Kinfay Moroti is easily one of the most recognized photojournalists in Fort Myers, known for his images that dive deep into the soul of the area. He remembers the moment he left the corporate world of newspapers to start his own venture, hopeful images, a company that works to tell the stories of local charitable organizations.
“It’s still so clear in my mind,” he says. “It was spring break, 2019—my boss had asked me to go to Fort Myers Beach and cover the Cincinnati firefighters.” The firefighters have been going to the Lani Kai Island Resort (spring break central) for years to put on a Magic Mike type show, which the paper covers as clickbait fodder. Kinfay told his assignment editor that he didn’t want to do it. “I tried to explain it without making a moral judgment,” he says. “I was questioning whether the paper needed to cover that type of event, with gyrating and bikinis, when there’s so much else going on across the area—meaningful stuff, you know?”
His boss didn’t budge, and Kinfay did the job. But, afterward, walking to his car, he promised himself two things: He would leave his position by the end of the year and dedicate his time and creativity to helping nonprofit organizations.
The transition made sense—Kinfay was with the paper for 14 years, and the majority of his feature work focused on organizations like Pace Center for Girls, which helps and educates young women at risk; Gulf Coast Humane Society; and Community Cooperative, which feeds the hungry. “I decided that this was how I wanted to focus my energy,”
Kinfay reached out to his friend, Sarah Owen, who runs the Collaboratory, and she encouraged him. “Kinfay has mastered the art of taking a passion and marrying it to what he is uniquely gifted to do,” Sarah says. “He brings storytelling that is normally reserved for for-profit entities to the nonprofit world.” In short, he helps nonprofits tell their stories.
By now, the 52-year-old photographer has collaborated with more than 20 charitable organizations to share their mission, whether by photographing kids at play at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lee County, showing people in line for food at the Pine Manor Community Center or sharing the work of Megan Rose at Better Together as she and her organization work to reunite parents and children living in temporary homes. “Kinfay has a huge heart for this community, which shows in everything he does,” Megan says. “Not only does he give generously of his time, but he gives every project his whole heart. He has a gift for connecting with people and showing empathy and compassion.”
The photographer believes that much of that empathy stems from his childhood experiences growing up on the streets of Chicago and in foster homes. When his mother was young and became pregnant with him, her family threw her out, and Kinfay’s father chose not to involve himself. Kinfay’s mother suffered from mental illness and struggled to care for him. As a toddler, he found himself bouncing through a series of rough foster homes. Growing up, he took solace in museums and libraries, where the creativity he saw left a mark. “My mother gave me the best gift—she gave me life,” Kinfay says. “As I’ve grown into an adult, I have such an appreciation for her bravery. That she was courageous enough to try to raise me alone, faced with so many challenges, says so much about her.”
Kinfay was working in a camera store in 1999 when he started his vocation. A woman was desperately seeking a last-minute replacement to photograph the Pan African Festival in Macon, Georgia, after the original photographer backed out. “I had no experience, but I felt a need to help her,” he recalls. “That was my first job, and it took off from there.”
Most of Kinfay’s friends and mentors have been strong women who run large businesses or charitable organizations—and the reason isn’t lost on him. “I made friends with Allyson Ross, who was with Pace, and started capturing images there. I imagine my mother would have benefited from Pace when she was in her teens,” he says. “Then I started working with Megan from Better Together and learned how they help foster kids and their parents get out of the system. I knew that they could have helped my mother. And there’s Dress For Success Southwest Florida, [founded] by the late Barbara Dell. They get women in need into the workforce. Barbara was like a mother figure to me.”
When Kinfay talks about his work, he does so with passion. For a recent exhibit at BIG ARTS on Sanibel, he used a mixed-media approach (for example, placing photographs in a cage) to show the everyday challenges and achievements of local minority communities. He prefers to leave his images raw. “Documentary photojournalism shows what is. Not what we want to be … It shows us who we are now. And who we are now is more than enough,” he says. “And that’s what I was trying to say to those families that would take me into their home. ‘As I am—flawed, battered, abused—this little boy is worth you keeping.’”
These days, Kinfay uses his camera to shine the spotlight on moments that show his community how worthy these organizations that mean so much to him are. And at that moment, he shows not only his worth but also his heart.
Kinfay has spent years photographing sporting events, wars, protests and local heroes for newspapers. In 2019, he created hopeful images, to help nonprofits like Pace Center for Girls, Better Together and Gulf Coast Humane Society share their stories and missions. (Photos Below Courtesy Kinfay Moroti)