As much as the digital camera was first invented in 1975, there has been a huge growth in the photography sector over the past ten years [at least in Kenya]. The digital camera and has given people more access and freedom to take and delete photos and edit pictures at the click of a button and with the invention of smartphones that took it all a notch higher which has been further propelled by social media platforms. Suddenly we can share our memories instantly and not have to wait for photos to be processed and guess how they would turn out.
Not only has how we take photos been revolutionized, but there has also been a great growth in the creativity of the kind of photos taken. Gone are the days when family photos were taken with people at home or just posing in a studio with some members standing and others seated on a sofa. Wedding photos were predictable, with very formal poses and sometimes taken in studios with the most ridiculous backdrops. I could go on and on. Now there is so much creativity and people are free to explore options of background, edit pictures with creative filters and even come up with signature techniques for their photos. There are no more limits to heights with things like drone technology and there are even opportunities to explore what is in the ocean. There are endless possibilities and new inventions all the time.
Over the last ten years, the Kenyan photography scene has exploded with so many young people getting into the photography business and actually making a living out of it. Photography remains the center force to other creative skills such as beauty industry, fashion design, catering, etc.
I took a chance and decided to meet up a friend, fellow designer and photographer, Valerie Mwango Monyoncho a perfect person to show how the worlds have come together and how she too fell in love with the idea of capturing memories behind the lens.
Valerie’s Inspiration for Photography
Valerie Mwango grew up in Nairobi, Kenya with a Christian background. She is a creative at heart with great passion for reflecting beautiful moments and this is portrayed in her art both as a fashion designer and as a photographer.
She has always wanted to be an entrepreneur in the creative sector since she was in high school. This drove her zeal in joining art and crafts classes which eventually grew into her love for fashion as years went by.
During her early days, Valerie Mwango’s desire for fashion was a cause for concern for her parents as fashion is not viewed as a viable career. They advised her to obtain a degree before taking that leap to do whatever she wanted so she studied International Business administration, Marketing Concentration from United States International University –Africa (USIU-A). To her surprise, she actually enjoyed the course programme; it exposed her to a lot about the intricacies of the business world.
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Her first attempt at photography was her family vacation trip. She decided to take the vacation pictures in a simple point and shoot angle with her Sony camera and discovered that this could be something she would want to pursue and earn a living from. When they got home she went on YouTube to research further on principles of photography as she saved to buy her professional DSLR [digital single-lens reflex] Camera and so the adventure began from there.
After getting her camera in 2015, she began to learn from renowned photographers and studied the features of their photography style in order to tailor her skill in the right path. The internet was also a strong element in her photography story as she spent long hours learning and re-learning on the principles of photography. Asides photography, she also expresses her creative and artistic view in clothing design (fashion).
Valerie Mwango explains this in this way – Photography is a balance between art and science. The science behind it is understanding light and how it behaves in different exposures and settings. The artistic side is how to create various moods based on the image you want to create as you bend or break elements to create your own masterpiece. There are also various types of photography which is generally created by the subject, be it an event, a person/object and can help you fit into a genre, which can lead to a signature type that you are known for.
Photography in Kenya
There seems to be a preconceived notion in Kenya that just because you have a camera [professional one or not] and taken a few pictures [good or not] that it automatically makes you a photographer. Others believe that photography is just pointing a camera and clicking, when in the actual sense it entails more than just clicking the button.
Photography means putting all your faculties to use at the same time; the science, the art, your physical, and mental energy, sometimes emotional, just to make sure you get that perfect shot. This is not always well understood especially when the average Kenyan approaches an established photographer for work they want done. Sometimes it’s just hard to put the price of the service alone because eventually it’s is a brand you are building as well and people pay for that as well. However there has been a lot more appreciation as more people are starting to understand it a bit more.
In the end persistence pays and eventually a good photographer will stand out because of their work.
Valerie’s Photography Journey
Valerie also notes that having an edge over other industry photographer’s helps, especially if you have a unique style. Most photographers will try and copy the style of a more successful photographer, which can easily happen in the earlier days as one is learning. However always being in the space where you are always reinventing yourself and learning new techniques is always a great way to keep and stay ahead.
Valerie loves to capture moments and hence tends to lean towards pictures that revolve around special occasions and events and also portraits. She still dabbles in taking pictures of other things such as wildlife, travel, food etc.
Being consistent with how you work and always delivering is a good way to maintain clients and get new ones as well. Valerie’s Clients currently are mainly middles class Kenyans who she get mainly through referrals or via social media.
Valerie admits that the pay at the beginning can be very minimal to non-existence because you are at the stage of proving yourself. You do a lot of free shoots to build your portfolio before you get paying jobs. Her first paid opportunity was for a monthly business networking meeting and was paid 50USD per shoot. This opportunity gave her the confidence she needed to continue with the craft as well as helped her harness her skills further.
The other hurdle she has faced is being a woman in the industry because it’s very male dominated. Even as the lead photographer at most shoots where she would hire male photographers to assist it is automatically assumed that she is an assistant.
Valerie hopes that she will eventually be able to train more people to handle the photography service line of the business and expand to be a communication agency to put her marketing degree to good use. For her personally she would like to follow the route of the late Karl Lagerfeld who is known as a designer and also a photographer.
Valerie follows the trail of renowned photographers such as: Lindsey Adler and Adrian McDonald (@lexonart), @MwanikiWeddings and @heeniephotography
Her word of advice to aspiring photographers is to only go for it if they have a heart and a passion for it. It’s not glamorous work and definitely not always a glamorous lifestyle. Just like any other job, it requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice to succeed. So if one wants to venture into it, come prepared to roll up your sleeves and work. And still have fun while at it.
Valerie Mwango advises – “You can only grow and build through daily boring consistency. It takes 10,000 hours to become a genius at what you do. I’m not yet near 500hrs even. So keep the wheels moving. You will get there.”
Facebook: Tafari Photography
Facebook: Tafari Fashion – https://www.facebook.com/houseoftafari/
Instagram: @tafari_fashion – https://www.instagram.com/tafari_fashion/
Lorna Abwonji is Head Designer/Creative Director at Mia Mara Creations.
She is the Project manager at Dress Up Kenya. RAFDA 2008 Finalist & FA254 Finalist 2014. Lorna is a 2016 YALI Mandela Washington Fellow.