Voices of African Photography is a 10-part series presented in partnership with the African Photojournalism Database, a joint project of Everyday Africa and World Press Photo, to highlight the work of 10 African photographers and photojournalists.
When Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, announced his resignation last year, after days of political upheaval, photographer Zinyange Auntony was in the streets of Harare, photographing what, then, seemed like a momentous transition in the country’s history. As a frequent freelancer for Agence France-Presse, Auntony’s photographs have often made the front pages of papers around the world. There was the photo of a Zimbabwean soldier beating a man in a street of Harare last August when protests erupted over alleged fraud in the country’s presidential election. The photo quickly went viral, ending up on the cover of Le Monde and in The Washington Post.
Auntony’s career in photography started years before he started freelancing for wire agencies. He started out as a graphic designer in a studio in Gaborone, Botswana, mostly editing and resizing passport photos. “I knew how to run Photoshop on a computer, but I was confined to the backroom so I hardly had any camera contact until I bought myself a Kodak EasyShare camera,” he told In Sight.
That was in 2008. “I was so excited, I photographed anything and everything that caught my eye,” he said. Three years later, some of his photographs were part of a group exhibition at the Gwanza Month photography festival. That’s when he started freelancing for a local newspaper. “And this exposure to photojournalism made me realize I needed to get formal training,” he said. “So in 2014, I sold my camera kit and I enrolled for a year-long Photojournalism and Documentary course at the Market Photo Workshop in South Africa. That course has catapulted me to where I stand today.”
Auntony’s work, when he’s not freelancing for news agencies, focuses on social justice and environmental issues. “That’s a key driver for finding new inspiration,” he said. “I’ve always loved hearing and telling stories, so my approach seeks to preserve each narrative through visual documentary. In so doing I try to unmask the multiple layers of someone’s story.” But Auntony is careful about how he frames his stories. “Although my photos are often about people who are oppressed by systems, or [find themselves] in crisis situations, I’m careful not to treat the narrative as glamorous, because this would further emphasize a people’s disaffection or make them stand out and feel different.”
That’s particularly important for Auntony as he hopes, through his work, to offer a counterpoint to the white gaze through which Africa is too often represented. That has proven difficult, he said, despite the boom in affordable camera technology and media platforms that have made African voices far easier to find. “Africa’s photography industry is still dominated by the male white (European/American) gaze,” he told In Sight. “This means the many untold narratives of the continent will not change as fast as they should.”