From humble beginnings in Haiti, Lentini Theodore is now a world renowned photographer who has traversed many countries. Inspired by his modest background, he opted to shine a spotlight on the positive stories and ‘vibes’ in informal settlements from the Global South. Vice Versa Global speaks to the young professional photographer who is in Kenya for the first time.
I am in Kibera attending an annual beauty contest that is organized by Amani Kibera. The contestants are beautiful and the catwalk looks amazing. My attention is drawn to one particular photographer who stands out from the rest of the pack due to his meticulousness. Before he takes any photo, he will carefully scan his surrounding, check his camera settings, then move to his preferred new position. I also notice he has three different types of lenses in his waist bag.
Lentini the Photographer
“My name is Lentini Theodore, a 27 year old Haitian and very single. I am a team player and a photographer. I left Haiti when I was only 19 years old and settled in the United States of America, a place I now call home. Some of the challenges that Haitians face and that played an integral part in my departure are food insecurity, human exploitation, overpopulation and a lack of sanitation. I love travelling, photography which has now become my hobby and basically anything to do with computers,” he tells me.
“It’s my first time in Kenya and I’m here on a specific assignment, to document the Miss Kibera beauty contest. I am here for one month during which I will train some of the young people here on the basics of photography, creating ‘mini Lentinis’ in Africa that will be telling more positive stories using photography. Thereafter I’ll head to Tanzania.” For a well-travelled photographer, I am curious about his source of funding for such trips. “I love giving back to the society through the savings I make from both photography and videography. It’s the least I can do.” He goes on to clarify that some of the trips are fully catered for and with good payment, which in turn enable him to visit any country he wishes.
How I Became a Photographer
“As a young boy, whenever I’d get the opportunity to attend lavish events, I used to admire the big cameras I’d see and fell in love with the people behind those gadgets. As time went on, the urge of becoming a photographer continued building in me but I had no single penny to purchase a camera or go for photography classes. Making the best out of a bad situation, I decided to teach myself basic photography skills by watching tutorials on YouTube on how to take good photos. I was 20 years old when I started saving, whenever I could, to buy myself a camera. My sacrifice managed to pay off because within a few months I had acquired my first camera. In the beginning my family was skeptical if I would be able to handle a camera, but I reassured them that I was more than capable,” he recalls.
“I started practicing photography with my camera as I continued to watch the tutorials. Since I needed to make money, I started looking for casual photography jobs which in turn sharpened my skills. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, things changed due to the lockdown since there was very little to do. I took this opportunity to watch more tutorials which turned out to be very helpful. I can confidently say that I have never attended any photography class. I’m not saying that I’m the best, but I am on the way to being one. I can proudly say that I make good money with both photography and videography, and I want to make even more,” he declares.
Difference with Other Photographers
“I can’t say I’m different, but many are the times that photographers portray a lot of negativity in our communities. I want to bring out the positive vibe from our communities through my lens. I want to tell positive stories of the Global South with this camera,” he assures me as he holds his camera. “At my age I have travelled to many countries thanks to photography and for me that is a big achievement. It will be wrong to travel to all these countries just to go and document negative things about them, unless of course it is something that needs urgent attention.”
“Whenever I visit any kind of informal settlement, I do not feel anxious at all because I have been in such environments before, back in Haiti, and there is nothing different. This includes Kenya as well. As much as not every slum is harmless, the ones I have visited in Kenya are better in that the people are lovely and the streets are safe,” he admits.
“Back in Haiti you can’t walk with a camera or any valuables along the streets in informal settlements especially if you are a visitor, you will be robbed. You have to make sure you have security if you want to visit any slum. The other thing I love about Kenya is the culture, the food and basically everything about this country. The only thing I don’t like is the traffic. The traffic here is very terrible.”
As we wind up, his parting shot is a piece of advice to the young people. “To the young people, you must do the right thing, be yourself, be positive and more importantly respect your elders. Young people are always seen as beggars and complainers, while others are branded as thieves. Therefore it’s upon us to change this narrative by working hard and doing what is right always. Above all respect yourself and the people around you. In Haiti there is a saying that goes ‘Say good morning to all, respect people and people will respect you back’.”
Follow Lentini on instagram via https://www.instagram.com/lentini_965/?utm_medium=copy_link
Vice Versa Global is a platform spearheaded by young African journalists who are keen on telling the African story from the youth’s point of view by creating socially conscious content through vlogs, columns, video, articles and discussions in order to share ideas and spark dialogue about social change. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.