Unmask: I am (not) a photographer

Unmask: I am (not) a photographer

When Boniface Mwangi put up a post asking for recommendations, specifically, a lady photographer to gift a camera, three people contacted me to ask if I would be interested. Reason? I was once a photographer for slightly over two years. However, I have not held my camera in a year. I still have it because I cannot bring myself to sell it, as it was gifted to me by an amazing person in my life who believed in me. I have considered gifting it but something still tells me to hold on to it.

This was not the story I wanted to share today .

BUT a  good friend challenged me a couple of weeks ago when I told her that I was launching my blog. Her first question was, what will set you apart? She is a very deep and intense person but that still took me by surprise. The challenge to me was to candidly share what has been a roller coaster of a life bits by bits and just pull back the mask.

“I don’t have a mask.”

“Everyone has a mask,” she said and moved on.

One of the three people who wanted to recommend me last saw me four years ago but they knew that I was a photographer. That is because I actively marketed myself on Facebook. It started in 2014.

I had just come from doing a project in Malindi. There was a play that Eugene Oyoo, a stage and art director, was working on. I asked him to have me on board as a stage manager and he agreed. It was something I had done for years at the Phoenix Players Theatre.  While there I met an amazing woman who was going to be one of the best bosses I would ever have.  Joyce Musoke got me on a project that would keep me busy for a couple of months, may be even a year. On that job I met another lady who owned a photography company.

It was like stars had aligned because I had just gotten a camera and needed practice. She gave me that. The first thing I shot was a wedding of a celebrated actress but I did not know her then so that kept the pressure at bay. On that day I was shooting with people who had years of experience and they were patient, answered all my questions and taught me the ropes. Three months later I shot my first big budget wedding and I could not be more proud of myself.

That is the kind of person I am. A go-getter. If today I decided to be a break dancer, I would get to work. Sign up for classes, join a dance group and change my diet. The whole nine yards. The project that was supposed to last till mid 2015 was cancelled in February. I was left with this skill that I had only begun to master. It became my main hustle. I started doing it out of necessity. Clients’ faces began looking like those jumbo junior coin boxes. I had bills to pay. As I tried to please every client I began over compensating. Took too many photos. Offered a freebie here and there.

I then lost two relationships with people I genuinely cared for around the same time. Every insecurity I had was confirmed during that period. I was worthless, jobless, could not keep a man, let alone a job. The walls went up so quickly it’s like I had never broken them down. Negativity I had worked so hard to turn around came back even stronger. I hated everyone and everyone hated me. I remember I even lost my hairline. As I think back to it, it’s almost laughable.

One day at a wedding I met one of the best photographers in Kenya. He and his team worked so effortlessly that they reminded me why I wanted to do photography.  Instead of seeing that as a chance to rekindle the fire for something I once loved, it became another reason to be bitter. Impostor syndrome checked in and reminded me that I had no business being a photographer. Let alone a female photographer.

I left the photography company and began doing it freelance. I actually got clients. Thank you for trusting me with  moments of your life when you had no reason to. Sadly, most of the money I made went into covering running costs and I barely got by. Part of the move involved getting a work station at a production company. After four months there, as the year edged to towards the end, I was asked to leave the premises (story for another day). I remember going back to my house that day and stayed indoors for what must have been a couple of days. No calls. No human contact. Nothing.

The only thing I had going for me was a blog I had started with a friend. The next month Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) held a training for writers at PAWA254. My friend and I attended it and it is there I would meet the man who would later be my boss and from him learn a great deal about online publishing. I would mention him but he abhors attention. My friend who co-owned the blog with me, was the last subject I did a proper photo shoot for. It was my going out project and the best thing I have done so far.

A year later I was asked to take photos for another project and for fear of disappointing the person, I agreed. He was someone I held in  high regard. The minute I held that camera in my hands, I remembered the period in which the skill was borne; of shame, rejection, self-hatred and just being a horrible human being. I honoured the promise since I had been paid but that was the last day I packed my camera in its bag.

Am I a photographer? Yes. That is a skill that no one can take from me. But I am not a commercial one.  I don’t know when I will take photos again, though I find myself taking mental ones. I think all my friends are conspiring to have me go back to it. They ask me to ‘just’ take photos even if I don’t put them up. For now I am happy acting, writing and working on a broadcasting career. I am God’s child undergoing construction. One allowed to evolve and so are you.

  1. Njeri

    17 October

    Beautiful post Medrine. Taught me so much.

    • admin

      17 October

      Hello Njeri. Thank you for taking the time. I am glad you got something from it. It’s all about impact. Thank you

  2. Kenn Omollo

    13 April

    Well written. I sunk with every word and rose up again with another. You have the art Medrine. Keep going.

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