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.”
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.
Magnum Foundation expands creativity and diversity in visual storytelling, activating new audiences and ideas through the innovative use of images. Through grant making, mentorship, and creative collaborations, we partner with socially-engaged imagemakers exploring new models for storytelling.
This installation was produced with the support of Magnum Foundation’s Counter Histories initiative, focused on creatively reframing the past to engage with urgent questions of the present and future. This project was made with the support of the Henry Luce Foundation.
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.
As We Are: Collaborative Portraits With Uganda’s Gulu Women With Disabilities Union
Featuring: Esther Ruth Mbabazi
Curated by: Simone SalvoView Location Details Number 29 on the official photoville map Click to download this year's map Brooklyn Bridge Park – Pier 2
146 Furman Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
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10 Under 10
Photoville’s 10 Under 10 featuring presentations from The New York Times, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Abrons Arts Center, Magnum Foundation, Pulitzer Center, Indigenous Photo, United Nations Women, Joseph Rodriguez, The Darkroom Masters, and National Geographic featuring live music from Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project.Learn More