Jonathan Semugaza

Jonathan Semugaza is an African-Canadian photographer with roots in both The Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. His career in photography started in 2015 with a visit to a local pawn shop where he purchased his first DSLR camera, and soon after he began pointing and shooting. Having no formal education in the craft, he learned and picked up the finer points from various mentors, and trial and error. Semugaza’s professional focus is portrait photography, which has since been featured prominently on a variety of company websites and art zines.

What fuels Semugaza’s photography are the countless opportunities to deeply connect with his subjects and clients, in order to help realize their distinct visions and needs. When working with community organizations and local businesses, Jonathan aims to capture the essence of his subject matter, thereby revealing deeper truths about who his clients are, and who he is. In recent years his energy has shifted to shooting pieces that seek to elevate black voices, and to showcase the various struggles of marginalized peoples, with a focus on those suffering from myriad mental health issues.

Semugaza is tirelessly searching for new ways to learn from a variety of voices, to bring those voices to light, and to discover new ways of presenting his vision and diverse themes to a broader public. From fashion to music, intimate or experimental, the opportunity to communicate one’s thoughts, emotions, and energy into one still photograph is a task that Jonathan takes on with reverence and gratitude.

What influenced you to use art as a form of activism?

I believe art is the product of conscious experience, a branch of reality that people have felt or are feeling that, in turn, is translated through media. Knowing that my reality is one intertwined with systemic oppression, it makes sense that my work is an extension of that difficult reality. I am fortunate to have landed in this country, but am just as grateful to know where I come from. I think it is critical to continue learning everyday about how my people have arrived here, which means meditating often on their resiliency, vulnerability, and pride in community, which is what I aim to elevate and showcase in my work. I can only capture so much, and one photo cannot encapsulate everything, but by welcoming discourse and maintaining a grounded awareness of my place among my vast and dynamic roots, my photography has helped me to uncover similar histories in each subject that I approach, which I am then able to share through my growing body of work.

-Jonathan Semugaza

How do you promote activism through your work?

If you interact with my work, you are literally interacting with black art. However, my goal has been and remains to be to connect, learn, grow, evolve, and share my reality with whoever wants to know more about who I really am. By creating a space of self-expression that celebrates both individuality and community, I am working under a sort of contract that begs me to approach each new subject as free of bias and preconception as possible. It is not my job to tell each of my subjects’ stories, but to try to submerge myself in those lived experiences. Stories can reach places inside us that that can fundamentally change who we are, and I aim to tell such stories through my photos.

-Jonathan Semugaza

To see more of Jonathan’s work:

Check out his website!

Check out his Instagram! @jsemugaza