Professional photographer Jeri Muchura recently won the Mo Ibrahim MyAfrica competition, walking away with $10,000 for her iconic photo, “The Boy and His Fish”. She speaks to Afrinado about her passion, creative process and what keeps her inspired on her journey…
You were recently feted with the top prize in the MyAfrica competition, congratulations, what does this award mean to you?
Thank you. As a creative, self-doubt is a shadow that never leaves your side, this award is just an overwhelming vindication that I am indeed good at what I do. Over and above myself, this is just a beacon that women in photography are worth looking out for.
Tell us about the winning photo, when you took it and why?
This picture is a pure gift from God. I took this picture while on assignment for the ‘2015 Safaricom calendar’, it was on a little fishing island on Lake Turkana. This young boy had just caught the fish and was washing it, then he stopped and sat very still, the wind dropped and the water became very calm. It felt like a divine set-up and all I had to do was just take the picture.
Why did you enter this particular picture?
The Boy and His Fish is such a multi-layered picture which evokes different emotions every time I look at it. The MyAfrica Photo Competition asked photographers to submit pictures that they thought held hope for the future of the continent and this picture encompasses that for me.
When did you first pick up a camera and realise this is what you wanted to do?
Having been a model since 2001 and having a photography hobbyist father, I have been around and intrigued by cameras practically all my life. When my mother-in-law gifted me my first camera, a Nikon D90 almost ten years later, my life really began.
What does photography mean to you?
Photography for me is a way of life, of breathing and of seeing. It gives me the opportunity to witness and be part of so many stories. Every human being wants to be seen, heard and loved and, as a photographer, I want to show my clients in a world of not good enough, that they are perfect, they are valued, they are enough and that their light shines.
What is your creative process?
My husband says I photograph with my heart and I think he might be onto something. I tend to be a feeler much more than a thinker and that’s what I end up photographing…feelings or moods. Or take pictures that makes me feel some type of way. I’ve learnt not to be too bothered with being super technically correct, don’t get me wrong…you need to have a working knowledge on the basics of photography and what makes a good photograph. But I refuse to be held back by that box because emotions, feelings and souls cannot be boxed.
Where do you find inspiration?
My inspiration comes from very many places, women especially. I believe that women are these magical and mystical creatures that God had fun creating. We hold unfathomable depths and vaults of love, strength and resilience, yet we are as fragile as butterflies.
Which photographers do you look up to?
There are several photographers who inspire me. In portraiture there’s Sue Bryce and Emily London Miller for their life mission to give women beautiful portraits of themselves, Annie Leibovitz whose work has graced the covers Rolling Stone, Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines for decades, Ty Bello, a female Nigerian portrait photographer whose work is just ah-may-zing. Locally Osborne Macharia and Barbara Minishi are two photographers whose work inspires me to just keep pushing the envelope.
You recently shot a series on people living with albinism, what prompted you to take on the project?
In my journey as an African photographer based in Kenya, never have I seen images of people living with albinism in their true beauty. Yes, photos of them do exist, but often, they are part of news-pieces and never in a positive light. It was my dream to capture images of people living with albinism in a way that has not been showcased yet….glamour and high fashion elegance in Africa.
Tell us a bit about your professional background, was photography something you always wanted to do?
I studied Business Administration, Economics and Social Development in Uni and never made any use of the paper because, as a creative, I could not fathom being chained to a desk for 10 hours a day. Now, growing up my father was a hobbyist photographer who loved taking pictures of his children. I was a model after high school which put me in front of the camera for the next four years. So when my mother-in-law gifted me my first camera after the birth of my second child, you could say that photography was my destiny.
Is the photography field welcoming to women? Have you faced any difficulties due to your gender? If so how have you dealt with this?
Photography has been a boys’ club for a while but things are changing with more and more women picking up cameras as hobbyists and professionals. I am a part-time photojournalist and this is where real madness resides, you have to jostle and shove for space with men who are clearly stronger and heavier than you are to get the shot. Then you have all the unsolicited advice from male photographers who believe that you don’t know how to work your camera or take the pictures and the unveiled disbelief when you do. This has made me work harder on a tough skin and a sunny disposition. You have no control of what people think of you at any time but you can decide to be gracious and pleasant in your response, something that has worked well for me so far.
“You have no control of what people think of you at any time but you can decide to be gracious and pleasant in your response, something that has worked well for me so far” – Jeri Muchura
What do you do to relax?
I spend my life in front of the screen, either working or studying, so the very few times I can unplug I spend watching Bollywood movies or sleeping. I love cooking and just hanging out with my humans to just recharge.
What keeps you going?
My children keep me motivated because I want them to see that one can succeed in the creative arts too, that they can aspire to be academic or creative or even both if they so choose. My other motivating factor is the desire to always give and put out beautiful pictures that capture the soul of the person being photographed.
What next for Jeri?
I have several projects that I am itching to get started with but above all I’d love to partner with fellow female photographers to encourage and mentor more ladies to pick up cameras and let their voices be heard as we put out a better African narrative.
Follow Jeri on Facebook: Photos By Jeri
And on her youtube channel: