Osborne Macharia needs no introduction. And not just because his work still leaves us lost for words. (And if you know us, we love us a long blogpost!) His thought-provoking concepts, done with an adroit precision and the élan of a creative maverick, constantly culminates in an optical enchantment. One that has captured the imagination of audiences both at home and on foreign shores. His work has been exhibited in around the world; from Milan, London and Austria to Bahrain, Lagos and Bamako. And the esteemed publications, such as BBC, Vogue, Afro-Punk, Marie Claire and African Digital Arts, aren’t far behind; having featured his work. It’s his sagacious eye that saw him speak at the annual prestigious Design Indaba Conference in 2017, and also led him to be part of the judging team at the Art Director’s Club of New York (ADC) Awards 2018. Apart from his personal projects, he’s also performed exceptionally as a commercial photographer. He’s worked with the likes of Coca-Cola, Forbes, Absolut Vodka, Volkswagen, and Mercedes, to mention a few.
There’s so much to be said about Macharia’s career and accolades, because his is a portfolio that is constantly evolving and refining itself. Just when you think he possibly couldn’t outdo the last project, he finds an avenue or facet to prove you wrong. Yet, this photographer exudes a down-to-earth aura. If Oprah Winfrey – or anything Oprah affiliated – knew who we were, we’re not sure we’d stay humble. To wrap up our Lens Series, we chat with one of our time’s most influential creatives in the photography vanguard.
With such an applaudable portfolio and constant media coverage, it seems like you’ve always been in the photography industry…
My journey started back in 2010 when I was still in campus studying for my Bachelors in Architecture. But then I went full time, choosing photography as a career, during the final year of my studies back in 2013.
We’re sensing a little déjà vu here. Architecture and self-taught, we presume?
Yes. I was still in school when the interest came up so I had to learn things on my own. Plenty of nights going through video tutorials and experimenting here and there till things started making sense to me.
And how did you pick Afrofuturism as your photography genre?
I didn’t pick it on my own. There was a time we were doing an interview for CNN and the writer asked us to talk about Afrofuturism. I was confused at what that meant as I had never heard it before. Upon doing my research I found out that my work falls within that genre and has much more meaning and impact that way, so I’ve stuck to it ever since.
You must have experienced quite a few misunderstandings working in this genre…
One of the misconceptions I have encountered is that Afrofuturism involves taking junk or pilling items on the human form (African body) and coming up with a story that relates to either identity, race or culture. I don’t know what that is but that’s not Afrofuturism. The guys at The Nest Collective made a video titled This One Went to Market which explains what I’m talking about.
How do you develop photography concepts?
It always start with the question ‘what if?’ Then comes the story writing part that does take some time to develop until it sounds unique, communicates and is entertaining. Then comes the concept development phase, pre-production phase, production then retouching part.
Your choices of muse or subjects for your projects tend to be outside the norm. Why is this important to your narrative?
I’m fascinated with working with people who you wouldn’t normally see on mainstream media or publications. And a lot of the ideas we have tend to work with the elderly as they have this aura that’s just unique, innocent and unexpected. We’ve also worked with people living with albinism and people of short stature.
What’s your ‘Osborne trademark/signature’ in your work?
It normally has to do with lighting, use of vibrant colours, dark tones, narrative (storytelling) and African context that’s way different from poverty heavy imagery.
Tools of trade – what are you working with to make the magic happen?
I’ve come to finally settle and appreciate working on Medium Format camera system, which is Hasselblad, with my go-to lens being the 80mm. I use Phocus software when tethering during a shoot which I later transfer to Lightroom for Cataloguing and basic colour correction. Then, Photoshop for the heavy duty work.
The highs and the lows so far?
Unsupported and undervalued creative industry, especially from the corporate sector. Most of the creativity coming from Kenya and the region tends to be appreciated more outside then back home and most have crafted their own path on their own. The highlight would be getting to work with Marvel for Black Panther and Oprah Winfrey Network for Queen Sugar. All this in 2018.
Working with Marvel and in particular, with a heavily anticipated and well-received film is no small feat. How did it come about and why did you choose that storyline?
Marvel reached out asking if I would be interested in creating artwork for the launch of Black Panther. They were commissioning five artists whose work falls under Afrofuturism. This was a dream come true. I pitched two ideas and they loved the Ilgelunot story. I later consulted with a friend, Paddy Gedi, who is a comic universe wiz and helped me tie my story with Black Panther universe. We spent most of the days after Christmas and early into the new year putting everything together i.e. creating costumes, casting, making the wigs, creating the treatment, etc., as we had a very short deadline to submit. The guys at Marvel loved it.
How do you intentionally interpret Africa through your lens?
My message is simple, Africa has more to offer culturally and historically than what we have come to be known for. It’s true we have our own issues as a continent but that’s not all we have to offer. We are the cradle of Mankind and what I show is Africa as we see it.
How would you like to see the photography industry grow and change in Africa?
It’s sad that most creatives, including myself, feel that in order to thrive, you need to have clients outside the country. I’m not sure how the government can support but a lot lies in the hands of the Private Sector. Fair pay for the work done and payment made on time. In Kenya, we have a culture of photographers being paid 6-8 months after work is delivered especially in the Advertising Industry. This is appalling.
Going through your Behance page, we’re spoilt for choice with the variety of projects! Any favourites?
I do not have a favourite. I easily get bored of my work three weeks after it goes live, hence why I keep creating to fill up that void.
How would you say you’ve evolved as a photographer since you started?
It’s been almost eight years now since I started and a lot has changed. First it has to be my skill level has grown. I also figured out my style and what I’m passionate about as a photographer. Figuring out one’s style is the hardest thing to do as a creative but it will become your biggest selling point. The kind of clients I want to work with has changed as well. I’m privileged to be in a space where I can choose what kind of jobs I want to take or not. I’m getting to shoot more outside Kenya and the continent and this is a good thing as it’s in line with my vision.
Who would you like to collaborate with and why? And which upcoming photographer do you think we should all be watching?
When it comes to collaborating, I’d go for someone who’s an artist but not a photographer. That’s either a 3D artist, Illustrator or Digital Artist. Right now, I’d like to do a project with Salim Busuru who is a phenomenal Illustrator/Digital Artist. Upcoming photographer to look out for in Kenya is Arthur Keef. I like the direction he’s taking when it comes to fashion
Lastly, any scoop on the latest project you’re working on?
This I never talk about lest I jinx it. All I can say is 2018 looks promising. I have my plans, but God guides my steps.