My passion for the photographic image is rooted in childhood, Born in a small village in Yei South Sudan, I grew up amid the recurring waves of civil war. From childhood, I was shifted from village to village and moved between members of my extended family, eventually traveling with them through Uganda, Kenya, and finally to a refugee camp. Three years latter, the INS determined that we were eligible for resettlement in the United States. That was when I was 11-12 years old. There is no record of where I traveled, no visual documentation. The vivid images I carry with me are uncaptured photographs: Dust rising around a circle of my mothers and aunts as they kneel and pound the earth with their hands in mourning; my grandfather sitting under the tika tree smoking his pipe in the empty courtyard as I was taken away and he was left behind. I took note of photography for the first time when I was 13 years old. The photos were in a history book. One was a picture of skeletal men staring out from bunk beds at Dachau concentration camp, the other was a naked girl, my age, running in terror among other children down a road in Vietnam, her village in flames behind her. I said to myself, “Someone had been there, had been there, had seen, and had taken a photograph.” Where are the photos of the people I have been with in the refugee camps? Where is our story? I did not think of photography as something I could do then; I understood that a camera was a sophisticated machine, for use only by knowledgeable people, for those who could afford it. My turning point with photography came in my second year of college when I studied the work of Robert Frank, a Swiss photographer who traveled through the USA in the mid 1950s. Though a foreigner, he told the story of ordinary Americans frame by frame in a way that had not yet been done. I felt as though his work gave me, another outsider permission.
1. Who is Terekah NaJuwan?
I was born in South Sudan. My family moved to the United States when I was 12 because of the civil war. I went to high school in Portland ME and graduated from Bennington College in Vermont... Then went back to do post-bachelor- work at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California.
2. What do you do? (work, school?)
I now live in Los Angeles and I am a Photographer.
3. When did your passion for photography begin?
My passion for photography is rooted in childhood; I can’t remember the exact moment, it’s not the act of photographing that inspired me, but the love to make things, to create that push me to become a photographer. I admired photographers and anyone who had a camera when I was growing up.
4. What inspires your photography and does your background have anything to do with it?
Everything inspires me, colors, light, books, movies, music, I am a visual junky, My background has some influence with my need to become a photographer, There are a lot of Sudanese international models but there aren’t much or any Sudanese pro international photographers. I think it is cool for one of us to be on the other side of the camera for a change.
5. Describe your photography?
As an artist, I photograph everything that intrigues me; commercial, advertising, fine art, wedding, documentary and everything in between. I do commercial and advertising photography to pay the bills and fine art and documentary to tell the stories that I want to tell.
6-7. What do you love most about photography?
The one thing I love about photography is that I can look back in time in just one single frame.
8. Any advice for amateur photographers out there?
My advice for any young photographers out there, especially young African photographers, you have a lot to add to this industry because for too long, we were on the wrong side of the camera. Educate yourself on art history, practice and continually sharpen your skills. Most images have been created. So the challenge is, how can you refresh the world with your view in a way that it has never been seen before?
9. Do you have any favorite photographers you look up to?
My favorite photographers are Robert Frank, Irving Penn, Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, Malick Sidibe and more.
10. Years from now, what would you want to have achieved with your photography?
I would like to be an established photographer, collaborating with international artists and be part of a new generation of African image makers sharing our work and experiences.