Sumy Sadurni, photojournalist whose focus was East Africa, dies at 32

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Sumy Sadurni, photojournalist whose focus was East Africa, dies at 32
A variety of demonstrators – including students, parents, farmers and local leaders – march in protest of climate change inaction through Wakiso, on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda, Sept. 20, 2019. Sumy Sadurni/The New York Times.

by Annabelle Williams

NEW YORK, NY.- Sumy Sadurni, a prolific photojournalist who documented human rights struggles, political resistance and gender issues in East Africa through a piercing and intimate lens, died March 7 in Kampala, Uganda. She was 32.

Her brother, Jorge Sadurni Carrasco, said she died in a car accident.

Sadurni, a freelancer, traveled the world but was best known for her work in her adopted country, Uganda. Her photographs for Agence France-Presse appeared in some of the world’s leading newspapers, including The New York Times.

She reported on the fractious 2021 presidential election in Uganda, focusing on Bobi Wine, the opposition leader who challenged the country’s longtime president, Yoweri Museveni.

On the morning of the vote count, Agence France-Presse colleague Michael O’Hagan said in an interview, he and Sadurni were at home with Wine. She was taking photographs before the results of the election were announced, but instead of focusing solely on him, she also took portraits of his wife, Barbie Kyagulanyi, an activist and political figure in her own right.

“It was classic Sumy,” O’Hagan said, “because she was mixing not just the headline political story about a Uganda opposition leader who was under great threat, but also coming at things from a different angle, examining Barbie’s perspective and her as an individual.”

The election was a violent and contentious experience: Wine and his supporters were beaten, arrested and tear-gassed, The Times reported, as Museveni pushed to stay in the role he had held for 35 years. Outside observers decried the election as unfair after a major internet blackout just before the vote count.

Sadurni’s photographs took an unflinching look at this social turmoil, and she often found herself in the thick of violent marches and protests. In a remembrance on Twitter, Wine, who lost the election, wrote that she was never deterred from her work, even in the face of resistance.

Sadurni began working as a freelancer for Agence France-Presse in January 2018, the organization said. She was a member of the International Press Association of Uganda, formerly known as the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Uganda.

Many of Sadurni’s subjects and viewers especially connected to her work focused on gender. A major project of hers involved photographing survivors of acid attacks in Uganda, often used by men against their wives or girlfriends, as they formed a support group and lobbied for a law that would increase punishments for such acts.

Sally Hayden, a friend of Sadurni’s who covers Africa for The Irish Times, said in an interview that Sadurni’s work stood out because of her determination to represent her subjects’ autonomy and dignity.

She covered topics that few journalists would touch, Hayden said, citing as an example her series of portraits of sex workers in Uganda as they organized after being denied governmental aid during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sadurni’s work was rare, Hayden added, because in representing Africa it shied away from “a stereotypical image of tragedy.”

“The people in her photos, she said, “have power; they have dignity; they have autonomy. Often they’re smiling.”

Sadurni also took portraits of Stella Nyanzi, a Ugandan feminist activist and author who wrote in a Facebook post that the two of them had become close friends.

“Where several expatriates working and living in Uganda use their expertise in the service of the privileged abusers of oppressive power,” Nyanzi wrote, “Sumy passionately deployed her skills in the service of the underdogs.”

Sumaya Maria Sadurni Carrasco was born on Aug. 30, 1989, in Santiago, Chile, to Jorge Jose Sadurni Jammal and Maria Del Carmen DeCet Carrasco. She grew up in Chile and later lived in Mexico and Switzerland. She attended high school at the International School of Lausanne and went on to study journalism at University of the Arts London. She then earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Westminster. Her dissertation was on human rights coverage in Chile.

Sadurni moved to Uganda, O’Hagan said, after visiting a childhood friend there and becoming enamored with the country.

She is survived by her parents and her brother.

In addition to being an acclaimed photographer, Sadurni was a certified Canon photography trainer who offered guidance to young photojournalists in Uganda. After her death, she was remembered by many as a mentor.

Liam Taylor, a journalist who serves as co-chairman of the International Press Association of Uganda, said in a statement: “We marveled at her pictures. We were moved by them. But if you want to find her legacy, look for it in the young photographers she mentored and inspired. They are still out there, taking the pictures that she no longer can.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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