“The warmest soul and kindest heart” is the first thing that comes to mind whenever I think of Tinevimbo Mupfacha. I have known Tinevimbo since I was a pre-teen living in Reading, but moving to London meant years had passed before we met again to do this interview. It was a re-union of sorts. Social media, Instagram more specifically, is what kept us in contact.
We went to the same church growing up, and would often walk and talk about the things we were passionate about – Tinevimbo’s passion being photography. It seems to run in the family: her father would always take the lead on documenting the weekly services, and is still “very much into cameras and anything to do with them” as Tinevimbo tells me.
“It is through him that I got exposed to most of what I know now. My dad gifted me with a canon 700d camera in my second year of university and I must say this has to be one of my most prized material gifts.”
In the Summer of 2016, I noticed Tinevimbo had made an Instagram account to share her work, to which I responded with joy and I messaged to tell her how proud I was! From taking pictures of the smartly dressed every Sunday to photographic documentations of family and friends of a trip “home” to Zimbabwe, she has continually worked to develop her craft, not only on an compact camera but also on her phone, “I would use my smartphone to capture all that interested me and people would tease me about it but I didn’t care. I just loved everything to do with it and I am glad to say I still do.”
In this interview with Tinevimbo we discuss photography, being a Zimbabwean creative, juggling academia with the arts and her ‘My Black Hair’ project.
What do you love most about being a photographer?
There are way too many things that I love and enjoy. I love that I get to meet different people and be in various places for the sake of making good art. I have made new friends which is also a big plus!
When I am doing street photography, I have the opportunity to speak to people I wouldn’t normally engage with, thus growing my confidence. At one point, I fell in love with one lady’s smile such that I ended up talking to her and taking a picture with her, not of her. To be honest, I now regret not taking a good photo of her but you live and learn right haha!
Photography also allows me to tell stories, all with a very honest and unique narrative. I also look at it as an opportunity to correct ignorance and change the way some narratives are represented (why I decided to do the ‘My Black Hair’ project), I look forward to doing much more of this.
What was your experience like taking your camera to Zimbabwe?
It was such an interesting, yet challenging experience. Unlike the British, most Zimbabweans aren’t inclined to tolerate people that move around with a camera around their neck. I found the reason why is because most individuals automatically assume that you, the photographer, are working for the enemy (in others’ opinion, “the government”).
People are constantly talking about the hardship of life in Zimbabwe and at the same time they are afraid of “camera people” as they feel that information is being recorded and will be used against them. You’d think it’s is supposed to be a democratic country… well, that’s a story for another time.
However, it’s not all negative, there are so many well established and upcoming photographers in the land. My wish is that this art form be appreciated by society in Zim as a whole. I was so privileged to be able to meet some of the most inspiring people in my journey as a photographer; Steven Chikosi and Tadiwa Kunzekweguta. If you don’t know them, you better get to know!
Which is your favourite of all the photographs that you took out there?
If I had to choose one… it would have to be the portrait of my grandmother in one of her many blissful moments of joy. I love it so much because it was not staged or anything like that. It is a true candid. She was sharing about the beauty of love and how it stretches you to do what you never thought possible. You can’t fake the emotions that one exudes when they are expressing such.
How do you feel about the importance of being a Zimbabwean creative AND being a Zimbabwean woman on top of that? Does there need to be more of us and why?
First of all, we need more Zimbabwean creatives! I am sure that there are many of us out there. All we can do is encourage each other in doing well, that is the only way we will see success.
There’s an old African proverb that says “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I feel that Zimbabwean creatives can do a lot more in telling true stories about where we come from. I mean, aren’t you tired of hearing the same old negative things from people who are unfamiliar with the Zimbabwean story?
It’s not just for the sake of the telling the Zimbabwean stories but also just to see more content creators doing crazy dope things, because I believe we do have talent. There are so many Zimbabwean creatives I have been privileged to know. Being a Zimbabwean woman in the creative world has not been an issue for me at all, like I said, I just want to see more on the platform.
What has your personal experience been like?
I am grateful for all the support and encouragement I have received as a creative. Sometimes this journey can be very discouraging, especially when you start comparing yourself to others or when you feel as though you are not making any progress. Because of this, many lose their individual style and start to follow “trends”.
What inspired the idea behind your “Change The Narrative” series and what have you learnt from interacting with these women?
The “My Black Hair” Project is something I did not see coming at all! I was catching up with a friend and somehow we started talking about wedding hairstyles. And because I have short natural hair, during the conversation, she said to me “you can always get a wig for your wedding, don’t worry.”
Which can be misinterpreted, but we have a good relationship and it was said with no malicious intent. From this stemmed a whole big conversation about black hair. There are so many negative connotations towards it and it is horrifying. Most of us black women do not chose to disregard whatever the media says about our hair. We embrace the lies and accept that our hair is not beautiful enough. I then decided to do my part in “changing the narrative” by taking photos of women with their natural hair and sharing their stories about black hair.
I learnt so much during this project, mainly the fact that sometimes we allow ourselves to suffer the consequences that come with accepting lies about ourselves rather than choosing to hold on to truth, to solely embrace truth. It was super dope to learn some useful hair care tips too!
What is it like balancing your academic and creative endeavours? Do you wish to continue to balance and progress in both?
Man, this has to be the hardest thing ever! There are moments I go for weeks without shooting and it is incredibly hard for me. The main reason being, Pharmacy is such a difficult course and it takes up a lot of my time. I love the buzz and excitement that comes with shooting so it is so easy for me to miss it, even if I have not done it for a short time. I am a firm believer in taking breaks and spending time on treasured things/activities. I may have been that annoying course-mate that disrupts everyone who is studying with the question, “Do you wanna go out and shoot?” and I am not apologetic about that, aha!
I hope to be a successful pharmacist but I cannot see myself doing it for the rest of my life. Photography is a hustle that I will never want to leave out of my life. For now, I just need to be very hardworking and disciplined in order to excel in both fields.
Where do you plan to take your photography next?
I hope to continue telling true stories by doing more insightful projects Many may label me as just a portrait photographer which I am very thankful for, but I do not want to be constrained to just that. I want to venture into doing a lot more with my talent, so watch this space! I will only disregard opportunities that do not correlate with my faith, I am a Christian.
Follow Tinevimbo on Instagram, @umiizha!