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“In Eritrea, there is plenty of work for hundreds of thousands of photographers” – Thomas Tedros

Thomas Tedros is a talented photographer and an active tour guide. While the public hears his name constantly, it rarely has a chance to get in touch with his special work. Using Nikon cameras, Thomas has captured thousands of astounding images and breathtaking landscapes. Today, we meet the man behind the camera.

  • Thomas, thank you for making the time to meet with Q & A. Please tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you, the pleasure is all mine. I am a photographer and a tour guide. I enjoy travelling, and while travelling I seize the opportunity to take as many photos as I can.

I was born in Massawa in 1983. I had a wonderful childhood in the beautiful port city, but life became impossible under  the  Ethiopian regime and the atrocities they inflicted upon the local population. My family moved to Addis Ababa, and we came back and settled in Asmara after Eritrea’s independence.

  • When did your interest in photography begin?

I really enjoyed  pencil sketches when I was a child. While I didn’t know much about cameras,  there were several times where I fiddled with my father’s camera. Growing up, I loved travelling,  which led me to becoming a tour guide even though I studied Civil Engineering. It was while travelling and working as a tour guide that I realized there was so much for me to capture. I wanted to document as much as I could. That is how my professional journey in photography began.

  • Did you study it?

Yes I did. Soon after figuring out that I wanted to make photography my full-time profession, not just a hobby, I enrolled in photography courses in Asmara. However, all I could acquire was basic knowledge about cameras, their functions, and the primary sciences of photography. I was not satisfied.

Subsequently, in 2007, I applied to enroll in the Nikonian Academy, which is probably  Nikon’s  largest academy located in Malaysia. [Note: Nikon is one of the world’s biggest camera makers].

For nearly three years, I  took courses via correspondence  and I received a  holistic understanding about photography and cameras. The courses were not easy, and, overall, they were helpful and constructive.

  • Why was it challenging?

For example, some camera parts are not widely known in our local market. Generally,  what we have here are digital cameras that are not  particularly good option for professional photography. Maybe it is a lot easier in other countries since the larger market offers a wider range of options. Moreover, correspondence  education has its pros and cons.

I even remember sacrificing a new camera for the sake of dismantling it and learning about camera parts. You may have to dedicate long hours in front of a computer waiting for your photograph to be uploaded. You may have to sacrifice a camera or two, and you may have to customize your reflectors and light. But for me it was worthwhile.

  • What did you do after completing your education in photography?

During the  first year,  I was extremely devoted to applying what I learned on the ground. Therefore, I had my own kind of “postgrad” experience, utilizing what I  had learned. During that time, many senior Eritrean photographers collaborated with me.

Meanwhile, I was reading and also experimenting with  photography tricks, which are basically  camera tricks that allow you to play with light, the shutters, and other camera parts. This can help you capture beautiful photos without having to run to your computer to search for any adjustments with Photoshop or other editing software.

Since I am a tour guide, I have also had  the  honor of  meeting famous photographers from around the world who come to visit Eritrea. We have often worked together. For instance, I have met Eric Lafforgue, who comes to Eritrea quite often. I  have  learned from  him  and we’ve enjoyed working together, sometimes agreeing and sometimes disagreeing on  many  things.  I have also met Bernd Seiler, who is coming to Eritrea again soon. I have also had the honor of working with many photographers from different countries on several projects, the Asmara Heritage Project being the most recent one.

  • What kind of style do you most prefer?

Moments dictate the  style. However, if pressed, I’d say the one style I delight in most is portrait. Capturing people’s expressions makes  me  feel  appreciative of photography.

  • Are you a Photoshop fan?

No, no. I am not a fan.

  • Why?

If the person operating the camera knows and understands it well, there is no need for additional  media. The camera can do it all. It depends on how to use it. I enjoy applying several  techniques when  taking photos. People may argue with me, claiming I must use Photoshop, but when I explain why and how my photos turn out that way, they come to enjoy the techniques as much as I do.

  • It is a bit disappointing that you haven’t shared your expertise and many years of  experience with many young photographers in our country. I am sure they would highly appreciate learning from you.

It is not that I don’t want to. However, the shortages we have make me wonder if I could genuinely or successfully manage a school of photography. I cannot ask students to acquire lenses or other camera

components, and I am not in a position to provide these to them.  What I can do, and have done, however, is share my knowledge with young photographers that come to me with questions. I honestly love to discuss photography.  It’s wonderful  when young photographers come to me, as we share ideas and experiences.

  • People often hear your name and they talk about you, but it is not so easy to access your works.

I had an exhibition some four years back. It was a great platform for me to introduce my works to the public. At the same time, I was lucky to receive people’s  encouragement  and some constructive criticism. But that was not the only effort I made to make my portfolio public. I also developed a website to share my work, but I felt as if I excluded a large segment of the public from getting in touch with my work.

Later on, I began sharing my work on Facebook. However, I suffered from  copyright violations, so  I dropped that as well. Currently, I am preparing for another exhibition that I hope to hold later this year.

  • As a final question, what are your comments about the local expertise of   photography and   Eritrea’s archives?

Eritrea is  a  country with rich cultural and natural heritage that need to be documented. This means plenty of  work for hundreds of thousands of  photographers.  The archives of  the pre-independence period, those done during the armed struggle, are exceptionally rich and valuable. So much has been done after our independence, but I this is quite tiny when compared with how much we can and should document about our country.

  • Thank you, Thomas. Good luck!


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