In April 2017, Papa Shabani, a young photographer, communication designer and artist from Uganda, accompanied Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) to its farming regions in Kasese, Uganda to capture CmiA in pictures. The project was part of the initiative’s campaign #WearASmile. Papa Shabani’s photography is vibrant, inspirational and honest and explores the boundary between art and documentary. This made him the perfect match for Cotton made in Africa’s colourful #WearASmile campaign. After the successful campaign launch, Papa reflects on the photoshoot in a short interview with CmiA:
CmiA: What got you started in photography?
Papa Shabani: I partly grew up with my grandmother and was exposed to a lot of photo journal works as a young boy. When I was a kid Africa looked different than now. A lot of the newspaper contents were kind of graphic, especially for a small boy of my age. The mid-90s were the time of bloody politics in Africa: the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the Ugandan government fighting in the Congo or the Sudan’s ethnic wars. All this has shaped me and my ambition to become a photojournalist with a focus on documentary making.
In what way does your home country shape your work as a photographer?
Nowadays, the cultural exposure and vibrancy in Uganda is mega. Uganda’s population is very young – more than 73% is under 35 years old. And our neighbouring countries are also very colourful – Rwanda, the new South Sudan, Congo and Burundi. All of this keeps my inspiration for creating photography alive.
What was it like, shooting the “Wear a Smile” campaign for Cotton made in Africa in your home country Uganda?
It was a great and very informative experience for me! I learned a lot about the lives of smallholder farmers who produce the cotton that the world wears. It was an honour to be selected to document the present for the future, but also to be able to create photographs that will change the misconceptions about African cotton farmers. The story of CmiA is compelling for me and the lives of the farmers I photographed absolutely intrigued me.
How did you experience working with the locals in Kampala?
I often have photoshoots in the capital city. It’s usually easy for me in Kampala, where strangers rarely say no to my shutter-hungry index finger. In this campaign, the WearASmile sticker I carried around brought extra fun to it – it was a great shoot!
What do you want to express with the pictures you took for the „Wear a Smile“ campaign?
The message is simple and straightforward: the misconceptions we often have about the lives of African smallholder cotton farmers are not the ultimate reality and consumers should pay attention to what kind of cotton products they consume. Their priority should preferably be CmiA cotton, since it implies much better working and living conditions for the cotton farmers. And it’s also better for the environment!
What does the “Wear a Smile” campaign mean to you?
Papa Shabani: For me, Wear a Smile is a great campaign because it gives consumers a very deep insight into African smallholder farming and the work of CmiA. It connects consumers with the people that grow the cotton they wear, and that matters. The campaign introduces us to the lives of CmiA farmers and invites us into their world.
How did you perceive the cooperation between CmiA, the cotton farmers and ginnery workers in Uganda?
They all work together, that’s what I instantly noticed. Everyone is a part of Cotton made in Africa and the different groups – the farmers and the cotton companies and CmiA – they work together on eye level. And that is essential for achieving the CmiA vision. You can really see how the farmers benefit, and their families, too.
Thank you for the interview, Papa!