As much as the increase of Kenyan photographers is taking place, Sebastian describes both as good and bad. Good that the appreciation is evidently growing but bad because those who fail to execute their work properly affect the industry standards. As to whether the market is growing, Sebastian could not really say for certain that the market had grown. “The market has always been there, “ he explains, “with so many white guys who left their countries to take photos, made loads of money and have settled here. I know some who just land and start figuring out how to do it once they land.”
The best way Sebastian could describe the surge in photographers in Kenya is that it has become popular. “Everyone with a camera is a photographer and social media has contributed to that growth” For Sebastian, he believes that his work has grown over the years and so has his confidence. When he started out, he would have never been able to pitch for a huge account. “In the next ten years,” he says, “I would be able to properly answer that question on the photography industry.”
Sebastian’s motto is very simple, if he can do it, if it makes sense and it does not waste his time, he will do it.
“The culture is slowly growing. It’s like going to Kisumu and telling people to eat sushi. You have to introduce it slowly for them to get used to it.”
What Sebastian has noticed is that people are starting to pay attention to photography, getting more engaged and needing portfolios, wedding shoots, family events and paying for it. Right now though, the largest consumers of photographers are corporates. “The culture is slowly growing. It’s like going to Kisumu and telling people to eat sushi. You have to introduce it slowly for them to get used to it.”
Additionally, photography is really broad with the different categories. Everyone has his or her own strength and field, he explains, but for him he is yet to select one. “I am not comfortable enough to stick to one category. I am still happy shooting different things.” The one thing he would love to get into more is documentary photography like Capture Kenya.
What annoys Sebastian the most, however, is going into local high-end hotels and finding that white foreign photographers did the photography work. He recalls one hotel in Kisumu where a foreign white photographer made like 5 million in supplying photos for the entire hotel with more than 100 rooms from rooms to dining room to lobby.
The reality is that the only way Kenyan photographers will be able to compete is to match up their work with international standards. “Osbourne Macharia is considered one of the best in the world. That is how we will compete with the international photographers who come in.” Unfortunately, Kenyan photographers, like any other creative field, are plagued with copycats and settling for less than they can. “Kenyan photographers start shooting the same way. It’s sad, you see people shooting with the same models in the same poses and the city scape from KICC which has been overdone.”
Sebastian would like to do much more photography outside Nairobi as he feels that it is now saturated. “That is why I love assignment outside Nairobi and Capture Kenya, being one of them, was a lot of fun.” In Nairobi, Sebastian does mostly corporate jobs which are not bad, there are creative ways to do corporate work but it can get boring, he explains. Sebastian does dabble in fashion photography but in working with magazines, he has found that they take too many shortcuts with photographers. Furthermore, they ask you to shoot for one day the entire docket of photos for the magazine so “they want it done but not necessarily done well so you compromise on quality,” says Sebastian.
When it comes to fashion designers, Sebastian feels that one way they could improve is in packaging their products. “They all package it the same way. 2 years ago people were using Kitenge and its still being done now,” says Sebastian. Designers, in his opinion, need to start progressing like Wambui Mukenyi, a designer whose work he admires for her consistency, evolving product ranges and reasonable prices. Sebastian is also impressed with Bonk, whose t-shirts are ever changing and Nick Ondu whose suits, he states, are well done with an impeccable finish.
The industry is growing, he says, whereas people used to buy from Turkey and China, now people are starting to look inward. “Designers also need to find their own style. Kitenge has been really abused. We need our own identity and match up to international standards.”
As in photography, fashion designers need to stop taking shortcuts in learning, quality and finish. Sebastian would advise upcoming photographers to understand what photography is and why people take photos. He notes that what one sees nowadays are people taking photos, adding a filter, calling themselves a photographer all without truly understanding the trade.
“You might just enjoy taking photos but that does not make you a photographer,” he says. Furthermore, one must learn what light is as “photography is the art of capturing and recording light.” Sebastian didn’t know that until he started playing around with his camera and from experience, he has learned. When it comes to equipment, Sebastian believes that photographers need to understand their gear and know why they are buying it. Unfortunately, Sebastian believes we will still have to rely on buying equipment from the US.
“Right now, I don’t care whether people like or don’t like my photos. I am very blunt. I post because I love photography and I love my work.”