Far from the selfie-crazed Kim Kardashians of the world, the people of Bwindi don’t smile for photographs. My whole training as a wedding photographer taught me the complete opposite. I spent half my time convincing people to relax, not to suck in their stomachs or pout their lips: in essence, how to let their guard down and look like normal human beings. My camera has the complete opposite effect around here. People stare straight down my lens: no guard or pretense.
I’ve never taken a photograph without asking for it, it just feels dishonest. A person’s portrait is their story and I am grateful to the people who allow me to borrow a bit of theirs. But here, as soon as they agree for a photo, I find their eyes instantly staring at me, fixed on me and my fumbling attempts at getting my camera settings right. They’ve caught me off guard with their honesty. No poses, no facade, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by it.
I always wondered how Nat Geo photographers did it. Maybe they ask people not to smile to make their pictures look more serious, or raw, or true or some other bullshit. But it’s not something I’ve prompted in my time here, and I’m sure the same applies to Nat Geo photogs. People in different places of the planet have different reactions. In Bwindi, people seem less concerned with whether their flabby bits are showing or if the light is hitting them on their “good side”. When they agree to a portrait, they agree to show themselves without filters. No bullshit, no masks. Thanks Bwindi, it’s been brilliant. We hope to be back.