Through the OverExposed campaign, we have been fortunate enough to collaborate with some amazing organisations that have helped to bring the campaign to life.
When we started on this journey we always knew that photography was going to be one of our biggest challenges. Our entire image library, hundreds of photos, needed replacing with photos that didn’t show children’s faces. But more than that, we didn’t know of any other organisation that had made this change, we had to rip up all previous photography briefs and start from scratch. We scoured the internet to try and find examples of impactful and dignified images that didn’t show children’s faces to demonstrate what we were looking for. In our conversations with photographers, our brief was often met with quizzical and worried looks, none of the photographers we spoke to had ever received a brief like this.
Thankfully we were introduced to Raymond and the team at Mara Mambo Media by our funding partner, TheirWorld. Not only were Mara Mambo Media based in Kampala (it was critical to us that any photographers we used were Ugandan nationals) but they had also visited Kyaka II Refugee Settlement several times so knew the environment well. They admitted that our brief was unusual but reassured us that they would put their best team on the job to make this possible.
Below Raymond explains and shares his experience and reflections on approaching what he calls ‘a thrilling and enriching’ brief:
“We received an email from one of our clients in the UK for whom we had recently completed a documentary photography assignment. The email informed us that one of their partners, Chance for Childhood, had reached out to them asking for recommendations for an experienced Uganda-based photographer for a photography project in Kyaka II. Mara Mambo Media, the email went on to say, had been their recommendation.
Surely, a recommendation is the strongest nod of approval any professional can receive from a client. So, the news had been exciting. But then also, a recommendation can raise the stakes a little higher as there is a reputation to either be built or defended as the case maybe.
Excited as we were, we had absolutely no idea what awaited us. We would soon find out, that the kind of photography the project required was nothing like our previous assignments. Chance for Childhood, our prospective new client, was going through a rebranding phase and in line with its new five-year strategy to protect and empower children, was developing new guidelines to be used across all its literature. Specifically, the photo and video graphics content were not to feature children’s faces and identifiable features.
Although experience over the years has taught us that every challenge is doable, the fact that the task translated to a whole new dimension and approach to the photographic documentation of children, especially with disabilities, was somewhat intimidating. It was therefore with mixed feelings that we accepted to take on the challenge.
The dates having been agreed upon, we set out on 25th June to join Alice Barley, Chance for Childhood’s Head of Fundraising and Communications, in Kyaka II UNHCR Refugee Settlement. The settlement lies some 200 KM from the capital, Kampala, in the western Uganda district of Kyegegwa. We had, by this time, had enough time to study our brief and clearly understand our client’s expectations.
Given that we were working in a refugee settlement, and that the children were more than likely survivors of war and its ruthless effects, we had to be as sensitive as possible to their plight in the documentation process. While, for instance, it was important to highlight the need for the work of Chance for Childhood to change the subjects’ situation, it was equally important not to portray them as too vulnerable. At the core of our task, therefore, was the need to highlight the sense of hope and dignity of the subject.
The biggest challenge we faced was the very fact that the client did not want the children’s faces to be shown. This meant that we were entirely losing the extra communicative features that faces lend to photographs of human subjects. How then were we to make these pictures communicate without the aid of facial expressions? The worry was that the one hundred photographs required by our client would turn out to be the same photograph. However, the open-mindedness with which we approached the task proved most valuable. It dawned on us that if we were to pull off the feat, we had to provide be creative and give guidance to the families and children we were photographing.
This was no easy feat to pull off as the children were young and some found our setup rather intimidating. This was further complicated by the language barrier problem as many of the families were not familiar with most of the more popular languages in Uganda. However, some of our team members were fairly competent in Kiswahili which some families seemed to have a good command of and some families had also spent a fairly long time in Uganda and were familiar with the local Rutooro tongue. Overall we found that the children and families were very present and ‘in the moment’; parents fondly played with their children as if there was no one else watching, allowing us to capture the special bond between children and their carers. Working with them was amazing.
As much as the assignment was daunting, it was also as thrilling as it was enriching. For us, the project embodied the importance of fully informed consent and the need to ensure that the whole family understand the purpose of the photographs. Mara Mambo Media is, therefore, very proud of our association with the project.”
The two days we spent taking photos with Mara Mambo Media was a meaningful learning experience for us all. As soon as we saw the way that Raymond and Jjumba Martin interacted with the families we knew that we had made the right choice. They were so patient and kind, taking time to put children and families at ease.
Mara Mambo Media’s open-minded approach and dedication to delivering brief demonstrated that not showing children’s faces doesn’t have to be a challenge. It can be a creative opportunity to change how we tell stories.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Mara Mambo Media to anyone looking to work with a media agency in Uganda. You can visit their website here (https://maramambomedia.com/) and get in touch by email at