As We Are: Collaborative Portraits with Uganda’s Gulu Women with Disabilities Union
Photograph by Esther Ruth Mbabazi
In 2020, Esther Ruth Mbabazi traveled from her home in Kampala to Uganda’s northern Gulu region to photograph a collective of women living with disabilities. What began as an assignment to photograph the work of the Gulu Women with Disabilities Union (GUWODU) grew into a multipart collaboration.
Mbabazi partnered with seven Indigenous women from GUWODU with the goal of creating portraits that showed each woman how she wanted to be seen. With the help of a local fashion designer, the women dressed in clothing they helped design and posed surrounded by artwork they created. Some disabled from birth, some from war, they each came to the photoshoot with a shared desire to counter how the media—in Uganda and beyond—typically portray disability.
From the custom outfits to the vibrant backdrops, the women guided every decision to best represent their individual stories and styles. Mbabazi documented the whole process to speak to the importance of agency and representation on both sides of the lens. When looking at the final results, the women all preferred the full-length images over the closer shots, saying, “This shows me as I am in my full existence, my full body, as I am.”
About The Artist
Esther Ruth Mbabazi is a photographer based in Kampala, Uganda. As a documentary photographer, Mbabazi uses storytelling and photojournalism to explore changing conditions on the African continent amidst the social, physical, and emotional aspects of daily life. Mbabazi is driven to bring overlooked issues to light through a curious and empathetic perspective.
She is a National Geographic Explorer, a Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice Fellow, and a contributor to Everyday Africa. She is one of six talents recognized for the 2020 World Press Photo 6×6 Africa. Her work has received support with grants from the Pulitzer Center, National Geographic, Magnum Foundation, and the IWMF.
Mbabazi’s images have been published in the New York Times, TIME, National Geographic, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, El Pais, and commissioned by a variety of international organizations.
About The Organizations
The Magnum Foundation is a nonprofit organization that expands creativity and diversity in documentary photography—activating new audiences and ideas through the innovative use of images. Through grant-making and mentorship, Magnum Foundation supports a global network of social justice and human rights-focused photographers, and experiments with new models for storytelling.
American Jewish World Service is the leading Jewish organization working to fight poverty and pursue justice in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. AJWS supports over 500 social change organizations in 18 countries, all responding to the most pressing issues of our time—from disasters and genocides to the persecution of women, LGBTQI+ people and Indigenous communities, as well as ethnic and religious minorities—in an ongoing mission to build a more just and equitable world.