The Long and Winding Road

To me it doesn't matter much whether you're black or white, male or female, rich or poor: becoming a photographer is no easy task. Beyond the glamour and excitement of living a roaming and freelance lifestyle, the journey is all too often painful, thankless, heartbreaking..

This blog is a discussion of my journey as I develop my career within this industry. As well as discussing what I am currently up to, I'll write about some of the things that I wish I'd known when I was getting started.

Hopefully this may provide a short-cut around some of the obstacles that could have taken me months or even years to work around and understand, as well as give a realistic insight into the highs and lows of the day-to-day life of a documentary photographer.

Introduction

 A view over Lukenya, an hour or so outside of Nairobi. I come here a lot to unwind from the chaos of the city.

A view over Lukenya, an hour or so outside of Nairobi. I come here a lot to unwind from the chaos of the city.

So I'm starting this after having had a couple of months of slow movement. I moved out to Nairobi near the beginning of the year after deciding that I needed to uproot myself from the comforts of living in Peckham in South-East London (I miss you dearly) and wanting to branch out from documentary photography into photojournalism. 

To be honest I could have ended up moving anywhere in the world but Africa seemed adventurous and new and wild: it felt like it had potential. I was initially looking at moving to Juba in South Sudan, still the youngest country in the world, but with the country's current state of turmoil and having never been further into the continent than Morocco, I thought I'd give myself a chance to get used to things here first.

I turned my attention to the rest of East Africa. I knew that there had been photographers who'd come to Nairobi and made a name for themselves here before, so I figured I might try the same.

The decision was made in January and I was on a plane by March.

Since then I should just admit that things have been tough. Friends and family ask me if I enjoy living out here and it's difficult just to give a straight 'yes'. Nairobi is a dirty, noisy, wild city. The order and relative calm of Europe only exists in isolated pockets - separated by walls and armed guards and the cold comforts of western capitalism. That isn't to say that it's a particularly dangerous place to live, but the thick stew of rich, middle class and desperately poor sharing the city seems to have given merit to the idea that those from the more privileged classes require constant protection from the perils of those who lurk within the slums. That kind of blatant division I find pretty uncomfortable at times, but far more disconcerting is how quickly you come to overlook it. Everyone does.

There's an amazingly strong community of journalists here that form the FCAEA (Foreign Correspondents Association of East Africa). I was recommended to join them before arriving in the country. Some of its members have become good friends of mine and have helped me through my first few months of being in the country. They are an impressive bunch, and as a result, can quite frankly be rather intimidating too. When I decided that I wanted to be a photographer I never saw myself going into journalism, and as such I can feel like an imposter turning up to the association's socials or commenting on the private Facebook group. These guys have done dazzlingly brilliant, important, difficult work for the world's most prestigious news publications. They always seems to be travelling. Always seem to be busy. What on earth could I possibly bring to this party? What insight about Africa could I possibly gain that these people couldn't and haven't already covered and discussed?

This self-doubt and anxiety may look a unprofessional and may well put off a couple of prospective clients that happen to stumble across this page, however I feel it important to share this very real and difficult side to pursuing a dream. Young, prospective photographers only see the glamour as they browse through the websites of documentary photographers and photojournalists that boast the far-flung and unlikely places that they have infiltrated and heroically looted with their cameras. I'm sure that to some, my website does the same. But I feel that showing the human, day-to-day side of this world might offer some reassurance (and, I suppose, warning) to those in need of guidance, to let them know that despite appearances, many of us are also struggling and fighting just as much as we were when we first started out.

I love what I do. I could never work a 9-5 in an office. I'd sooner be on the streets. But the realities of the business are challenging and the information out there on how to navigate it is simply non-existent. As such, this blog will cover the steps I have taken thus far to be in the position I'm in, and the steps I'm taking now to try and get to where I want to be. As well as the good news, expect a lot of the bad. Expect the frustration, the joy, the pain, the heartache, the adventure. This will not be a instagram-esque, filtered down, fairytale story.