Andrew Donnan makes remarkable images for people that seek authentic, sincere and real photography. Every assignment is photographed with the intent to print. Heirloom quality albums, timeless framed photographs, and modern canvas prints give images the respect they deserve. For this occasion, Donnan shows us a set of images that transport the viewer to a natural and beautiful place in Africa, considered the Pearl of Africa. It is without tangents when Donnan expresses the fact that photography is “a ticket into places one would never go, people one would never meet.” With captivating images of Uganda’s people and beautiful landscapes, we gathered with Andrew to talk about this experience with Leica.
Please describe your approach towards the Uganda project, what were your creative objectives and what were you trying to convey through these images?
I did not want to go to Uganda to just make beautiful pictures and take them home with me. I wanted to give back, so a nice printer was purchased while we were in Kampala. I made prints and gave them back to the people I photographed. That printer is now being used by a local school there. My creative objectives unfolded as I was there, but I went to photograph our team of teachers and pastors, as well as photograph the people there, and the landscapes.
How long did you stay, and how what’s your take when experiencing this unique country?
I stayed for two weeks, cameras always at my side. Uganda is ‘the pearl of Africa’ and the climate of Sheema (western Uganda) reminded me of California with its dry mild temperatures and rolling hills. We spent most of our time with schools and a day touring medical facilities, but on our final day we drove through the rolling hills of the Ankole Tea Plantations, before reaching Queen Elizabeth National Park. That’s where we saw elephants roaming around among the local village and the enormous Crater Lake. Sadly I also saw trash thrown about, both in the city and countryside. But I also saw hope and pride in the Banda slums of Kampala.
While your photographic style as a strong focus in portraiture, there is an underlying denominator across all these images. And that is “community”. Every picture, like the classroom, the market, the kids playing soccer, it’s all reflecting a deep sense of community – what is your perception regarding this?
One can say that the people you’d photographed live mainly out of informal jobs, mostly focused on agricultural tasks. What was the experience of immersing yourself into their lives?
Describe your experience with the Leica M9 in terms of performance and selected piece of equipment? Granted, the shooting conditions were not as optimal as a studio could be, how did you manage to take these images with limited lighting, etc?
The M9 is a great camera for projects like this. The CCD sensor captured the rich colors of Uganda and it’s compactness made carrying equipment around all day easy. I can’t remember 100%, but I was either carrying two or three m9’s around so that I didn’t have to switch lenses in the dusty environment. The ISO limitations of that camera just forced me to treat it more like I would film. The sweet spot was to shoot at ISO 800 and then push it in Lightroom afterwards.
The very compelling image with the elephants, birds and buffalos all co-existing with one another, why did you take this picture? I’m sure it must have been a truly unique moment?
The zoo will never be as interesting to visit after making that picture in Queen Elizabeth National Park. There is a village that’s allowed to stay there and elephants roam around among the people. This was such a surreal image, but completely normal everyday life for the area.
The image with the man and folded pants, what’s the story behind this man?
Timuzigu is in need of surgery for his leg. He walked to the church to seek help. Before asking he shared the gospel and his favorite verse from the Bible.
Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to add and are there any other projects you’d like to mention?
I started my photography business with a primary focus on weddings and related portraiture, but going to Uganda showed me that you can make a difference in people’s lives with a camera. So many people are overlooked in this world. So many people don’t even have a single picture of themselves or their family to look back on, or pass down to their family. I would love to partner with more organizations that need this type of documentary work to further their cause. But it is also a challenge to seek out projects like this in my city.