Macharia’s work drew me in and drove me to interview him. Kenya based Osborne Macharia creates intriguing photographic stories using his background of design & architecture.
It was a pleasure interviewing and learning more about him.
Be ready for an African adventure and get submerged in the his positive look on life and the arts.
1. How did growing up in Kenya, Africa shape you to who you are currently and how are your Nairobi roots embedded in your personal & professional creative works?
This has been the key guiding factor behind my work, the fact that I was born and raised in Nairobi and Africa in general as our stories and experiences tend to intertwine across the continent. We do have a rich sense of culture, traditions and religion, and its the fact that we can be able to share this stories with the world in unique and well captured manner that makes a difference. My art is all about home and what goes on at home.
2. Which skills acquired during your architecture study are you still applying in your current work and are some architectural techniques hidden in the processes leading up to your past and current creative productions?
It took me 8yrs to compete my degree in Architecture and at first I didn’t see how it all related to photography but slowly this became clear. These is a certain work ethic you acquire as an student of Architecture that seems to fit into the commercial photography world i.e coming up with concepts, briefs, research, late nights and embracing rejection. Some of my former class mates say they see architectural elements in my work. I personally don’t see it but I guess it must be in the subconscious.
3. Is your signature illustrative photographic style possibly founded on computer graphical activities done throughout your studies?
It could be. In my first year of my studies I interned at an advertising/design firm where I learnt graphic design softwares and art direction. I became obsessed with it and this became evident in my project presentations. I became a graphic designer before I became a photographer. This I know has had some influence in my ‘illustrative’ style.
4. Your heritage shines through many of your fine art type portrait photographs, are you likewise able to incorporate the same in your more commercial work?
I have been having this conversation with creatives in Kenya that I am close to on how we can incorporate our own style and identity in some of the work they pitch to clients and execute it in a ‘world class’ manner. It’s something that will definitely take some time to be accepted as we are used to doing things in a certain way. I’m hopeful that things will change.
5. With a few exceptions you seem focused on Africa and Africans; is that by choice or due to customer and popular demand? Any desire or plans to venture out?
Not at the moment. There is a lot I need to discover here at home and it’s what I understand best. Venturing out for commercial work is something I would love to do but for my art projects it has to be done at home. I don’t think I would document western culture as good as a western photographer. Take Dean Bradshaw for example who is a photographer I admire and respect, his work documents whats around him in the most beautiful way imaginable based on his knowledge of western trends and identity.
6. Lighting techniques and effects take a prominent role in your work. Did you get your best results using primarily (reflected) natural light possibly augmented by artificial elements or inside with full artificial lighting control but without sunlight?
Joey Lawrence’s work is what gave me that very first spark into photography after I saw the project he did in Ethiopia. His style was fusing natural and artificial light to give a cinematic feel to his images. I began shooting outdoors, chasing after the golden light with portable strobes and this became my style for a while. Later on in the journey I came a cross tutorials by Joel Grimes who did composites of naturally lit backgrounds and more controlled subject lighting either indoors or outdoors and this led me to a different path altogether. Its taken me a while to craft my style but its through research, observation and experimentation, that’s when you craft your own path.
7. How do you weigh the technological aspect of your work compared to the creative part?
The creative definitely comes first. In as much as I am able to get certain details with the camera I use (Hasselblad) and slightly more priced lighting equipment, it all means nothing if the content is dead or if there is no story in the first place. I still admire some of my earlier work done with more ‘cheaper’ equipment but what makes it stand out was the idea behind it.
8. If you had to choose between fine art, wedding, commercial product or fashion photography; which would it be and why?
It all depends on where I am. If i’m in Kenya, I would stick to commercial and fine art. If I was in a more lucrative market then fine art and fashion. Both scenarios cannot work without my fine art as its what inspires the other disciplines and at the same time the other disciplines fund the art projects.
9. Have you struggled with the choice between analog and digital photography and what made you decide on your current preference?
Never struggled at all. I got into photography in the digital age and its been like that for me.
10. What are you most successful methods in dealing with increasing work pressure, deadlines, competition and expectations?
Peace of mind is key. I am a religious person and pray a lot especially before I get into a job and this has been helpful. I also do take my rest days seriously. When things are crazy it becomes really crazy but when there is a down time I take every opportunity to rest. When it comes to competition, you just need to keep evolving and perfecting your craft. You are as good as your last project hence the need to keep creating personal projects that keep you relevant.
11. Are you currently able to trust others with elements of your work process like post-production or does that undermine your artistic style?
When it comes to my art projects, everything has to come from me but for commercial work there are better retouchers out there than myself. I’ve had one or two cases where I had to outsource retouching because it involved something I had never retouched before like cars.
12. People have the urge to define your work a certain way and put you in different often narrow boxes. How do you tend to escape such limiting views or does it not affect you at all?
This doesn’t affect me at all since I also do not understand where I belong either. I cannot explain my style to people who ask so I leave it to the interpretation of the viewer. At the end of the day all I want it to do is evoke, evoke positive vibes.
13. Which of your past projects are dearest to you from an artistic point of view? Can you elleborate on this a bit?
I would say MENGO-Nairobi’s Underground Fight Club. The fact that it was an idea that I brushed off a couple of times since it looked impossible to execute and finally it came to life is what makes it important to me. We never thought it would come to life. Collaborating with the Short Stature Society of Kenya on this got us to better understand the stigma they go though on a daily basis. The fact that I accidentally lost the 1st set of images and we had to reshoot again after 2 days and no one complained. We even had to bring in one of the talent from a different town which was 7hrs away via bus, shoot from 10pm at night till 2am in the morning. Everything eventually worked out.
14. Are you able to draw philosophical inspiration from your work and does the changing culture and politics impact your vision at all?
It all depends. Sometimes my work tends to have simple life lessons or sometimes its purely entertainment. Changing culture does make me question my next step and if the change in culture is something I would want to document. I try keep away from politics as it tends to be depressing than encouraging.
15. Any exciting new projects on the horizon? If so, can you let us know about it?
All I can say is…..watch this space
16. Is there anything you’re dying to tell us we haven’t touched on in our questions?
I think you have asked everything I could think of 🙂
Ready to check out more of his work at K63?