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.

Push On

Sneaky preview from the story I'm covering about this mysterious (but, sadly, unreliable) dude. To be continued..

Sneaky preview from the story I'm covering about this mysterious (but, sadly, unreliable) dude. To be continued..

So I mentioned that I've had a slow moving couple of months at the beginning of my last post. I didn't really go into any detail about that but thought it might be a good place to start so that I can give some context about my plans for the next few weeks and how I plan to tackle this creative dip.

So after running out of cash in Kenya, I had to make a quick return to London to hustle some old clients and find some news ones. After a successful month I had some money in the bank and more on the way. I figured, upon returning to Nairobi, that I wanted to get back involved with a project that I had laid out the groundwork for before my brief return to London. (I'm going to go more into shooting and managing projects in another post so stay tuned). 

I can't go into too much detail about the project itself since it's still a work in progress and it's based on a particularly sensitive issue, however my lull in productivity over the last couple of months has come in very large part due to the problems I've been having with this thing. 

This particular project, for the time being at least, revolves around one particular person. We'd already spoken about and agreed on a couple of occasions that we'd spend some time together shooting a photo series about him. Because of this, that was really what I had in mind to focus my time on over the coming weeks. 

The problem is, as is often the case around here, the guy isn't particularly reliable. He might text me telling me to meet me at some place, or agree to spend a day with me, or introduce me to some of his other contacts that are relevant to his story, but all too often he's been a no-show or has had to go within twenty minutes of meeting.

This isn't an uncommon issue when shooting - it's something that I've had to deal with a lot before (take for example my series about the Westway Travellers, in which there must have been one day of shooting for every four that I showed up). But the fact that I'm so heavily reliant on just one person has made things really arduous - I can't just shrug my shoulders and go shoot another part of the story. 

Basically the constant back-and-forth had gotten me down because whenever I was expecting to have a productive few days, churning out some nice new work, it just turns into another week sitting around trying to work out what to do instead now that my plans have fallen apart again. This ends up in a bit of downward spiral since after a while you lose the motivation even to try and make rearrangements and persist. This got pretty bad and I spent a few days in bed sulking as a result. 

But we move on. After being stood up outside of a mosque in the middle of Kibera first thing on a Sunday morning when I could otherwise have been out rock climbing for the day, I decided that this project needed to be put on hold. I'll get him in the end..

A day or so later I'm sat at breakfast with my housemates and we're talking about project ideas. There's a bit of back-and-forth and because they're not journalists or photographers they're getting pretty enthusiastic about this entire process. In turn I'm fired up and reminded that what I'm doing is worthwhile and can be inspiring to people.

I remember a project idea which I was toying around with when I first arrived here and figure it might be the perfect remedy to my situation. I need to get out of Nairobi and (without going into too much detail just yet) it's a travelling series which will give me the freedom just to shoot without making any prior arrangements. I've got to admit that I'm pretty intimidated by the scale of this project, and though I'm only going to be shooting it for two or three weeks initially, I feel it could be something that continues for several years..

So that's the plan. I'm waiting for a payment to come through from an NGO within the next couple of days (again I'll be going more into how I manage to keep things together with money in another post), then I'll be making my way out West through Uganda and into DRC for the next few weeks. I'll be updating my Instagram and this blog fairly frequently so keep an eye out to find out more about the project.

To summarise, things are certainly not plain sailing when it comes to putting together stories. It takes time and persistence and will often result in nothing. While determination is key to pulling off a project, there are also times when you will realise that you need to let things cool off before you come back to one which hasn't been going your way. I'm desperate to get this first project finished off but am also glad to move over to another one for the time being just so I can reset and get some of the juices flowing again.