• Rwanda is a country on the fast-track, and here Annette best symbolizes Rwanda's future. Having been raised outside of this country, Annette is one of the many diaspora Rwandans who has chosen to return home to be part of and to help facilitate the sweeping changes that are taking place in Rwanda right now.

    Annette is a filmmaker at the heart of the burgeoning film industry in Kigali. And while many filmmakers are using Rwanda's history as a platform to launch from, Annette is more interested in telling stories that are specifically universal, accessible to all audiences.

    It's a new way of thinking in this context, and I wanted Annette's portraits to be the evidence both of that mindset, and also of how Rwandans are beginning to see themselves. So, away with the colonial stereotype of an African country, I wanted to portray Annette in a clean, urban context that could be any modern city on the planet. The ideal location was the top of one of the newest buildings in the center of Kigali, before it was open to the public. Using an off-camera speedlight in a softbox to accentuate the ambient light, we managed to get this series of shots before dark closed in.

    People still won't believe I took these stills in Kigali...

  • One of my personal favorite images I've taken this past year, this was a captured moment that happened almost by accident.

    On assignment in Nyagatare District in Rwanda, I was waiting for the film crew to do their thing when a group of shepherd boys approached driving their cattle. Rwandans are not typically excited to be photographed, but this boy indicated it was ok.

    After a couple unsatisfying shots with the sun hitting him square on, I let the cattle sweep past me, turned into the sun, and waited for the the boy to look at me again.

    As I said, quite happy with the result...

  • I don't usually like to reinforce negative stereotypes of Africa by highlighting it's problems, but access to safe drinking water affects a huge percentage of people on this planet.

    A long-time client asked me to go for three days to shoot a set of stills that would supplement a film that had been commissioned on the subject. I thought it would be a good opportunity to help continue drawing awareness to the issue, as well as to try an experiment I had been thinking about for a while.

    I'm often uncomfortable when Rwandan and Kenyan friends ask why clients want African people to look down-trodden. The answer is that they need to show things are bad to raise funds to solve those bad things. It's a bit of a Catch 22 where the illusion becomes the reality to people far away who don't know better.

    So I decided to photograph the people as if I were the subject, where I would be happy with the portrayal of myself. The result: my friends feel that this kind of photography does show the problem (which is necessary) and at the same time treats the subject pictured with the dignity and respect they deserve. Makes me less uncomfortable...

  • Mobile Money is one of the new kinds of banking conducted via mobile devices. It's particularly relevant where people have trouble accessing regular banking services.

    But how to convince wary customers to try something new? Calling in actor/comedian ATOME is one big step. The second is using a universally emotional issue.

    In our only brainstorming session, I wanted to know what made Rwandans extremely happy or angry. The Managing Director of the agency immediately stated that he made his wife, in her wedding vows, promise to never say ihangane to him. Ever.

    Ihangane is a kinyrwanda term meaning bear with it, life's like that, what can you do, oh well, etc. It's very defeatist in nature. It's also the exact opposite of the attitude of dignity Rwanda is encouraging throughout the country.

    So, armed with a good actor and an emotional issue, I structured a narrative, handed it to Atome to write his own stand-up material, and shot this commercial.

    Registrations for Mobile Money accounts increased by 30% the first week this commercial was aired. It ran for 8 months.

    Watch the MTN MOBILE MONEY COMMERCIAL filmed in Rwanda.
    Director, Camera and Editor - Tom Vandas
    Producer - Annette Uwizeye
    Agency- QG Rwanda

  • My friend Emma was the willing model/victim as I was starting a series I'm calling Kigali Personalities. I also have a neo noir short to shoot in the near future and was thinking about poster designs. So, begging Emma's indulgence, I reset and started experimenting.

    Being a noir film, I definitely wanted to go dark, but also wanted some variation depending on how the film turned out. These two stills sum up the two approaches I eventually want to take.

    Considering that Emma was actually ill, I felt he really delivered the ambiguity needed from a noir character. Not the kind of person to get his ass kicked easily, but one who might get played by the girl. Stay tuned, more to come on this later...

  • When my poet friend Ngwatilo told me she was launching her first book of poetry, I suggested we do a performance video so people could see who she is.

    Ngwatilo is one of those warm, open, deeply-engaged individuals people tend to fall in love with. Poetry being a harder sell than, say, Dan Brown novels, I suspected people would buy anything she produced if they got to know her, even if from afar.

    I think I was right...

    Watch the TWO CLOCKS VIDEO filmed in Kenya.

  • I've filmed in a lot of classrooms and was admittedly dubious of claims that Connecting Classrooms was having an impact in the Nyagatare District in northeast Rwanda. Connecting Classrooms immerses students in English and fosters real connections with participating students in other countries, notably the UK.

    While Rwanda has recently transitioned to English as an official language, I couldn't see how students would have adapted to English so quickly, let alone be able to converse intelligently. I'll be the first to admit I was very, very wrong.

    Watch the CONNECTING CLASSROOMS VIDEO filmed in Rwanda.
    Director, Camera and Editor - Tom Vandas
    Producer - Dicken Marshall
    Client - British Council

  • Filamujuani, meaning Films in the Sun, is a Kenyan-run project with it's roots in Nairobi's largest informal settlement, Kibera. Filamujuani's purpose is to equip students with the skills and resources to tell their own stories.

    The importance of this work lies in the fact that foreign portrayals of local stories are typically tainted by the outsider's prevailing world views and experiences.

    These are some of the students in the film program being run through their secondary school. They wanted me to do their portraits. I thought that was a great idea and suggested they show me how they want to be seen, what kind of stories they might want tell.

    I hope you see the potential stories embodied here. I'm already looking forward to the stories these students will one day tell.

  • Pre-owned fashion is pretty much a norm in many African countries. Partly that's just economics, but a lot of the appeal has to do with individual expression, which always fascinates me. So when I was asked to quickly photograph a couple models for Gitonore's 3-day fashion boutique, I jumped at the chance.

    GITONORE means "fresh" in Kinyarwanda, and that is the attitude the owner of Gitonore wants to promote with her range of old-is-new fashion. It's particularly relevant in the Rwandan context where conservatism is giving way to a new world view, and the items Gitonore selects allow consumers to make personal fashion statements.

    After getting the long-shots revealing the range of clothing that would be for sale, we decided some quick lifestyle stills were in order to illustrate the idea of THE GITONORE LIFE.

    The models themselves were a bit new at this, so I took advantage of the behind the scenes activity to catch them when they were more relaxed. Ironically, these BTS stills are my favorite images from this shoot, capturing the attitude the client really wanted all along, but didn't have the time to set up.

    Now I just have to convince her to use these in the promotions!

  • I've been fortunate to photograph children in many places I travel to. They are always willing subjects, with none of the self-consciousness we tend to have as adults.

    I'm frequently asked what lenses I use for these kind of shots, and ironically I've often used my old Nikkor 24mm AI-S f/2.8, a manual focus lens that allows close-focusing at about 30cm.

    The reactions from children when you're holding a DSLR close enough so they can see their own reflection in the lens is worth any downside. Children don't pose very well, plus they tend to move fast. Taking a shot from a foot or two away tends to stop them in their tracks, regardless of what's going on around.

    The reason I mention the lens is this: I see the children in these images as I remember them, not as subjects caught unaware from afar. They engage with me as normally and intimately as they would were I not actually taking their picture. For environmental portraits of children, it's everything I look for.

  • On December 19, 2011, my friend Natalie Murphy died of cancer.

    Nat did everything with a no-holds-barred determination. This would become obvious as soon as you talked to her, since she always maintained unusually direct eye contact. Instead of making you feel uncomfortable, Natalie had the opposite effect. She made you feel as if everything you said was important, as if you were important.

    Nat was always comfortable in front of a camera, was photogenic. For me, this particular image, taken at what I guess is about 2AM, best reminds me of who Nat was.

    Miss you Nat.

  • Rwandans have embraced the internet as a means of leap-frogging a couple generations of development, recognizing the potential to jump into a global economy feet first. So it was no surprise when MTN Rwanda called wanting a commercial that showed the variety of internet services available to customers, customers who were just beginning to learn the potential of the internet.

    The trick we had to perform was to deliver information about the services while keeping things engaging, on an extremely limited budget. We needed to convince the average MTN customer, who didn't automatically see any value to using the internet over their mobile devices, to actually start going online with their phones.

    The dramatic increase in Data Bundle purchases would suggest we succeeded.

    Watch the MTN DATA COMMERCIAL filmed in Rwanda.
    Director, Camera and Editor - Tom Vandas
    Producer - Annette Uwizeye
    Agency- QG Rwanda

  • One day my friend Ken the filmmaker was shooting a video of my friend Ngwatilo the poet. Being the helpful soul that I am, I volunteered to go and help.

    Along the way I found some time to get some stills of Ngwatilo doing her thing. I was thinking about the pieces of ourselves we show others, while hiding the whole person.

    Bit by bit we slowly allow others to see until, finally, we can actually say what we mean.

  • SNV commissioned a series of vignettes to be shown on Euronews, featuring the variety of successful development strategies they had been involved with around the world. It was my pleasure to go to many of the places SNV was working, meeting some incredible people along the way...

    Watch the LIVESTOCK MARKETS VIDEO filmed in Kenya.

    Watch the INCLUSIVE BUSINESS VIDEO filmed in Ecuador.

    Watch the WATER MAPPING VIDEO filmed in Tanzania.

    Watch the STOVES VIDEO filmed in Burkina Faso.

    Filmed and edited by Tom Vandas.
    Produced by Red and Green Marketing.

  • Usually I have to talk a client into showcasing the success of work instead of the problems the work addresses. Not so with the Carana Corporation who are responsible for administering the USAID Post Harvest Handling and Storage projects in Rwanda.

    Aware of how fundraising media contributes to continued negative stereotypes of developing countries, our task here was to simply show how successfully rice growers in Rwanda were improving their products and their yields, and in the process illustrate the quality of life they enjoy as a result.

    Watch the UCORIBU SUCCESS STORY VIDEO filmed in Rwanda.