By Moses Serugo
A worthwhile stopover on the Masaka–Mbarara highway beyond emptying one’s bladder or grabbing a snack would be the Memories of Love Returned photo exhibition happening astride the road.
Nasib Fuel Station in Mbiriizi has morphed into a temporary art gallery and is playing host to a collection of 5,725 photographs to celebrate the life of Kibaate Aloysius Salongo, the cameraman who captured the memory of the residents from the 1970s right until his death in the mid-2000s.
His was the life of the village keeper of memory, the man who urged his subjects to strike a pose, usually garbed up in their best clothes and clicked these frozen moments into mostly Black & White posterity. Those were the days preceding digital cameras and smartphones that may have eased photography today by way of selfies, but have taken the excited out of the art of manual photography.
Kibaate’s shutterbug world depended on getting pictures right on the first take, meticulously retrieving the film from the camera, storing it away and ensuring it was not exposed to light and then trekking 50kms away to Masaka have the film developed to prints in the bygone era of dark room photography.
Enter US-based Ugandan actor Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine (Blood Diamond, Queen of Katwe, The Chi) and a chance encounter between the two would ensure Kibaate did not have to keep rolls of negatives in a sack, rather in sleeves that would ensure that the negatives would be printed yet again for posterity.
And now almost 20 years since a mechanical glitch on his car in Mbiriizi led Ntare Mwine to discover Akwaata Empola Studio and 15 years since the passing of Kibaate, the exhibition he promised to hold to celebrate the latter’s craft has come home and not to an air-conditioned hotel room with guests sipping champagne and eating finger-food.
The highway may be a rather odd location to mount art pieces, but to the Mbiriizi locals, the photo exhibition is the perfect toast to the passage of time even as they usher in yet another year. Memories of Love Returned opened December 18 and will close Sunday, January 2.