Legendary photojournalist Sir Mohinder Dhillon dies at 88


Legendary photojournalist Sir Mohinder Dhillon dies at 88
Sir Mohinder Dhillon during a past interview. PHOTO | COURTESY

In Summary

  • The renowned founder of film/cinematography company Africapix died at around 5:30am Monday morning at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi.
  • Speaking to Citizen Digital, Richard Vaughan – one of Sir Mohinder’s closet friends and business associate of over 30 years – said he was hospitalised about a week ago with pneumonia.

Legendary photojournalist Sir Mohinder Dhillon has died at the age of 88.

The renowned founder of film/cinematography company Africapix died at around 5:30am Monday morning at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi.

Speaking to Citizen Digital, Richard Vaughan – one of Sir Mohinder’s closet friends and business associate of over 30 years – said he was hospitalised about a week ago with pneumonia.

“Mohinder and I had just completed working on his autobiography…we were ready to go to press when he died. The autobiography, which is based on his relations with various world leaders, will now be released posthumously. He will be buried on Thursday,” said Mr. Vaughan.

Sir Dhillon, once nicknamed ‘Deathwish Dhillon’ due to the many risks he took in order to get the perfect shot, was one of the most revered photojournalists of his era, landing the attention of even Heads of States.

Some of the presidents he worked with include Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Milton Obote (Uganda), Idi Amin (Uganda), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) as well as Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

Sir Dhillon previously told the Nation that he did not know his exact date of birth but that “for passport purposes, my parents settled for October 25, 1931.”

His journey to the top of the world of photojournalism began when he moved to Kenya from Punjab with his father in 1947 at only 16 years of age.

He however admitted to struggling to adapt given various circumstances such as language barrier, further saying that – unlike his siblings – he performed dismally in his ‘O’ level examinations.

His father gave him a second camera to while away his time and he never looked back, starting off by working at a small studio located inside a pharmacy owned by Edith Haller.

He gradually worked his way up and, in 1954, bought the studio; four years later, he wedded Amarjeet Kaur Sadhu in an arranged marriage (that he said he never regretted) but she passed on in 1992.

In 1961, he partnered with journalist Ivor Davis to form Africapix and, together, they traversed one country after the other “covering the euphoric pre-independence build-up in so many African nations.”

He previously narrated how once, in the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo, he was almost shot dead by government forces who accused him of collaborating with rebels.

He was however rescued by British cameraman Jon Lane and war reporter Sandy Gall who convinced the soldiers of his identity.

Sir Mohinder, in his first autobiography titled ‘My Life, My Camera’, chronicled the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964, the Simba Rebellion in the Congo, the Siege of Stanleyville, the Aden War, the rise and fall of Idi Amin, as well as the fall of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia and the birth of Zimbabwe.

He also recorded the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s, the impact of the Vietnam war, the aftermath of the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, and the 1998 US Embassy bombing in Nairobi.

“As a cameraman, I feel privileged to have witnessed – at first hand – some of the most dramatic events of recent times,” he wrote in the book.

“Travelling with Jomo Kenyatta’s presidential motorcade could be an adventure-filled experience, sometimes involving lengthy detours, very often on the most appalling roads.”

He added: “When, as often happened, the convoy would get bogged down in thick mud, Jomo Kenyatta himself would jump out and organise an impromptu Harambee (a rallying call) among pedestrian onlookers who would have to push his Mercedes, as well as all the accompanying escort vehicles.”

Sir Mohinder is survived by only one son, Sam, who followed in his footsteps and is now the Africapix boss.

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Story By Ian Omondi
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