From Kenya to Somalia, capturing Africa with Tobin Jones

Tell us about yourself. 

My name’s Tobin Jones and I’m a photographer of English and American descent, but was born in Botswana and then grew up throughout Africa – first in Malawi during my early childhood and then later in Kenya. I still live in Nairobi, for the most part, but also spend a considerable amount of my time in Somalia working with the United Nations and African Union to document the country’s transition from a war torn country into a Africa’s newest democracy. 

How would you describe your photography style?

My photographic style’s fairly traditional. I think I first gained an appreciation of photography lying on the floor as a child reading old National Geographic magazines. I suppose it’s therefore a fairly classic aesthetic I’ve developed over time as a result.  

What type of cameras do you use? Which one is your favourite?

For most of the work I do I use Nikon, more specifically a Nikon D4s and a D800. They’re both great cameras, but particularly the D4s. It’s a little big for the average person to want to haul around, but when you’re out in rough environments, its great because you know it will be able to stand pretty much anything. More recently, I also bought a large format film camera. It has been a little difficult to take photographs with, since its pretty much impossible to get the right developing chemicals in Kenya. I’m just about to get some brought in from the United States though, so hope to start taking and developing photographs with it pretty soon.

Where is your favourite place to take pictures?

The rooftop of the New African Hotel located in Dar es Salaam in 1962. Kapucinski wrote about this in his memoir “In The Shadow of the Sun”. Apparently it was here, under the protection of Julius Nyerere that a lot of Africa’s freedom fighters – Mugabe, Mondlane, Karume – used to do their conspiring. Think it would have been an interesting place to not only have gone, but also to have photographed!

I’d definitely like to start working in central Africa – places like the C.A.R and D.R.C. There’s something about the combination of the light, jungle, and people there which I think attracts every photographer to those places.

Which other photographers do you admire, and why?

I’m a big fan of a lot of the old school photojournalists - people like Eugene Smith, Don McCullin, Tony Vaccaro, - who photographed war on film, a task harder than any of us are used to doing today. Vaccaro, in particular,  was also a soldier and photographed during WWII. He’d develop his film in his helmet each night, dry the negatives over his foxhole, and then stored it all in an old cinema film reel which he hauled with him across Europe throughout the whole war.

What does your photography mean to you?

I guess on one hand my photography gives me a good excuse to travel and interact with places and people I otherwise wouldn’t. Another part of being a photographer, though, also lets me explore the more introverted part of myself – creating work which I hope will speak for itself and reveal something that isn’t always expressible in words.

What do you want your audience to take away from your photography?

I’m not really sure what I want an audience to take away from my photography – I think its different for every photograph I take. I think that’s one of the good things about photography though. The photographer instils a bit of themselves into the photograph and then the audience takes out of it what they want.

Where do you see your photography career in 10 years?

Who knows, ten years is much too long a period a time to plan for!

Check out more of Tobin's work on his photography website and follow his journey on Instagram.

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