1.Your greatest challenge seems to be juggling between a demanding day job and your nature photography. Howare you managing this?
My rule has always been to give 100 % to both worlds.This means between 8 and 5 I am fully dedicated to my employer and during my free time (mornings, evenings and most weekends) I curate various photography experiences, edit some of the photos from previous works and a bit of reading. I always carry a small camera with me to so that I don’t miss any moment.
- How did you land on nature photography as your favorite?
I was a member of the photojournalism club in primary school and as long as I can remember I have always been drawn to nature and animals. Later on I found myself quite literally chasing all things nature especially sunset, clouds and Mount Kenya so when I started seriously started investing in photography I naturally drifted towards nature and wildlife.
3.’Mukuhi’ in our lingua would translate to a ‘short person’. To infer, what are some of your shortcomings as a nature photojournalist?
Sometimes it is hard to find balance between my day job and photography. In most cases nature and wildlife photography involves a lot of travelling and since I only have the weekends to travel, I am not able to travel as far as I would like. I however make the best of that limited time.
- Laikipia County is home to some of the most celebrated wildlife conservancies. In the past months we have had heavily armed nomadic herders invading these spaces and indiscriminately destroying the flora and fauna inhabiting here. What has been the impact, especially on your craft?
I have a lot to say on this but let me stick to the basics. Some of my friends especially in Laikipia north had to temporarily abandon their places of work because of the violence. Some had to look for other jobs all together especially when the land invasions became less about the search for pasture and more about the politics of historical ‘land injustices’ and so called ‘white supremacy in Laikipia.
A few conservancies have had to close down and some are inaccessible due to the insecurity. In some areas most of the wildlife was forced to migrate to escape the chaos so even if I went there as a photographer, I would probably be documenting the aftermath of the looting, killing and destruction. Laikipia is a shadow of its former self and I cannot wait to have sanity restored. You have to agree with me it is kind of hard to market Laikipia at the moment given all the negative press but am happy to report that since the rains there is a bit of sanity now and the wildlife has started streaming back in some of the worst hit conservancies like Kuku Gallman’s Laikipia nature conservancy.
- It’s rare to come across a talented photojournalist who can create an enticing, accompanying narrative i.e. a photostory. Has writing always been one of the feathers to your cap?
I took part in every writing competition in high school and collected a few certificates along the way. This gave me a good foundation for writing. Photography helps me tell stories because in most cases my writing is usually a description of what is happening in the photo.
6.I recently wrote an article on the state of photojournalism in Kenya and it was my idea ,in the last paragraph, that Kenyan photojournalism needs a paradigm shift if it continue being a craft that many can look up to tell the Kenyan story. What are your thoughts on this (given your impressive credentials of blending nature photography and photojournalism)?
Photographers like anyone else must keep reinventing themselves and improving their craft. For instance, photographers have to embrace digital platforms as a way to share their work as many people have shifted from the traditional print media.
- it’s almost 3 weeks to the General Elections. What role as a photographer do you intend to play as far the polls are concerned? I may be guessing covering political and electoral processes may not be one of those things you have done or are used to. Is there flexibility for photographers, moreso of your ilk who have specialized in one type of photography?
As long as you have a camera, you can photograph anything but it all boils down to what story you want to tell. Personally, I like telling the Kenyan story through nature, wildlife and conservation therefore I do not think I will be covering the general elections through photography but I will definitely go to my polling station and vote as is my patriotic duty.
- The security of freelance photographers and photography equipment is something that is rarely addressed. What are your thoughts on this?
As a nature/ wildlife photographer, I have not experienced this. I understand that people will always have differences especially now as we gear up for the general elections but this should never be a reason to attack and vandalize a young person’s equipment just because they want to tell a story that may not necessarily agree with yours. My two cents is that as much as we want to have the front row with our cameras, safety should always come first whether you are photographing people or wild animals after all photography equipment does not come cheap.
- When you are not at your day job or taking shots of nature, what pastimes do you engage in?
I watch a lot of series/movies and documentaries, I also read a lot and I have recently taken up running.
- Who are some the nature, wildlife and landscape photographers whose portfolio impresses you both locally and globally?
Locally I am in awe of ‘The Kenyan camper’. The way he incorporates photography, writing and local travel is amazing. Internationally, Ami Vitale is best of the best in wildlife photography. I look forward to meeting her some day. I am also inspired by Niels Van Gijn (popularly known as Silverless) from the UK, Andrew Beck and Rudi Hulshof from South Africa.
- Is it any ambition of yours to find your work featured on any science, cultural and travel magazines? Which ones have you reached out to?
Having my work featured locally and internationally would be a dream come true. It would be an honor to tell the Laikipian and Kenyan story to a wider audience. I have created a portfolio on national geographic Yourshot community and Shots of Africa. So far, I have had one of my photos featured as the photo of the day on shots of Africa and another one was featured on the top 1000 on Nature Africa’s photography contest.
- Nature photography comes with a lot of learning. You get to interact with loads of new information. How has been the experience?
It has been amazing. I started off snapping photos anyhow without any care for camera settings and lighting but with time I have mastered how to set the camera right for different situations. The most exciting experience was learning how to photograph the moon right around the time when everyone was talking about the ‘super moon’.
My current obsession is learning how to photograph the stars.
- Nature photography heavily relies on texture and use of color. Why is it important?
Nature is dynamic. The colors change depending on the time of day, the position of the sun, whether it is cloudy or not and so many other factors. Nature photography is about blending all these aspects while preserving the natural look on the final product.
- Parting shot?
Nature is not the place to visit but the place to be therefore if you cannot find time to go out and connect with nature, there are a lot of great photo galleries on the inter webs that will take you to places beyond your imagination. In other words tembea Kenya and the world through photography…Photographs are a passport for a moment otherwise gone.
Photography by Sam Kairu Kuguru and Robert Kingori
Follow her work on her blog : https://kuhiwanjohi.wordpress.com/
And also on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kuhiwanjohi/