Osborne Macharia: The storyteller extraordinaire turning photography into art
It is often said in the photography world that “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” Very few photographers live up to that ideal as Kenya’s Osborne Macharia. As I gawp at his photos I often get lost in my own make belief world ascribing my own interpretation to his works. For me they serve as blank canvasses just waiting to be painted with my own meaning. Take my favourites, Kenya’s League of Extravagant Grannies and KABANGU: Watchmen by night, Hip Hop heads by day for example. These aren’t just photo essays thrown together with a poutporri of images haphazardly. On the contrary, these are projects that speak to me and will speak to you becouse of the reactions they trigger. They bring back memories, pique imagination and challenge hidden stereotypes that are buried deep in our consciousness.
Why is that? You may ask.
Well, at the heart of Osborne Macharia’s projects are one integral element. Story telling. Like weaving a rather elaborate colourful basket, he starts with a theme then works backwards in procuring the physical materials and collaborating with equally creative folks to make it happen! There are of course challenges, as he explained here – KABANGU: Watchmen by night, Hip Hop heads by day, but you wouldn’t have thought so looking at the final pieces of what can only be accurately described as art.
Today, we are honoured to have the story telling maestro himself on to “interrogate.”
Tell us about yourself
I am a self taught commercial and advertising photographer born and raised in Kenya. I have a Bachelors in Architecture but never practised a day in my life.
What have been your most impactful photographic projects so far?
To date my favourite projects have to be Macicio, Nywele Za Kale and Afro Juba. I don’t know the actual reasons why they are my favourite, but they are. It could be that they were experimental projects who’s outcome out passed expectations.
We featured the incredibly successful “Kenya’s League of Extravagant Grannies” photographic project recently. How would you describe the global reach it had and how that success has impacted your work as s photographer?
This was supposed to be one of the many projects I had planned for 2016 and we didn’t expect it to go that far. My team and I were equally surprised. The conversations that came out from it was overwhelming. Most important it taught us that we cannot produce anything less than what we have so far, as the world is watching. This however won’t influence the direction i am taking in terms of story telling and the kind of projects I have lined up. Locally nothing has changed but internationally it attracted a lot of features from media houses such as BBC.
Interesting part is people up to date still believe that the grannies are actually real and not fictional.
There is a refreshing attitude amongst some of the most notable African photographers to shape a new narrative of the real Africa. How important is this movement to you and to what extent do you feel responsible to be part of it?
Indeed there is a fresh approach to creating the African narrative and its the same vibe I get when i converse with different creatives excelling in their fields and its always the same…painting Africa in a different light. I tend to believe this is a passion for me as well that keeps getting deeper the more projects I undertake.
Things have changed nowadays even with the few photographers I mentor or people who I invite for my shoots with the emphasis being ‘Content with a story’. I hope this will be a trend especially for Kenyan photographers as it converts photos into meaningful art.
Story telling is an obvious element of your work. Describe the idea generation process from conception to when the stories are finally out there for public consumption.
There is no defined path that takes place, but the most fundamental thing is having a solid story that people can relate to both at home (Kenya/Africa) and then the rest of the world. My hope is that those who see my work will not only come to appreciate it but will come to understand it as well.
My work is defined by 3 key principles i.e Fiction, Culture and Identity and every project I undertake (non-commercial) has to fall into one of these spaces. I day dream a lot and zone out from time to time and I think this is where the stories tend to come from.
Then comes the process of looking for models which I start by briefing my producer/stylist Kevo Abbra on requirements. Once we have gone through the process of identifying the final subjects we start on the wardrobe and props. Depending on the complexity of the job, we might have to tailor make some of the outfits. I brief the other team members notably the Hair Stylist and Make Up Artists. Once everyone is in sync then we set a shoot date.
If you had to travel outside Kenya for leisure or work which countries or capital cities would you go to and why?
Outside Kenya I would pick Senegal for work as I would really want to do 2-3 projects there that I believe would be worth talking about. When it comes to holiday then Bahamas, Seychelles or Mauritius just to relax and unwind.
What would you say to a traveler who wants to visit Kenya, perhaps for an unforgettable cultural experience?
There are a number of cultural experiences from the coast to the Northern part of Kenya each with its unique experience. You will enjoy them all. I’m particularly drawn to the coastal part of the country maybe since this is where I go to spend a lot of time while shooting Capture Kenya. Its breathtakingly beautiful.
What tips would you give to up and coming photographers hoping to follow in your footsteps as one of Africa’s foremost story tellers?
There are three things that I advice those starting this journey.
First, is investing in personal projects. This is the only way you will know yourself and the direction you want to take as a photographer. Personal projects are what opened doors for me into the competitive world of advertising.
Second, is defining your style/signature. This is what will make you stand out in the sea of visual artists and photographers.
Third is research day and night. Never get tired of learning and experimenting. When it comes to shoots the pre-production stage which is like the research and planning stage accounts for almost 30% of the entire shoot and if this is not handled well then the actual shoot might not go well.
O S B O R N E M A C H A R I A
P H O T O G R A P H E R + D I G I T A L A R T I S T
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