Frederick Dharshie: Telling Environmental and Humanitarian Stories Through Photography

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Article by: Dalton Munga

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When it comes to photography, we have come a long way; from the camera obscura to the digital camera that has evolved into what we use today. I believe that the efforts men and women put into the camera over the years were for one purpose; they simply wanted to pause time, capture a moment, a superpower we all wish we had. That said, I would like you to take a moment and consider this question, can photography, more than freezing moments in time, have a greater impact on society? 

Frederick Dharshie

Gigiri sits in a serene environment with meandering tarmacs flanked by trees whose breeze lessens the rage of the mid-day sun. Tucked away from the raucous day-to-day activities of the CBD, Gigiri provides a peaceful and sequestered environment for work and respite; it's no wonder that most embassies are located here. 

At Josephine's Caribbean Barbeque, nestled in The Gigiri Courtyard, photography reared its head to tell stories we as a nation should care about. It's the story of wedding bells plinking to mark the marriage between photography and agriculture. It's a bold story of photography at its best in the hands of a photojournalist sworn to the duty of telling stories. The story of agriculture, through the lens of one Frederick Dharshie. 

‘May We Grow Maize’, Tanzania, a photograph by Frederick Dharshie

Frederick Dharshie is an acclaimed photojournalist who uses his pictures to depict food and water insecurity, the climate crisis and humanitarian issues, including women's empowerment. Dharshie began his journey in photography in 2017. And since then, he has won several awards for his works. He only specialises in environmental and humanitarian photography, sparked by his interest in humankind and the natural world around him.

In 2017, he won 'Best Locomotive Photo' and 'The People's Choice Award' for his photograph that celebrated the completion of the standard gauge railway connecting Nairobi to Mombasa. His picture, 'A young boy drinks dirty water in Kakamega, Kenya,' won him the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) Environmental Photographer of the Year award. He was also a judge in the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation Environmental Photography Award in 2021 and again in 2022 and now sits on the award's Honorary Committee.

‘The Promise of Bananas’, Kenya, a photograph by Frederick Dharshie

On 5th March 2023, during his agriculture-themed exhibit, Dharshie confessed that he had not put a price on his photographs because he considered them priceless. The exhibit aimed to help us acknowledge and appreciate the struggle that farmers go through for us to get food on our tables. No more apt venue than a restaurant. Taking in the cool breeze while moving around the open-air exhibit, one was met by the photos of farmers smiling with their produce. 

"When I see that, I do not just see a woman and a child, I see a story, and I see the struggle of this mother," Dharshie said, pointing to one of his pieces which he named, 'Not Without my Baby' that depicts a woman on a farm with a child strapped to her back. He states that he is a feminist, doing his best to tell the stories of women because he has seen their struggles.

'Not Without my Baby', a photograph by Frederick Dharshie

Glancing around the gallery, it was interesting to note how Dharshie seamlessly fused pictures taken at different times and places worldwide, showing that the problems farmers face are similar despite the different areas they come from and have somehow managed to stand the test of time.

He does not only aim to highlight the struggle of farmers alone but those of the marginalised and poor as well. When asked the action he hoped his exhibit would inspire, Dharshie said that he, as an individual, had a charity that had been running for ten years, although he only started photography in 2017. A percentage of the money from the art he sold would go towards his charity, 'Souls of Charity Initiative', which gives back to vulnerable Kenyans through volunteering. He gave the analogy of a boy who walks 13 kilometres to school and 13 kilometres back to get an education, and he said that those were the kinds of people he wanted to empower.

‘Fueling Young Minds’, Kenya, a photograph by Frederick Dharshie

Dharshie's work has been featured in publications globally, including Forbes, the Guardian, the Sun, National Geographic (NatGeo) and the New York Times. 

“Anyone could take a camera and take photos, but to succeed, one has to be unique,” Dharshie advises potential photographers. Himself, he admitted that while he is not the best editor, he has mastered how to capture photos and tell stories through them. 

Photographers are like soot-coated pots in your grandma's kitchen; they bear the fire but flavour the food with an unexplainable taste you would never get anywhere else. Yet, there they remain in the kitchen tucked away. But oh, what beauty emerges!

‘Happy Tea Pluckers’, India, a photograph by Frederick Dharshie

Dharshie is the quintessential example of how we can use our passions and hobbies to impact the world positively. He serves as an inspiration to us all that we can make our lives sublime. He challenges us not to find thrones in high places and forget those who are less privileged. He reminds us of the inherent dignity of every person and our codependence on each other despite the role each one of us plays. He has proven to the world that being a humanitarian is not a poisoned chalice. He made quite a stretch by entering the photography world, a skill he had not even studied for, but it is only when we risk reaching too far that we find out just how far it is possible to go.