PROFILE

Aïda Muluneh

A head-and-shoulders shot of a woman in white body paint, with red painted hands holding her face.

Canon Ambassador Aïda Muluneh says she has been driven by a desire to change the way the world views Africa. She describes this image, Inferno, as being made of history: "Not only national but also of the self," she explains. "Of exile, of bloodshed, of loss, of mourning, of bitterness, of broken hearts and broken wings." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM) at 105mm, 1/60 sec, f/8 and ISO100. © Aïda Muluneh

Canon Ambassador and Ethiopian photographer Aïda Muluneh is the founder and director of Addis Foto Fest, East Africa's first international photography festival, and is also a celebrated artist with permanent collections held at the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
Driven by a desire to change how the world views Africa, the photojournalist and fine art photographer not only generates her own imagery, but also supports and mentors emerging talent. "I am addressing the impact of misrepresentation that photography has contributed to; how my continent is viewed, and on a global platform how people of colour have often been marginalised by the foreign gaze," Aïda says. "I'm not here to save the world, I'm simply here to make my contribution in addressing the lack of diversity in the photography world, and how this has a major impact on perpetuating negative stereotypes."
A headshot of Canon Ambassador Aïda Muluneh.
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Specialist area: Fine art, photojournalism
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM)
Born in Ethiopia in 1974, Aïda left the country at a young age. She spent her childhood in Yemen and Cyprus and settled in Canada in 1985 where she first began experimenting with photography at high school. After graduating from Washington DC's Howard University in 2000, with a major in film, Aïda became a photojournalist at The Washington Post. Over the next few years, she invested her spare time working on personal projects and exploring different genres of photography. In 2004, a selection of her work was acquired by the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of African Art. "I found a new visual language that gave me the freedom to delve into various topics that I couldn't express through photojournalism," she says.
A woman with her face painted and wearing traditional Ethiopian clothing stands in front of three woven baskets.

Aïda was inspired to create this image, City Life, by the women that come from rural regions of Ethiopia to work in Addis Ababa as household maids. "They belong to a traditional culture which has faded in the city," she says. "The background is woven baskets, which symbolise our culture; regardless of how modern we think we are, our heritage remains or is pushed into the background." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 105mm, 1/10 sec, f/2.8 and ISO800. © Aïda Muluneh

A woman in Vietnamese clothing with white face paint behind a model of fire, in front of a backdrop of white plants and leaves.

This piece, created for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Exhibition and entitled The Rain of Fire, was inspired by the suffering caused by the Vietnam War. Chemical defoliants used by the United States not only stripped the trees bare, they also killed crops and had a long-term impact on the health of the Vietnamese people. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 70mm, 1/125 sec, f/11 and ISO200. © Aïda Muluneh

In 2007, Aïda's new-found creativity resulted in her first trophy: the European Union Prize at the African Photography Encounters biennial, in Bamako, Mali. "The work that I do is a visual diary of my experiences and thoughts over the years, hence I chose portraits because it is a journey exploring various topics through each model," she says. "I want to share humanistic stories, to find things that create communality as opposed to differences, and to share a perspective that questions our own humility regardless of our backgrounds." More success followed in 2010, when Aïda was crowned winner of CRAF's International Award of Photography in Spilimbergo, Italy.

Later that year, Aïda released the book Ethiopia: Past/Forward, and launched Addis Foto Fest, the first international photography festival in East Africa, held every two years in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. "I am so proud of the festival," she says. "I have been teaching photography since 2008, but I realised that it wasn't just about teaching photographers but also teaching my community, through the festival, on the application and perspectives of photography. Over the years, I have begun to understand that if we are to shift how the world sees Africa, we need to develop new African talent through education."
A profile of a woman with a large afro wearing blue face paint and a red dress.

While living in Addis Ababa, and organising Addis Foto Fest, Aïda came across many archive pictures of Ethiopia, which inspired this image, Strength in Honour. "One of the most impressive things for me was how regal they looked, and their afros were so perfect and beautiful," she says. "This recalls that period: the pride, history, culture and dignity. Today, images that you see from the continent are often of strife, war, famine – the usual clichés that don't show the complexities of our society." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/4 and ISO100. © Aïda Muluneh

As well as the Smithsonian, Aïda, who has now moved back to Ethiopia, has seen her work selected for New York's MoMA, exhibited worldwide, featured in heavyweight editorial publications including The New York Times and Elle magazine, and on TV networks such as the BBC.

In 2019, Aïda became the first black woman to co-curate the Nobel Peace Prize Exhibition, and in 2020 she created 10 pieces for the exhibition herself. The 2020 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the World Food Program, and Aïda's images served to display how hunger has been used as a weapon of war throughout history.
What is your go-to technique?

"I often shoot f/11, 1/125 sec and ISO100. I mostly use flat lighting to emphasise the graphical element of the piece, and remove all shadows unless they're intentional. I have used both studio and natural light, but the key element is to maintain these settings in order to flatten the image."


How does being an artist help you as a photographer?

"I was a photographer first and have been utilising the tool of photography as a form of self-expression. A great deal of my inspirations are based on my various photojournalism assignments, so one inspires the other."


What are you trying to create with your fine art work?

"Images that, regardless of class, geographical location or education, can be understood or, at a minimum, provoke a question. I am not a photographer who likes to over-theorise my process or my work; if I cannot create a connecting point with my audience then my purpose is pointless."


How do you direct your subjects?

"In all my images, I keep a uniform visual language. I often work with the same models, but for directing it is about building a relationship with the sitter and therefore the process changes as I adjust to them."


Where would you like photography to take you next?

"As a film graduate from Howard University, my ultimate goal is to return to my filmmaking roots. In each phase of my career, the key objective is to experiment with images, whether still or moving."

One thing I know

Aïda Muluneh


"Emerging photographers are often in a rush to get into fine art photography, when it is important to first develop their storytelling skills. I started out as a photojournalist and it was important for me to first define my purpose as it relates to my photography work. Eventually, when I began working in the studio, it was clear that the skills that I had amassed from the years of being a photojournalist would be the foundation for my artistic works. So, first develop your basic technical skills and then you can find your style."

Instagram: @aidamuluneh
Twitter: @aidamuluneh
Website: www.aidamuluneh.com

Aïda Muluneh's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Aïda Muluneh's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.

Cameras

Canon EOS R5

Rethink what you know about mirrorless cameras. The uncompromising performance of the EOS R5 will revolutionise your photography and filmmaking.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

This latest iteration of the popular 5D series includes innovations such as Dual Pixel RAW and 4K video, making it a camera for all occasions. "A great camera for both my photojournalism and studio work. Its sturdiness is also quite amazing," says Aïda.

Lenses

Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

The RF lens that sets new standards in photographic performance, delivering supreme sharpness, extra creative control and low-light performance that's simply remarkable.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

The successor to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens that Aïda loves. "The majority of my work is produced using the 70-200mm lens, which offers superb quality that translates well when we print the image," says Aïda.

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro

This tilt-and-shift lens allows you to control perspective and depth of field thanks to carefully calibrated movements, outstanding optical engineering and precision moulded glass lenses for low distortion, exceptional edge-to-edge definition and 1:2 macro ratio.

Accessories

Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT

The Speedlite 600EX II-RT is engineered for fast frame rate shooting, and performs in the most demanding situations. Used off-camera or in the hotshoe, its versatility allows you to take complete control over lighting.

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