I first considered going into photography last year at a bonfire in the serene setting of Njabini, Nyandarua County. It was one of those cold nights in the foothills of the Aberdares, and as the fire crackled and emitted warmth and shreds of spark, my uncle and I were having a discussion about life.
The beginning of photography
Back in Nairobi where we lived, the tides had become rough of late. My schooling had stalled due to lack of school fees. I’d been forced to go into informal business, juggling from one to another in order to make ends meet. And here I was in this peaceful escape from the city with someone saying I should try my luck in photography. Perhaps it could work? I remember thinking aloud.
Just a few years back in 2015, fresh and green from high school; I’d joined the Technical University of Kenya to study Business and Information Technology (BBIT). Money was the reason. Yes. I have always been an ambitious person, and therefore, I wanted to pursue something that would bring in some good cash. My determination started early. Back in the days as I grew up partly upcountry and in Nairobi. I was admitted to a provincial high school in Pokot that I couldn’t attend because of the post-election-violence scare. Later, as fate would have it, I was to attend two schools, both in Kiambu County, which played a pivotal role in shaping and preparing me for the future. It is here that I developed a spirit of enterprise.
Going into business
I didn’t make the cut to be admitted to the university. Unfortunately, I missed by a whisker. Of course, I was very disheartened, but my spirit of enterprise kept me going. I joined arms with a friend who’d also cleared high school and we set up a business on the streets of Zimmerman estate. We grilled chicken parts like gizzards and necks. A second friend soon joined us and our venture expanded to include samosas, boiled eggs, and smokies. Fast food is a magnet in the estates. Therefore business, for us, was booming.
However, I deserved better. Education was still an active vessel in my enterprising bloodstream. This time though, another opportunity came knocking. One of my friends had a job connection at a local supermarket. The only qualification needed being a high school education. It was obvious the proposal was better compared to my current job, so I did not hesitate. I grabbed the chance. At the supermarket, I was assigned the task of monitoring the CCTV. This entailed sitting tight in a room for hours looking at the security screens. It was a demanding task. I had to stay alert all through because if anything got lost from the supermarket, my team and I had to pay for it.
Anyone would have wanted to move on. Therefore, when a chance to join university came, just a few months later, I gladly left. At the Technical University of Kenya, I continued with my enterprising spirit. Alongside my studies, I sold second-hand clothes and shoes. Fashion had always been my passion, so I was dressing others and myself. I took orders and made sure I satisfied customer demands. Over time I established a strong network and grew a successful brand.
Marto, the man of the people, was known in all quarters at the campus.
Love for fashion and events
Other than dressing people, I loved attending events, and since I was always sharply dressed, I easily caught the eye of photographers who’d ask me to pause for photos. This encounter with photography—coupled with my love for the beauty of life ignited by fashion—conceived in me a desire to be behind the camera as well. I wanted to record fashion through the lens. Since I did not have a DSLR, my phone became the camera, and I took some great photos. It became a new, burning passion that I wanted to pursue to the end.
Twist of fate
Meanwhile, I started losing taste in what I was pursuing at TUK. Gradually, Business Information Technology became disinteresting. With time I realized that BBIT was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Fate felt likewise I guess because just when I was in my last year, I lacked school fees and had to defer my studies owing to unpaid arrears.
This takes us back to where the story began. At the fireside, tens of miles away from the bustling city.
Destiny comes knocking
Only a few months had passed since I dropped out of university. Life had only become harder. I was in search of something purposeful to do with my life. Selling clothes and doing marketing jobs were my only sources of livelihood. This, like walking on a tight rope, was a gamble. So here we are seated by the fireside and my uncle, Sam Kamau, a make-up artist at Versatile Photographers and one of the founders of Versatile Etiquette, mentions that his new phone takes great pictures. I ask for the phone and take a picture of the fire. He looks at it, smiles and says it looks great. “By the way, since you love taking photos a lot, you should think of pursuing photography.” He adds.
A few weeks later, he introduced me to David Macharia, the CEO of Versatile Photographers. I was asked to help out at the exhibition desk during the Halloween event at the Village Market in 2018. After receiving my payment, I was very excited. On the streets, it was not easy to make that kind of money in a day. This further encouraged me to consider photography as a career, and I began interacting with Versatile Photographers.
The journey begins
In January this year, I was lucky to receive sponsorship by Versatile Photographers through their CSR program to study photography at Versatile School of Photography. This remains the best thing that ever happened in my life and I truly appreciate it. At Versatile School, my encounter with photography grew into a passion. I learned how to take perfect photos with a digital camera. How to combine creativity with the skills I learned and package myself as a professional photographer. The learning experience was smooth and interesting. The field day was as exciting, a very enlightening experience. I was glad to test my skills outdoors and to be guided by a team of some of the best photographers in the country.
The learning experience at Versatile School of Photography
Learning how to start a successful photography business was the best lesson I ever learned at Versatile School of Photography. The personal branding class by Regina Re was also a turning point for me. I learned the importance of confidence and packaging myself as a businessman. By the time I finished the course, I was equipped with enough knowledge to become a professional photographer. And lady luck smiled at me again, this time with a three-month internship as an assistant photographer at Versatile Photographers, which I began in February this year.
The first months were challenging for me since I was still learning the art of photography. Talking to clients was difficult. Taking photos in the studio was an uphill task. I’d freeze every time I had to serve a client alone. But I was lucky because I was working under Kamau, a very supportive photographer who polished my skills, encouraged and instilled courage in me. I learned techniques of lighting from watching him work. He taught me how to take great pictures. To date, I still learn a lot because learning is a continuous, endless process.
After the internship period ended, I was employed at Versatile Photographers. For me, working here has been an experience of growth and discovery. I’ve garnered not just skills, but also experience in dealing with clients. I’ve learned how to be responsible, ethical and realistic both at work and in life. If I was to turn back the hands of time, I would go into photography much earlier, for this is my life, my career, and I love every bit of it. I enjoy capturing moments, freezing smiles, and seeing clients pausing in their best attire. Passion for fashion still flows in my bloodstream, and I consider going into this in the future. I’m not sure whether I’ll be behind or in front of the camera, but either way, fashion will always be a part of me.
I’m planning to buy my first camera sometime next year. After that, I will be in a position to handle photography projects like birthdays and so forth, thus I will register and grow my brand. I see my stint at Versatile Photographers as a stepping stone to the bright future ahead. Perhaps, granted a chance, I will complete my BBIT course. The spirit of enterprise still keeps me going. Photography is now my main gig but I still sell second-hand clothes and shoes. On my off days, you will find me socializing, catching up with friends, shopping for attire, or watching movies.
Meanwhile, the memory of that bonfire on a cold night in the foothills of the Aberdares is still fresh. For me, it symbolizes the beginning of my beautiful encounter with photography, the genesis of a rich career as a professional photographer. That fire burns within me now. Each and every day I kindle it with skills and experience. And in return, it keeps me warm with the promise of a better tomorrow.