Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Why this PEI photographer is relieved that he finally answered his phone

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Robin Gislain Shumbusho saw his phone ringing, but he didn’t recognize the number. He assumed it was a scam and hung up.

“It’s a huge, huge deal, at least in the photography award and the filmmaking world,” Shumbusho said in an interview with Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

But the caller persisted. After about the 10th try, Shumbusho relented. The caller offered Shumbusho — a P.E.I.-based photographer known online as Gessyy — one of 20 positions in the 12-month Canon Futures mentorship program. The program brings together emerging artists and creators for professional development.

“It’s more a process of allowing people to learn and cultivate their career and kind of get to a point where they can really do it professionally and make it a full-time career.”

“I come from a very unrepresented community in terms of people who are always in front of the screen,” he said. “And I’m Black and all of my peers, most of the time, we’re not really finding ourselves in front of the lens. I find pleasure in being able to do that and being able to film documentaries that tell their stories.”

Shumbusho, who already works full time as a photographer, hopes to use the opportunity to further establish himself.

Shumbusho’s photo from the Black Lives Matter march on P.E.I. in June 2020. (Robin Gislain Shumbusho)
Shumbusho’s work was featured on the Canon Canada website in June 2020, so the company was already familiar with his work and watched him grow as an artist.

“The growth, at least for me, I see it’s like a huge curve and they seem to notice that. And when I sent in my application, they already had a prior encounter with my work, so I’m assuming it wasn’t a no-brainer.”

The opportunity comes at a good time, he said, because it has been difficult working as a photographer through the COVID-19 pandemic. “The access to my studio was really limited, and even people were not feeling very safe by coming into a studio or even being around other people in general. So you can’t meet, the bookings get very slow … there was no travel that was allowed or gathering. So it really was a big hit on photography.”

Shumbusho’s photo of Bianca Garcia, co-founder of The Black Collective Media. (Robin Gislain Shumbusho)
Shumbusho said he developed an interest in photography with encouragement from his mother, who told him he had a knack for capturing subjects and telling a story in a few frames. “From there, it just became a huge passion that I just followed.”

He said the experience has been great. The group is planning an in-person event in the coming months. It will include workshops and a focus on photography as a sustainable business. “There is so many people who fall under the umbrella of starving artists, really where they should not be really starving if they had a good business standpoint from where they started from.”

Shumbusho said he will be sharing his Canon Futures experience and knowledge on YouTube and Instagram at @iamgessyy. For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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