Heroic photojournalist Dhillon dies at 88
Veteran photojournalist Mohinder Dhillon has died aged 88.
The photographer died on Monday morning at Aga Khan Hospital, Nairobi, after a short illness.
Known for his fearlessness, Dhillon, who British troops in Yemen once half-mockingly nicknamed “Death-wish Dhillon”, will be remembered for his escapades that saw him risk his life in pursuit of the perfect shot.
Born in 1931 in Babar Pur village, Punjab, Dhillon came to Kenya in 1947 to join his father Tek Singh — fondly referred to as Bau Ji — who had been working for the Uganda Railway since the age of 17.
In an interview with the Nation in 2016, he revealed his struggles with formal education, especially with the transition from his native Urdu to English.
“All five of my brothers passed their ‘O’ level examinations. I was the sole exception, failing the exam,” he said in the interview.
His consolation was a gift of a second-hand camera from his father.
“Neither he nor I, knew it at the time, but this simple gift marked the beginning of a 60-year-long career in photography,” he said.
His elaborate body of work comprises coverage of major world events, mainly in Africa and the Middle East, for the major broadcasters of the day.
Some of his films have had a powerful effect on public consciousness around the world, just to mention his coverage of the Ethiopian famine in the mid-1980s, which was instrumental in raising millions of dollars in famine relief.
MY CAMERA, MY LIFE
He was nearly killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1962 after government forces accused him of collaborating with the rag-tag Simba rebels involved in a brutal insurgency that is a piece in the vicious Cold War jigsaw.
Pleas that he is a news cameraman lured by the magnet of exclusive war-zone images fell on deaf ears.
He photographed Kenya’s independence heroes and forged a close relationship with top political leaders like Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Tom Mboya, among others. He details some of the “countless” official public and State House events.
In 1967, he left Nairobi in a chartered plane to Aden for what he thought would be three or four days, covering the intractable Yemeni war, but ended up shooting eight months of dramatic and daring pictures.
In 1971, he was at the frontline in Uganda as Army Commander Idi Amin — who was to become one of Africa’s most notorious dictators — overthrew President Milton Obote.
In the 1970s, he risked his life to film investigative stories on the illegal ivory trade in Kenya. Then in 1982, he took an excruciating trip behind enemy lines to film Kurdish rebels fighting the Iranian government forces. Not even a helicopter crash while on assignment in Tanzania would stop him.
His story is the subject of My Camera, My Life (Mkuki na Nyota, 2016) which he narrates to writers Gordon Boy and David Kaiza in a three-part book that traces his epic journey. The book was launched in Nairobi by former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga on October 2, 2016.