“One of the biggest challenges as a Fashion Photographer in Kenya; is getting locations to shoot in especially within our cities. Nairobi, for an instance, is antagonistic to photogragraphers because turning on a camera will either get you arrested or be the precurser to liability; for failure to obtain a shooting permit or a relevant license.”CHIENJO OMONDI , 2022.
Four years ago Chienjo Omondi picked up his first camera. He’d saved Ksh 40,000 (about $342.46) which he invested in his first camera; a Nikon D3200. This was his beginning in the glamourous world of Fashion Photography, needless to say, he wasn’t interested in glamour, fame, or thousands of followers on social, he just wanted to create art. Inspired by Tim Walker, a British photographer hailed for his grotesque and surrealist work in fashion portraiture; Omondi would learn photography from Youtube and other photographers that he interacted with.
Although photography isn’t his full-time job, he has managed to carve out a name and place among renowned Kenyan and African photographers, a feat, mark you, that is marred by a myriad of challenges especially in Africa a continent that is still finding its voice in Fashion Photography.
Omondi is the founder of the creative group Hadithi Za Bevy (Tales of Bevy) his work has been achieved and fêted by Vogue. He spoke to us about his journey, his photography tenets, and the challenges he encountered in his craft.
Here is that conversation;
Vazi Couture: What’s the best thing about being a fashion photographer in Kenya.
Omondi: The best thing about being a photographer in Kenya is the experience. There’s so much to learn from the Kenyan fashion photography Industry and just getting to interact with Kenyan creatives is beautiful, Kenya has very amazing individuals.
Let’s talk about Operations, do you have a team that helps you with logistics, and how do you monetize your craft?
I do not have a definite team that assists with operations, but do have friends who assist me on the job if need be. In terms of monetization, most projects I do are client work as compared to personal projects which don’t really generate income directly.
Do you incur expenses, in operations, equipment upgrade, and maintenance, break it down for us?
Yes, I do incur expenses, especially when it comes to equipment upgrades because of the need to improve the quality of equipment to deliver quality work.
What are some of the platforms where you exhibit your art and photos?
I have published my work on Instagram, Twitter, Photovogue, and Behance.
Have you taken any courses in finance, administration, or any other areas of focus that have been helpful in your craft?
I have not taken any courses in Finance or administration, yet.
What are some of the challenges you experience running a photography business/ operation as a photographer in Kenya and Africa by extension?
The biggest challenge, I’d say, is the lack of belief from most Kenyan brands and organizations. Our native brands prefer to hire creatives from abroad to come and document Kenyan lifestyle or do commercial work and forget that there are so many great creatives in Kenya and Africa as well.
Let’s talk about features in publications and accolades you’ve scooped as a photographer?
We saw some of your photos featured on Photo vogue, how does one get featured, and are there any benefits?
Vogue accepts a maximum of two submissions on Monday, after submitting, your work is reviewed, the photos which get sampled by the editors are then published with credits on their website. Photo vogue is a platform with many creatives, its benefit is how it connects and enables you to interact with many other creatives across the world.
Your passion and skill are illustrated so passionately in your Hadithi za Bevy photo journal, what is the whole initiative?
Hadithi za Bevy is a creative dream team that consists of photographers, models, stylists, and videographers who work together to create timeless art.
Why the name Hadithi za Bevy?
‘Bevy’ means a group and ‘Hadithi’ means a story which translates to ‘Stories of our group’.
What type of art do you create with this group, tell us more about its history and composition?
We mostly do editorials and magazine cover art. Hadithi za Bevy was formed in 2021 October and it consists of 12 creatives.
Does the art Hadithi Za Bevy create monetize, and if not how are you able to manage expenses accrued by the group?
It’s a non-profit initiative, we cover expenses through members’ contributions.
What are some of the social issues, aesthetics, and modeling trends that the group addresses?
Hadithi za Bevy focuses on urban-vintage storytelling because it fuses modern-day fashion with contemporary beauty trends.
Let’s talk about your photography process, why do you display your portraits in monochrome on your Instagram account?
Monochrome is much deeper aesthetically than what people assume it to be, I want to show how beautiful it is as an art form.
What are some of your tips when it comes to post-production?
Post-production is an important part of photography, but for me, I don’t prefer to change much in a photo’s post-production but instead I work hard to make it as perfect as possible during production. That makes the post-production process easier.
What in your opinion should African photographers employ in their crafts to give more representation to African Fashion?
I think we, African photographers, should try as much as possible to create art fit for our native fashion heritage and not simply copy from other cultures.
Do you think African Fashion is well represented on popular photography exhibition platforms such as Instagram and others?
Yes, I would confidently say that African fashion is really picking up and growing by the day. It is very beautiful to watch the growth happening.
Who are some of the creatives you’ve worked with that have had an impact on your craft?
Almost all creatives I’ve worked with have played a major role in inspiring who I am today.
What would advise youngins who wish to venture into Fashion Photography as a profession?
Fashion photography is not a field that has been explored as much. Every creative in this field should dare to be unique and create as much as possible because the more they practice the better their craft becomes.
What are some of the personal lessons you’ve learned as a photographer practicing in Kenya Africa?
Photography shouldn’t be a competition, most creatives compete to create art instead of working to create their own different pieces of art.