Introducing our new Afrolutionist addition, Towela Kams. A 19 year old photographer and CEO of PBTK Media. Her journey into photography started when she was 15, having successfully released four documentaries exploring various social issues. In only four years, Towela explored toxic masculinity, sexual assault, colourism and immigration. These documentaries received global attention, including profiling in Afropunk and a week-long exhibition in the national museum in Botswana. Towela will be joining The Afrolutionist on our pilot apprenticeship program. We figured it was best for her to share more insight into her Afrolutionary work and passion for African story-telling.
What led you into your love for photography?
At first, it was semi-aesthetic reasons. I have a great eye for the way things look but beyond the surface, it stems from a deep appreciation of how worthy things are of being photographed and not just how beautiful they are to me. After a few months of sharpening my craft, this appreciating continued to grow to not only showcase the wonderful things around me but to be more inclusive of the culture and lifestyle around me.
I fell in love and I stayed in love because of the respect I have for my camera’s capabilities at a social level. It’s very much falling in love with myself and my views and being receptive others and their views. In many ways, I hold the belief that my passion for photography is a reflection of my own empathy for others and for myself.
What event or person inspired you to tap into citizen photography?
A series of events and interactions with people inspired my photography journey – probably more than I anticipated initially. I’m an introvert so I didn’t quite expect the people I encountered early on in my career to Impact my life the way they did. As a photographer, you see things and as an experienced photographer, you begin to perceive things as well.
In this way, citizen [social] photography was a natural progression. Thought initially hesitant, I became open to the creative flow when I realised it aligned with my desire to see people’s lives become better. I understood the power of photography – of transitioning from beyond seeing to perceiving – very early into my career and once I tapped into that power, I was left with the probing question: What will you do with it? I chose to tell stories that spoke on behalf of others.
How do you believe we can shape our minds and ideas through photography?
Firstly, establishing the notion that photography is more than just itself. By this I mean, photography is usually upheld for its technical skills. It’s glorified for its physical functions and we’ve seemed to place a ceiling on how much it can impact our lives.
It’s time to redefine the functions of photography to suit the current digital age by using it as a medium and not as a tool. It’s not just about how pretty photographs look, it is a way of conveying something. What you convey through the lens depends on who you are and who you are depends on what you convey outside of the profession in your emotional, mental, spiritual and physical settings.
The solution therefore lies within the approach of 21st Century photographers themselves and their attitudes and motives towards their work. In due time, this line-of-thought will then trickle down to members of the public and visual consumers on how to treat and receive photography. Redefining of photography should be done by visual consumers as well, it provides them with freedom of thought to see, perceive, agree/disagree, and finally address internal conflict on views relating to whatever is being conveyed. This power balance needs to be revised to make this a reality for all.
This is what I feel the “photographic experience” means today, it’s what I use in both my professional and private pieces of work because I believe it is mutually edifying for myself and others.
You have recently created spaces to share knowledge through #CreativeConnect. What is your end vision with this new outlet?
Our end goal is to create a functional creative community in Botswana – one where each creative is flourishing in their unique craft execution while getting paid the money they deserve for their hard work but most importantly, having creatives put more effort toward creative a safe space for others to achieve the same for themselves.
We’re therefore seeking to start conversations among the local creative scene regarding the dangers of oftentimes overlooked practices of unfair competition, such as predatory pricing, limiting pricing, plagiarism, limited or no access to professional services in law, accounting, branding as well as marketing and advertising that could help them advance while protecting their individual interests.
From an outsider perspective, we would like to help each other benefit more from the creative-client relationship by helping them become more expressive about their needs and wants and placing them in a better position to negotiate better pricing while aiming to deliver quality work and a world-class services and thereby setting a standard for both new and existing creatives that we can all aspire towards.
Regarding African development, share how creativity can empower development in Africa.
Given our history with colonialism, I firmly believe that creativity restores our ability to think for ourselves again and execute our ideas with zero efforts to wait on validation from the West or anywhere else. If we zoom into it from an arts and culture lens, Africa rarely participates in the make-up of the global creative industry, though this is changing by the minute.
If we’re going to talk about power, we’ll talk about power that focuses on how we relate with each other and social, economical and political scenes. The Arts has quite a vivid way of showcasing where we stand realistically in terms of our individual attitudes towards issues relating to those three sectors because, even when biased, it serves purpose of acting as a manifestation of someone who has lived experiences and a narrative that cannot be disputed.
This may provide us with some sort of understand on who we are, what we’re doing and what it’ll do for us in the future if we continue doing in an almost real-time sense where photography and visual media is concerned. The development of Africa therefore depends on whether we realise this untapped power sooner rather than later because if and when realised, it is capable of affecting African development in multidimensional way.