We’d like to welcome Will Graham to Vine:
I was very excited to hear Wisteria has partnered with Akola by showcasing their products in the store. I know Akola has changed the lives of hundreds of Ugandan women over the past few years, and am aware of this because I personally know the women who are the Akola Project.
My name is Will Graham, and I am a freelance photographer living and working in Dallas, Texas. At the end of 2008, I decided it was time to make a change: Moving from a law firm where I had been working for five years, to turning a consuming photography hobby into a full-time occupation. I went to Africa twice in 2007 on short-term work trips with the nonprofit Ugandan American Partnership Organization(UAPO.org). After learning UAPO wanted to create new media to promote their projects in 2009, I decided to move over to Uganda for three months to shoot and help work for UAPO. Three months turned into fourteen months, and after Uganda I traveled to Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Namibia, and South Africa. The photo shoots allowed me to meet hundreds of people I would have never approached or spoken to otherwise. Of all the people I met and photographed for the UAPO, it was the women that make up the Akola Project that had the greatest impact on me.
A few miles up the road from the Ugandan village of Buwala, there is a church made out of mud and tree branches. This church is where 80 to 120 women from the surrounding community gather to create some of the Akola products. The women are both young and old. There are mothers and daughters, widows, and single mothers. They are all there because they want to provide a better life for their children, themselves, and each other.
After visiting with the women outside the church and getting to know some of them by name I thought it was time to ask if I could take a few portraits of them individually. I was told to come back the next day and there might be a few women interested. The next day when I arrived all the women had put on their best goma and hair adornments. This is when the preconceived ideas of African people began to melt away and I began to see these women as women I’ve been around and known my whole life. I had a small flash, a shoot through umbrella, and 50 women that wanted their picture taken. It was too bright and hot outside so we all crammed into the small one room mud church. I set up my flash and umbrella as the main light and used a window to give a little rim light. Due to all this, I couldn’t move the setup. I wanted the pictures to have some type of emotion that showed both how proud and full of energy these women are; they are not helpless. As I stood there, I remembered we were in a church where they come to worship. So, I asked the ladies to form a circle around the entire length of the walls inside the church and sing the same songs they sing on Sundays. In seconds the room and outside area was filled with beautiful song. As the women sang and clapped, they rotated around the room so that each one moved in front of my lighting setup. Just off frame to the right and left were women dancing and singing. This was a wonderful experience because it connected everyone in the room instead of all the focus being just on the person in front of the camera. This was my first organized shoot and still one of my favorites to this day.
I am excited that Wisteria’s new partnership with Akola will give a fresh opportunity for like-minded women miles apart to help each other. Here are a few images from the church shoot and some from my various travels. You can see more of my work at willgrahamphotography.com.
Will Graham Photography