(Note: Currently you can get a Rwandan national police report only in Rwanda or at a Rwandan embassy. However, you might be able to get it online in the near future.)
1. Gather all the materials you need for your report:
- two passport photos
- copy of your passport information page
- copy of your Rwandan visa page
- copy of your employment letter (if you need the report for employment purposes)
- 1200 RWF
2. Visit Rwanda Revenue Authority in Kimihurura to pay for your report. When you enter the building, the receptionist will direct you up one level to the finance office. You’ll have to leave your ID with the guard at the foot of the stairs/elevator before going upstairs. There’s no receptionist in the finance office. Don’t be afraid to interrupt someone and ask for help. Eventually, someone will help you. He or she will need your passport to create a bill denoting that you want to pay for a clearance report. Once you receive this bill, take it back downstairs to the bank (for those of you who have never been, there’s a bank inside RRA). A person there will take your bill and your 1200 RWF and you will receive a receipt. Don’t lose this! You need the receipt for your next step.
3. Go to the National Public Prosecution Authority‘s office between 7 a.m. and noon, which is when they accept applications for police clearance reports. The NPPA is next to the Ministry of Justice and directly across from Parliament. When you’re facing the NPPA’s entrance, turn right and walk along the small path parallel to the building. The first door on the left is where you want to go. Fill out your application form and attach all your other paperwork to it, including the RRA receipt.
4. In about a week you should be able to pick up your police clearance report.
- If for some reason you can’t bring your passport to RRA, the copy of your passport information page should suffice.
- Arrive at NPPA as early as you can to turn in your application. By 7:30 a.m. the place is crowded.
- Check your police report right away for errors. My husband and I saw after the fact that the NPPA misspelled both our names: they spelled my middle name the French way and jumbled up his last name. We had to go back and wait about 30 minutes for the mistakes to be corrected.
Today is Kwita Izina, the annual Rwandan ceremony for naming new baby mountain gorillas. Last year my husband and I got one of the many free invitations to the event and I recorded our experiences. This was my first time producing an audio story where I was part of the story, a la This American Life. I learned a lot in making this piece and hope to create more in the future. What do you think?
(*Not real gorillas. Listen to the story or see the pictures for details.)
Here’s a list of jobs I held between 2006 – 2008, when I was launching my photography career after two years of graduate school and one year on a fellowship. They’re listed in the order I landed the jobs:
Person setting up and breaking down a kiddie obstacle course
Person slicing up granola bars and handing them out at trade shows
Person handing out dietary supplement samples at a food and music festival (perfect for seeing how fast people can run from you)
*Part-time receptionist at a dental school (quit after eight months)
*Full-time photographer for a small studio (laid off after four months)
Freelance photographer at a wonderful mid-sized newspaper
*Part-time substitute teacher (moved to D.C. at the end of the school year)
Adjunct photography instructor at a wonderful two-year college
Waitress (fired after two weeks)
Freelance photographer for a couple NGOs
*These are the jobs that actually paid me just enough to live on if I had no other work.
I wrote this list to show that sometimes you have to take non-photo work to pay your bills – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But when I held all the jobs listed above, I did feel something was wrong. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t make it as a photographer, something I thought was my calling, especially when other photographers I knew seemed busy and successful. Everyone says the photo industry is hard. Then why don’t we talk about what we do when the going gets hard – i.e. how we get by when photography skills alone can’t pay our bills?
If I’d been on Facebook back in 2006-2008, I’d probably have felt even more depressed than I already did.
I applied for almost 100 photojournalism jobs in eight months and got three interviews, no offers. I was living with my parents for the first time in 12 years in an area of the country where I had no friends. One cold winter’s night, when it became clear I wasn’t going to get a job for which I’d been told I was a frontrunner, I went for a 3-mile run at 9 p.m., sobbing the whole time.
“Why did I switch from business reporting to photography?” I screamed in my head. “Why did I think I could be a photographer?”
I was hungry for photo experience. I thought of applying for an unpaid internship or volunteer job, but I’d never worked an unpaid journalism job and I couldn’t imagine starting now. Anyway, it was out of the question. I had bills to pay: car loan, car insurance, gas, school loan, food, camera equipment, photo paper and ink (why did some job applications still require print portfolios???), and a big, unexpected medical bill from the previous year. True, my parents did graciously allow me to live in their home for several months (thanks, Mom and Dad!), but I paid them a small rent. They couldn’t help me financially, and I didn’t expect them to. All my work had to be compensated.
So non-photo jobs paid my bills for two years. I pursued my own photo projects and sought career guidance everywhere. That one-hour ride on a commuter van to and from the receptionist job? I photographed an essay on the commuter’s life. That video story I needed to submit for a job application, even though I knew nothing about video? I cold-called the lone video journalist at the local paper and asked for an in-person learning session, to which he agreed.
I also took a calculated risk I hoped would boost my career and pull me out of my depression: I scraped together enough money to move to Nepal for three months. I worked on a couple personal projects, published a couple stories and earned the equivalent of half the cost of my plane ticket. I felt less depressed, but my career was the same when I returned.
And yet, slowly, things changed. I attended an inexpensive photo workshop in my area. One of my pictures won best of the workshop and I picked up regular freelance work for the excellent local paper, where a couple editors helped me when they could. A two-year college asked me to teach a photo course. I still relied on non-photo jobs to pay my bills, but my confidence grew in my career prospects.
When I was living through those two years, especially the first year, I felt awful. I wish I could say I was grateful for what I had. I wasn’t.
But now I’m grateful for how much I learned, like how terrible receptionists get treated and how hard teachers work. I’d always thought of myself as an empathetic person, but my reserves of empathy and humility permanently swelled while working these non-photo jobs. I think that’s served me well as a photographer and as a human being. Also, I grew faster as a photographer during that time than any other, maybe because I was so desperate. I learned to separate my identity from my career. I learned how nice it could be living near my family, which I hadn’t in years. I learned comparing myself to others is no good. Every career has its own progression, ups and downs. I’m OK with that.
I’ve invested a lot of time in the last five years into learning about business of photography. There are amazing photographers out there whose businesses are failing because they don’t understand how to run their businesses. And there are less skilled photographers that are making a good living because they do. I am not saying that photography degrees aren’t teaching valuable skills, but I believe that we are missing the bigger picture of photography as entrepreneurship
I think that if you’re a photographer, then there’s a good chance you will one day be running a photography business. Staff photographer jobs in any part of this industry are few and far between. Remember when The Chicago Sun-Times fired its entire photo staff last year, including Pulitzer-prize winner John White?
Like Crystal, I acquired my business skills through trial and error. A lot of error. I loved studying photojournalism in graduate school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I had amazing professors and mentors. But I wish I had learned something, anything about business. I believe photography programs should 1) help their students understand the realities of the industry and 2) give them basic business skills to succeed.
Years ago, a photo editor who had just reviewed my portfolio showed me a beautiful picture of a golden wheat field. He said that one of his staff photographers had shot it. “See, that’s the kind of photographer we like to hire here,” he said. “Someone who can make a wheat field look gorgeous.” I remember thinking it couldn’t be that hard to shoot a lovely photo of a wheat field. In fact, I thought, fields of corn or even tall grass would be low-hanging fruit as far as pretty pictures go.
I’ve now shot plenty of fields of corn and tall grass and tomatoes and passion fruits. I was right back then: it’s not so hard to make a pretty photo of any of these things. But it sure is fun. It’s also nice to add some beauty to the world through my pictures. My most recent “pretty photo” assignment was to photograph the Sorwathe tea plantation and factory in Rwanda for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Nothing beats working outside in the mild sunshine, walking in tea fields and learning about tea-making. The most interesting thing I learned (which may also show what a dunce I am about tea) is that green tea and black tea come from the same leaves. It’s the processing that makes one green and the other black.