The annual photography exhibition, Gwanza, is several months away and most of the prominent local photographers are gearing up for the event. It is perhaps not surprising, that these eminent technical artists would spend so much time preparing for an event that they are very likely to gain
little from, mainly because the occasion is probably the only one on the calendar that photographers get a chance to showcase their works.
Gwanza has been held around mid-year annually, since 2002, when well-known photographer, Calvin Dondo, founded the event.
Photography in any country is vital.
Photography provides conclusive proof that an event took place or that an object actually exists.
Photography works better that any form of art when substantiating the existence of objects and events as pictures provide the closest resemblance to the actual.
Because they look so real, pictures have the ability to preserve memories -- coded messages within photographs may trigger nostalgic inference.
Photojournalism allows readers to relate to events, objects and people that they may never get to meet physically. Photojournalism in Zimbabwe has been given extra relevance since the turn of the century as the artificial socio-economic factors that were a by-product of political interference and polarisation.
From the early 2000s, when the world started to find the Zimbabwean situation interesting, demand for the country's photographs from the international press reached unprecedented levels.
A lot of the 'freelance' photographers found their profession highly rewarding as they partnered international organisations.
Regrettably, local photographers during that time lost a lot of their independence because, if they were to get paid, they had no choice but to submit photographs that fitted into the international organisations' philosophies and editorial policies.
The 'Zanu-PF bad, MDC-good' editorial policies of the West that highlighted violence or other misdeeds by the nationalist party and ignored the transgressions of the newer, foreign-sponsored party became so entrenched in Zimbabwean photographers' heads that they probably started to believe that the perpetrator of any act of violence in the country was doing so to preserve the status quo.
And with no hard cash available to both the rich and the poor, the international news organisations held all the cards. Local photojournalists were clearly exploited to give the international community skewed facts about what was going on the ground.
It is probably true that Zanu-PF was responsible for some of the violence in Zimbabwe during the early 2000s. The volatile nature of the polarisation in the country meant that any small disagreements would degenerate into something more baleful.
Hatred was polluting the air, and everyone had no choice but to pick a side.
It is impossible to imagine that the MDC had little or nothing to do with the violence that engulfed the land.
Just as the whole country was contaminated by extreme revulsion, the photojournalism sector was similarly polluted by one-sided policies that gave the impression that the opposition which the West openly supported was a group of saints fighting against malevolence unmatched by anything from the present or the past. That clearly was not the case.
The Western world failed Zimbabwe by introducing partisan methods of presenting visual information for their amusement and the 'yeah, we can use them whenever we want' bragging rights.
The upside of this association with the international Press is that local photographers got to realise just how far back they were with technology and techniques.
Photojournalists have evolved so much that the overall picture quality has improved and their understanding of picture formats, editing and other forms of digital enhancements.
A number of Zimbabwean photojournalists have since evolved into truly world class professionals.
In 2006, Desmond Kwande won the prestigious CNN Mohamed Amin Photographic Award, while Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, Anne Mpalume, Aaron Ufumeli, Believe Nyakudjara, Phillimon Bulawayo, Tawanda Mudimu and many others continue to ably represent the new generation of photojournalists that are naturally gifted and technically sound.
The problem now is that besides the newspapers that employ them, Gwanza exhibition represents the only well-marketed opportunity for the photojournalist to present their work to the public.
The lasting memories that their photographs offer have little or no emotional value if kept out of the public. More photographic exhibitions would give the public an opportunity to relate to images that are important to them. Because the photojournalist himself chooses the pictures that are submitted for consideration, images that may have been rejected elsewhere have every chance to be displayed for the public.
Photographic exhibition is the only form of artistic expression for the photojournalists that is created, adjudicated and managed only by the individuals that see through the lenses themselves.
By Knowledge Mushohwe