Finance & Development, March 2020, Vol. 57, No. 1

The Universal Language

Jacqueline Deslauriers

Jjumba Martin

People’s daily lives are rich fodder for the portraits of photographer Jjumba Martin. Growing up in the suburbs of Kampala, Uganda in the 1990s, Martin developed his sharp, opinionated eye for personal stories.

“I have always been intrigued by the human element, particularly portraiture,” he says. “It is fascinating how all our faces come with these distinct features that when framed close enough, with the right light, become pieces of art.”

Martin’s eye is also carefully trained on the impact of his work on the future.

“I am very interested in daily human stories and I believe it’s important for us photographers to document the current everyday life to enable the next generation to understand our times, and to be able to reflect on who they are and how they got there.”

As a kid, Martin got his start playing around with his parents’ camera. What began as a hobby eventually became his full-time job, but his ambitions didn’t run in a straight line. He had never seen himself as a working photographer in the formal sense. It just didn’t feel right.

By 2008, widespread access to the internet and social media in Uganda brought a world of different photographs right to his phone. He found himself gravitating to daily life photography, the term of art he and other photographers use for this genre, which is also known as documentary photography.

He eventually realized he spent more time developing his interest in photos than working on his university degree, and dropped out of school after two years to concentrate on his new profession.

To Martin, the appeal of photography lies in its ability to convey facts and emotions in ways that words cannot, which gives it a particular power.

“In this digital era, photographs are the most universal language,” says Martin. “This language can inform, educate, and move audiences worldwide without the need for a shared spoken language.”

Martin’s portraits for this issue of F&D magazine focus his camera’s lens on a Ugandan woman, Faith Aweko, whose life combines art and action.

“Photographs can spark positive change in the world, even where all other avenues fail,” says Martin. “They have a way of speaking truth to power and creating a sense of urgency that moves people to action.”

To see more of Jjumba Martin’s work, visit his website.

JACQUELINE DESLAURIERS is on the staff of Finance & Development.

Opinions expressed in articles and other materials are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect IMF policy.