Nancy M. Musinguzi is a documentary photographer who “seeks truth in trauma, memory, and transformative moments of time to gauge the history of silent people.” She is inspired by the “timetable of a human life” and “unique and powerful stories” to create works such as her series, “A Nomadic Summer” Los Angeles CA, “Disposible Memories: Organic Perspectives on Film” NYC/NJ, and “Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin” Harlem and Union Square. I was able to sit down with Musinguzi and chat about her most recent project in the following interview:
ARC: What are you working on right now?
Nancy Musinguzi: What I am working on is an ongoing project visualizing and photographing mental illness in young people of color. I’m attempting to provide a platform for those to tell stories about the ways they deal and cope with trauma, that is specific to their experiences as persons of color in the US; marginal and outside the conversations about health, wellness and care that also tie into the way we understand body politics. Who is a priority of the state? How do we understand pain and visualize its reality as something worth a public response? Etc.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Well, it could be DNA embedded. My mom was really creative. My parents gave me my first camera. It was a [35mm] film camera, a 1982 Yasihica. They don’t even make those anymore. I’m inspired by a lot of things because I come from a very colorful background. My parents were West and East African emigrants. I grew up listening to lots of different types of music. My grandma was a diplomat so she spoke a lot of languages. [Through her] I was very inspired by different walks of life. Which drove me to major in anthropology and global science.
I’m very interested in human behavior. I’m interested in what makes somebody joyful, or why people maintain their happiness the way they do. Or why they create things for other people and not just do things for themselves. I’m just interested in these philosophical questions that maybe anthropology can’t explain but art does. That’s kind of where photography comes in. It does things that rhetoric and writing can’t simply do because it allows you to visualize inspiration. So, basically, I get inspired by other people seeking inspiration.
What past projects are you most proud of?
About 3 or 4 years ago I did a 365 Project my sophomore year of college. I started it unpacking in my room and ended it packing my bags to go back to the United States when studied abroad in Ghana. It was a really dynamic project that I was consistent with and I was actively seeking something every day. I really appreciated that style of project making. Ever since then it’s felt super hard to do that all over again. I needed it for that year but then subsequent years after that I put my camera down for some reason. I think college shifted my ways of how I socialize with people. It literally changed the way I interacted with people. I felt subconscious about myself so I stopped taking pictures.
Just recently, in January, I picked up my camera again and started walking around New York after work. Eventually I got fired and so I just did it full time. Then I started going to underground Hip-hop shows and I would bring my camera and started writing “Reflections” and people really liked my work so I just kept doing it. I wasn’t getting paid but I loved it because I love Hip-hop and I love writing. I love understanding people and exploring new environments. So in terms of consistency I think my 365 project was really great.
I’ve been using a lot of disposable cameras as well. I use disposable cameras to understand the organic nature of photography. Because you can’t adjust [the settings]. I’m also interested in time and space and how that’s captured in photography; how we make sense of that. Since I can’t manipulate anything it’s like I’m stopping time.
Do you prefer analog to digital?
I appreciate it more. I like manipulating images but not graphic-wise. I like layering and juxtapositioning things together. Photoshop is great for that. So, each one has something unique to offer that I like. I might like disposable cameras a little more, though. You really don’t know what you’re going to get until you develop it. [It’s the limitation.] It makes you patient because you can’t just shoot off 50 frames in 10 minutes. You have to wait and save or else you’re going to run out of shots. I’ll go through a disposable camera in 2 weeks as opposed to a day [like you can with digital]. I want to document time. I want to document my life over time and my experiences over time.
What do you have to say about the use of the high-tech digital cameras available today?
It all depends on the photographer. If you’ve been working [in the industry] for 10 years than eventually you’re going to be working in sectors where you need that kind of equipment. But if you’re my age -to be honest- and you’re stocking up on telephoto lenses and RED cameras and really expensive equipment, you’re missing the point of the art form. You’re trying to base your art on how high the resolution is rather than high quality.
Because people associate high resolution with high quality, they’ll delete a blurry photo. I’ll keep mine, because it almost takes me two minutes to capture one photo. I will sit there and not touch the button until I know it’s right. I like experiencing something before I capture it. If you’re just capturing, you’re going to miss [the experience]. You have to get to know the subject beforehand. I’ll be at shows with artists that I don’t know and I’ll put my camera down for a minute. Once I get into it then I’ll take pictures on rhythm. Or I’ll be on stage and I’ll be dancing around but it’s genuine, it’s honest. That’s my aesthetic. People are afraid of non high-res photographs.
What advice would you give new photographers?
Always re-imagine. Re-imagine yourself. Re-imagine your environment. Start appreciating things a lot more. Try to make people see things that they don’t want to. Try to make them see things that you can’t keep off your mind. Find something that you can’t live without and focus all you work around that. Care a little more and be an open [vessel]. Gain experience and never stop documenting. Always bring your camera everywhere. Because you’re going to run into to something that you’re going to want to capture.