In 2012, photographer Esther Ruth Mbabazi was not a photographer yet. She was 17 years old, taking journalism courses, paying for college by working as a gas station cashier. She wanted to be a writer; more specifically, she wanted to tell stories from her home country of Uganda. “But I realised,” she tells me over the phone, “that I’m not so good at writing.” At a group exhibition in Kampala, where she lives and has spent most of her life, she felt deeply moved. Something resonated. “When I saw these images, I thought, ‘Yes, this is how you tell stories. This is how you bring people into someone’s life.’”
Esther reached out to photographer Kibuuka Mukisa Oscar, who became her mentor (and lent her her first camera). She sought to document life in Uganda as she knew it — her friends, the socioeconomic strata of the country, their various hardships — and soon became a Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice Fellow.
She has since found ways to bring viewers into the lives of the people she photographs and tenderly reveal their stories to the world; documenting South Sudanese refugees in the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in northern Uganda, a traditional birth attendant assisting women with antenatal care (despite a governmental ban of the practice in 2010) in the Bududa district, a mountain village in eastern Uganda, and Kampala’s hip-hop scene.
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