The Hidden Narrative in Photography with Zachary Saitoti (Shifteye)

It all began a long time ago. Zachary Saitoti surrounded by break-dancers and DJs in university with their own alias decided to create his own for photography. Shifteye was born and from there has flowed Shifteye Gallery, Shifteye Photography and his co-founding of Cranium Ink. Before we get ahead of ourselves. Here is his story.

Zachary’s journey into photography began in high school. Having introduced photography into the curriculum, he decided to try it and see how it went. Turns out, he discovered a passion and love for it. “I was in the dark room, taking photos and mixing up the chemicals. It was an amazing organic process, so I realized this is my thing!” he remarked expressively. With the digital age, he continues, one can replicate the way film looks through Photoshop but “there is something about the way film looks, the grain, something very natural and nice about doing it the ol’school way.” It is part of his plan, therefore, to create a dark room in his home. “With film” he adds, “you have one roll with 36 or 24 images and you can’t mess it up. In a sense, it really helps someone hone in on their skill because you no longer have the luxury of digital with unlimited images to pick from.”

After he completed university, he started Shifteye Photography as a proper business then came back from England in 2011. At that time he also started a creative agency with his cousin and Creative Designer, Jeff Kegeri called Cranium Ink. “The essence of Shifteye is like a different point of view, there is more behind the scenes and what you see, there is always a hidden narrative” says Zachary Saitoti. Shifteye Gallery, located in Priory Place on Arwings Khodek Road, was born out of a need; a place to exhibit his work without paying every single time he wanted to exhibit. It then transformed into a creative space where creatives in all fields can come together, meet, exhibit, network, interact and be inspired by each other.

[Watch Shifteye Gallery  interview by Grace Msalme here]

The events held at Shifteye Gallery capture art in all forms, illustrators, poetry jam sessions, fashion, photography, music, which is the whole point, flexibility, because it is both an art gallery and an event space. In a sense, Shifteye Gallery is truly more than just a gallery, it is a home for those in the creative arena to express themselves freely, appreciate their fellow colleagues and be united. Kudos to Zachary Saitoti for this! For Shifteye Gallery, Zachary Saitoti is looking forward to 2015. He says “there is a lot more coming from Shifteye…vision 2015. We are going into events a lot more so there are quite a few things coming. Don’t want to say too much…perhaps world domination,” he says comically.

“The essence of Shifteye is like a different point of view, there is more behind the scenes and what you see, there is always a hidden narrative”

For Zachary, most of his work at the moment is commercially based. “It would be nice to do a personal projects for like a month or even 2 weeks. I do miss that kind of stuff but I promised myself that I would make time.” His favourite types of photography are fashion, landscape and creative art photography. When he first began in the UK, he worked with incredible adventurous people who were keen to experiment when it came to fashion. However at the moment, most of his fashion work is commercial. As for landscape photography he states, “you don’t deal with people, its just silence. Go somewhere, put your music on and its you and your camera and be one with nature, so to speak. Sometimes, its nice to get away, its like a stress release.”

The Hidden Narrative in Photography with Zachary Saitoti (Shifteye)
“My Kingdom” Copyright © Zachary Saitoti — with Zachary Saitoti.
The Hidden Narrative in Photography with Zachary Saitoti (Shifteye)
Copyright © Shifteye Photography — at Medina Palms, Watamu, Kenya.

Something he does miss mostly, is the creative art photography where he used to be given a brief, do the required research, read about different artists and interpret the images into photography. Artistic interpretation, experimental and compositional photography is something that truly blends well with the Shifteye ethos and who Zachary is.

Having done an art foundation, a degree in graphic design followed by a degree in photography, his resulting skills and hard work is due to 7 years committed to learning his skill. “Felt like a professional student,” he laughs. Zachary remarked that it was a learning and fun experience for him especially understanding the history of photography, where it all began and the process. “One of my favorite photographers is Tom Smith, yes I know, very generic name, and he was the one that got me into doing composite images using 3 or 4 images of the same person interacting with each other in one photograph with interaction points. I saw it being done but he did it exceptionally well.”

The Hidden Narrative in Photography with Zachary Saitoti (Shifteye)
“Multiplicity” Copyright © Shifteye Photography

When it comes to fashion in Kenya, Zachary has worked with the likes of Katungulu Mwendwa, FAFA, DJ Cortega, Diana Opoti, Nivea, Kooroo and most especially with Cranium Ink on a lookbook magazine where they wanted minimal text, to let the products and images speak for themselves. [Our Friday Present for you tomorrow :)] At the moment, Zachary is working with Healthy Woman Magazine and is truly excited due to their allowance for creativity in the brief keeping in line, of course, with their ethos. “I have an ideas book that has been growing for the past 4 years so it would be fun to do some cool things,” he says.

The Hidden Narrative in Photography with Zachary Saitoti (Shifteye)
A selection of photographers were invited to shoot various select of the incredible eclectic fashion designers showcasing their work at the FAFA’s – Stylist: Lara Ubago – Model: Faith Waithera – Hair: Randolph Gray – Make Up: Steve Koby – Assistant: Jeff Kegeri. Copyright © Shifteye Photography
The Hidden Narrative in Photography with Zachary Saitoti (Shifteye)
Copyright © Shifteye Photography — with Deliah Haych, Valmy Kanyiri, Marion Sera Gacheru and Mburu Annah at The Shifteye Gallery. [Nivea]
There are so many talented people in the fashion industry, he remarks, but he still feels that there is still room to push the envelope by getting people angry and talking about it; evoke some emotion as it were. “There is a worry of how people are going to perceive the work, so I understand the shyness,” he adds. His advice is “don’t worry what people think, just express yourself, this is your art form. It’s art, go crazy, go nuts.” How true that is!

For aspiring photographers, Zachary advises to do research and talk to people. “You can never do enough research, look up photographers and find out what you like, research the techniques and practice them by recreating what you see” he says. That is what he did where sometimes it would work and sometimes not but you learn at the end of it all. Research and practice is key, he stresses. He further adds that one has to clear their mind, from what you see and what you are told then take the image from there. “If you come with your own preconceptions, you might not capture what the client wants so an open mind is the best way,” he adds.

“…don’t worry what people think, just express yourself, this is your art form. It’s art, go crazy, go nuts.”

In the cards for Zacahry is making time to work on personal projects. He wants to work firstly with artistic modern interpretation of 16th and 18th century paintings adding that element of tension; ‘a pregnant moment’: the moment before something is about to happen captured at the perfect moment. We cannot wait to see his work.

As a parting shot, Zachary Saitoti states that “good things come to those who wait and it takes time. I don’t think I am there yet; I am still 25 years away from being able to call myself accomplished.” Did we mention that Zachary Saitoti is also a DJ? Truly inspiring photographer and his journey is certainly not over. Watch this space!

Find out more about Zachary Saitoti:

Shifteye Gallery Website: click here

Shifteye Photography: click here

Cranium Ink website: click here

The Hidden Narrative in Photography with Zachary Saitoti (Shifteye)
Diana Opoti for the cover shoot of Prestige Magazine. — Shot at Windsor Golf & Country Club , Nairobi. Copyright © Shifteye Photography


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