leaving my mother to take care of 5 children.” He started. A few months after his father’s death, Conex’s mother left for her home village but Conex stayed behind with three of his brothers. He found himself alone to care for his siblings. It was a very difficult experience. The responsibility was too much for the young man. Finding a stable source of income was not easy.
“I moved around doing piecework like labouring in maize gardens to earn something. It was a struggle.” He stated. However, the money he earned from labouring in maize gardens was not enough to sustain his brothers for long. The most difficult part was that he had to support his mother too. Buying food for the family was often a real tussle and Conex and his siblings could sometimes sleep without eating. The financial difficulties also affected the education of his little brothers since he was not capable of putting them through school. Often times, Conex’s brothers would miss classes.
But big change was just peeping around the corner. In 2017 when we introduced a course in Photography, Conex was among the first intake. He explained that he opted for photography because he had a passion for the field.
“I’ve always loved photography. When I was in primary school, I used to take pictures using an old manual camera my friend had.” He said. Conex admitted that enrolling for the photography course was the best thing he has ever done. The benefits and skills that he attained after his 6 months duration of his training are overwhelming. Conex bought a camera and set himself a photography business in his community. Gradually, his welfare moved from rags to riches. What the camera and the knowledge he gained brought him, is amazing. Conex’s photography skills won the trust of many people and in a settlement where trained photographers are scarce, he had struck gold.
“People are always looking for me. I am in high demand.” He chuckled, adding that during wedding ceremonies or events in the community, he is usually the priority. Conex is a bit of a celebrity figure too. His name is well known. A lot of his fellow villagers want to associate with him and many of his peers are inspired by his skills. News about his expertise with the camera reached far and wide and without long, he had excelled some seasoned photographers in the area. When he was starting out as a photographer, Conex explained, there were two other photographers in his neighbourhood but they were all forced to bow out of the trade when he came in. Conex believes he won the hearts of many because…
“I received training for this [photography] trade. The other photographers use knowledge which was simply passed on to them from someone else.” He boasted with confidence. “I think people notice the difference especially in the quality of pictures.”
The same difference can now be noticed in his living standards too. Conex confided that his small business is rapidly booming and he is making big money. Every week, he shoots around 100 to 200 pictures, which make him about MK120, 000 per month. That is quite a huge sum of money for someone who is self-employed. Smiling, Conex admitted that his livelihood has completely transformed. Caring for his mother and his little brothers is no longer a big problem since he can now support them with ease. Conex is even supporting his elder sister and her kid, who have just moved in with him.
His camera is earning him so much profits that his photography business has given birth to another business.
“I have branched off into tobacco business. I just bought 200 kilogrammes of tobacco which I plan to sell when the tobacco markets open.” Conex expressed. His plan, he said, is to buy at least 300 kilogrammes. Conex is also renting a garden where he plans to start a small scale farm. He can even manage to hire labourers to work in the garden – which is ironic considering that not long ago, Conex was the one working as a labourer.
Conex’s struggles have somehow faded, his economic standard has progressed and there is a glimmer of hope in his future. What is more, he has two businesses – one that is steadily shooting up and another that looks promising.