Two East African Photographic Legends and their Archives
Priya Ramrakha and Mohamed Amin are two great East African photographic legends. Ramrakha began his career in the 1950’s and Amin in the 1960’s. They covered the epoch-making events during this period. Ramrakha worked for Life and Time magazines and Amin went on to build a legacy in film and photography covering a wide array of subjects. Collectively their work included the Mau Mau rebellion, the events that led up and after independence of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, wars, famines and many other lighter moments and the lives of ordinary people. “They were friends and knew each other well,” recalls Salim Amin, son of Mohamed Amin. Significantly, they both were contributing photographers to Drum magazine, Africa’s leading magazine at the time, based in South Africa.
In 1968 they both covered the Nigeria’s civil war. Ramrakha chose to go with the rebel forces of the Biafra region seeking a breakaway secession from Nigeria and Amin went with the Nigerian government forces.
Amin survived the war but Ramrakha was tragically killed while on assignment for Life magazine which was featured post-humously. Mohamed Amin is possibly most well-known for his award-winning film footage of the Sahel famine of the 1980’s. His work was instrumental in exposing the humanitarian crisis and a catalyst for the subsequent Live Aid concerts that emerged to help the human catastrophe. Amin also died en route to an assignment in a plane hijacking on Ethiopian Airways in 1996.
Both families have in recent years been working to consolidate these two photographer’s archives. Both photographers photographed more than news, and their respective archives are invaluable providing significant insights of African photographers photographing African stories.
Ramrakha’s legacy after decades since his death has been honoured through the efforts of the family in an effort to keep his legacy alive. An exhibition called Priya Ramrakha/A Pan_African Perspective 1950-1968, a film and a book published in 2018, Priya Ramrakha, the Recovered Archive 1945-1968 (published by Kehrer Verlag) by Shravan Vidyarthi and Erin Haney have been instrumental in venerating this outstanding photographer’s life’s work. Quoting from the Ramrakha foundation, “Ramrakha’s iconic images defied stereotype, censorship and editorial demand, capturing key moments from segregated colonial oppression in his home in Kenya, and tying those to moments of black struggle and surprising solidarities in the US in the 1960s. Ramrakha’s pan-African lens revealed optimisms and allegiances across national lines, and witnessed allied moments of political resistance by everyday people and major political figures in…His photographs afford new insights into the ethical role that African photographers in particular played in capturing pivotal moments in global history. These stories are rarely told–precisely because their photographs and archives have been obscured or lost–and nearly all remain unpublished. These subtle images, and his long-obscured body of work, complicate our visions of the continent and the stories still to be told and remembered.”
In Mohamed Amin prolific career he produced many books, which included indigenous cultures and wildlife as well as documentary films. Salim Amin, the director of the Mohamed Amin Foundation whose aims are similar to the PLP, is committed to digitizing the archive, and thereby preserve the material, “to ensure my father’s work is accessible and available for future generations.” The Mohamed Amin Foundation contains 8 000 hours of raw footage and over 3 million photographers. As Salim points out, his father was, “the eyes and ears of African history, having covered every major event over a career spanning 30 years.”In a career that spanned more than 30 years,
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