It wasn't a camera that first sparked Guerchom Ndebo's interest in photography. It was a mirror. Growing up, his mother worked as a seamstress, and as a child he was always fascinated to see her clients' reactions when they tried on their new clothes, looked at their reflections and saw themselves in a new way. "I was curious, I wanted to share their emotions," explains the 22-year-old Congolese photojournalist. Guerchom now uses his photography to help others see his homeland in new ways, holding up a mirror to the Congo. It's a country that has been photographed extensively by outsiders – from Alice Seeley Harris's anti-slavery images in the 19th century to Richard Mosse's 2014 Deutsche Börse Prize-winning bright pink landscapes – but Guerchom's images give an insider's perspective.
Currently a student in Communication Sciences at Bujumbura Light University, Guerchom got his first big break in the photography industry with his series Congo's Charcoal. It was developed as part of the Congo in Conversation project spearheaded by Canon Ambassador Finbarr O'Reilly for the 11th Carmignac Photojournalism Award.
Originally, when Finbarr was named the winner of the award, he'd planned to report from the Congo himself. But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, he revised his vision, switching roles from photographer to curator. The result was a collaborative website offering Congo-based journalists and photographers – Guerchom among them – a platform to share the multimedia coverage they were producing and an outlet where narratives about the country could be told by the people who lived there.