Strangely enough, not many people outside of Africa know that Kenya has an absolutely amazing photography culture. Not only is it displayed in a large number of dedicated projects and campaigns on Instagram that gather individuals passionate about storytelling and showcasing their country or city with great results. There are also very talented professionals who lead the way with their superskills and willingness to support young talent. You have already met Joe Were here on Meanwhile in Kenya as well as Mutua Matheka. It’s time to introduce you to another of our favorites, Kevin Ouma. We have personally had the pleasure to work with Kevin and the two things that stand out for me the most are his genuine interest in people which radiates through his photos, and that he is so very cool, inspiring, easy and nice to work with. So it’s with great pleasure that MIKE says: Meet Kevin Ouma!
Kevin, tell us a little about yourself and your photography?
KO: My name is Kevin Ouma, I am a 32-year-old Kenyan, married to Frida Ouma; I am originally from Mfangano, which is an island on Lake Victoria off the mainland of Mbita. Currently, I live with my family in Nairobi. I have been a photographer for four years now. Before I became a photographer, I worked on film sets for drama and TV-commercials. One thing that is typical of me as a photographer would be the ability to see beauty in the most mundane of things or situations (if that is typical of a photographer ☺) I love doing what I do because I enjoy traveling and meeting new people and cultures.
(We say: yes, Kevin is definitely the kind of guy you can send anywhere and he will show you the beauty of any place or person or situation.)
You have chosen to focus on NGO and documentary photography, why is that?
KO: When I ventured into photography, I tried almost all kinds of photography, until I did an NGO job and the fulfillment it brought me as a person knowing that my work will go some way in making an impact in someone’s life made me want to continue on as an NGO photographer. Of course there are also the perks of traveling and meeting so many people with each assignment.
How does shooting NGO and documentary differ from other photography assignments?
KO: I would say that shooting and NGO assignment or documentary means you have to immerse yourself into the lives of a people, not touch and go, through relationships or mere care, you end up getting some really amazing images, on the downside you can get drained emotionally. To maintain balance, what I always do is connect with God in prayer, that reminds that it’s not about me, for the ability and opportunity to shoot does not come from myself. I also talk a lot about my work and the people I meet with my friends and family.
How do your non-Kenyan clients usually find you?
KO: It’s difficult getting non-Kenyan clients, there is a perception that a local photographer cannot produce good work. That said, the few non-Kenyans I have worked with, will always come back, and I am sure its not for charitable reasons ☺.
(We say… It seems indeed that companies, organizations and media do not know that these very skilled professional photographers are there available for work. Perhaps it is more that than an idea that they are not good. People just don’t know that they exist or how to find them and end up sending their own photographer across half the planet or just buying from an image bank. This post, and Meanwhile in Kenya in general, is an attempt to do something about that. In each interview you will find contacts to the person interviewed and you are welcome to send us an e-mail if you want more advise on this. Just write to email@example.com)
Tell us about one of your most memorable projects or one that you are particularly proud of?
KO: It has to be a project I did for the European Union, which meant traveling to different parts of the country documenting their projects. The Mbita part has to be my favorite, not because its home, but the lake life has amazing images. The European Union project was as part of celebrating the partnership between EU and Kenya. The scope of the project involved two photographers covering different parts of Kenya/EU projects. The images were used in an exhibition.
Through your work you have traveled a lot through Kenya, which places have you found the most beautiful or/and have affected you the most?
KO: Wow! That’s a tough question; I am more moved by people than with landscapes, so I will base my answer on that. Most places are beautiful, the ones that affect me most are places like Northeastern Kenya and other parts of the country where basic needs are hard to come by and poverty is rife.
Tell me about some person that has stuck in your memory?
KO: There was this time I was shooting for an NGO, a school uniform distribution exercise in one of the slums in Nairobi and this little girl who was so pitiful could not get her uniform because she was absent from school on the day the measurements were being done. Her story really pained me and I offered to pay for her uniform though no one followed up.
What do you wish more people knew about Kenya?
KO: We are a hard-working people, very warm and welcoming, deep inside we go out of our way for one another.
(MIKE says: YES!)
Do you have a dream project that you would like to do?
KO: Projects would be more like it; I would like to document the life of the fishing villages around lake Victoria and do a book and exhibition around it.
You are part of One Touch; can you tell us a bit about that?
KO: ‘OT’ as we like to call it is a coming together of different kinds of photographers in terms of genre and cinematographers at all levels. The aim is to grow together in skill and life, call it sharpening each other while having fun at it.
Last question: what advise would you give to a first-time visitor to Nairobi?
KO: Be easy, there is lots to do if you venture out, like any “big city” there are some bad people but most Nairobi folk don’t mind assisting you. Nairobi is actually up to the visitor’s interest, if you are into charity there are many facililities in need of volunteers, art has many vibrant venues like the National Theatre, Kuona Trust and some galleries and hubs around town. Also there will always be one concert or another at any of the cultural centers.
You have now seen some of Kevin’s NGO work so let me share another of his entirely different photos which is a real beloved favorite here at MIKE. Kevin sometimes does wedding photography too, and this particular photo has stuck in our minds so much ever since we saw it the first time. Here is the photo, and below you can read Kevin’s beautiful thoughs on it.
KO: The picture you ask about, first I am glad that you love it. This was at a friend’s wedding where I was the lead photographer. What’s happening here is the mother had come to pray with the bride and wish her well. Before we knew it both were overwhelmed with emotions and started crying. I live for such moments in my photography, where pure and raw emotions are seen, not the posey stuff.
Kevin, thank you so much for taking the time to share your work and creativity with Meanwhile in Kenya. You’re great. Asante sana.
If you want to get in contact with Kevin he is @oumakev on Twitter and kevinouma on Instagram where you can see much more of his work.