Why are there so few black African photographers ?

GUEST REPORT – WARREN NGOBENI

Wildlife photography is not easy , most of the wildlife photographers in South Africa are white people, and for a young black person like myself, it is a mountain to climb. I am Warren Ngobeni, I’m 22 years old and I live in a small village in Mpumulanga, South Africa, next to the Kruger National Park.

I took part in the Wild Shots Outreach programme*, with dreams of becoming a wildlife photographer, but being a young black person who loves to go into the bush  and photograph the wilderness is not easy.

My community is very poor and as a teenager I had to skip school most days to sell sweets & snacks in the local market to make money to buy food for my family. My mother worked away from home, so I was brought up by my grandmother. We used to watch wildlife programmes on the TV and we would always talk about each animal. That is what made me want to become a wildlife photographer. I dreamed of one day holding a camera, taking pictures and telling stories which would help to protect nature.

As a young black man it is very difficult, especially in South Africa. Not many black kids have been into the wildlife reserves and it is expensive to buy a camera and afford the transport and other costs; having food to eat is much more important. It was impossible for me to go to a game reserve and see wildlife, and I didn’t know anyone I could ask for help doing this.

We need more ways to help black people access wildlife. If this happens, I believe that good would come from it and our wilderness will be safer and healthier, as they would see how wonderful nature is and not want animals to be harmed.

Right now we have animals being poached and hunted for bushmeat, trees are being cut down for firewood and our water isn’t clean. White and black people should join hands to work together to help fight the problems we face.

I don’t want people to just see pictures of the wildlife we used to have, all because we didn’t know what to do or how to help.

I will never forget my first photo trip! I went with Wild Shots Outreach to take photos of a rhino dehorning. It was amazing and a very emotional experience. When the horn was being removed, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. We were taking away the rhino’s beauty and something that makes this animal special, because we have to try and save it from being poached. In my head, I kept on repeating the words “you’ll be safe now”.

When I take photos like this, I want people to get the message that we cannot let these animals go extinct.

I want people to see what is being done to try and save these animals.

I am very proud that one of my images made the front pages of the South African national newspapers.

Everyone needs to know that the world we live in should be conserved.

Most wildlife photographers are men, but we need girls to become conservation photographers too, they are so good at story-telling, and relating to other people and cultures.

So how can we get more black people into wildlife photography?

We need more role models, more chances to get into our wild places. There are still so few black people working in conservation, and so few Africans featured in wildlife TV programmes.

I think that people who are doing the job now need to help, encourage and support young black people, so they can then become role models for others.

We need more programmes like Wild Shots Outreach, in other parts of Africa, so other kids can learn, just like I did.

We come from very poor places where we are told that dreams are not for people like us!  There is no one to help us, even if we do think of becoming a vet, a wildlife photographer or a conservationist.

For me, as a 22 year old, I am happy with where I am heading, I am on the long road to becoming a photographer and I am starting to be known in my community for my work.

I will find ways to tell my stories and that will make a difference. I want to inspire more black people like me – if I can make it, then it will give them hope.

Warren Ngobeni

*Wild Shots Outreach (www.wildshotsoutreach.org) is a South African charity, working in the Kruger National Park area. Its aim is to help young South Africans, who would not usually have the chance to see the wildlife, and  teach them what they need to get jobs through photography.

Warren joined a Wild Shots Outreach course in 2020. His passion for nature and his photographic talents really shone (despite never having used a camera before or had the chance to visit a game reserve). He is now working as an assistant tutor for Wild Shots Outreach, teaching wildlife photography – hopefully becoming a role model and inspiring the next generation of African conservationists and photographers.

The Crash