Shege’s photos caused a stir on the interwebs in January. It hadn’t been his intention, but he didn’t mind.
They also ruffled feathers within the Akorino church where he, and the subjects of those photos, are members. He was not surprised. The church has a strict moral code, that extends to how members dress. He knew he had pushed the envelope slightly, but had not counted on the photos making their way to the interwebs. They were for the bridal party only. However, it seems, they were too good to stay hidden. Someone shared them on Facebook but soon took them down. Seems someone had already downloaded them. The internet never forgets.
A number of researchers have devoted resources into studying and documenting the Akorino faith. Even Jomo Kenyatta made reference to the church, because of its involvement in resistance and fight against colonial rule, a bit of the church’s history, I suspect, most Kenyans are not aware of.
Still, most of what is known about the church stems from a rudimentary understanding of what they do in public and what is said of them. Also, the Akorino traditionally shun publicity and are not willing to talk about their church, and could be less inclined to visual interpretations that are far from what they are comfortable with. Something that Chege might have been aware of but never thought he might be at odds with.
Shege is, probably, the first contemporary visual documentarian of the Akorino nation. He can say he is the first person to photograph the Akorino consistently and professionally, and put the images online. Much like Allan Aaron, he is a pioneer. Allan Aaron brought the Akorino sound to the mainstream. And probably, as my subject for this story pointed out, if another Akorino musician bursts into the scene, people would probably refer to him as the other Allan Aaron.
It is something new, much like the wedding where he took his most popular images. The bride, an Akorino lady, was marrying someone who is not a member of the church. And, without any planning to that end, they(the photos and wedding) mirrored each in significance.
It is a green field. There is a lot of things to cover with the Akorino. As far as portrait photography is concerned, there is a lot of beauty within the Akorino to capture. And he has his way of interpreting his photos.
Did you intentionally sit down and say, let me do Akorino portraits.
I got to a point where I started asking myself “what if”? What if I do portraits of an old Akorino guys and make the world see other people other than Maasais? You check online, you check everywhere, and you see people are doing portraits, of, if it’s culture, maasai, or guys fishing. What if it was an old Mukorino guy with a drum, or just a mukorino, because that is my community. I just got into it. I couldn’t say that it was my plan, I just found myself, I have a camera, there is a Mukorino guy, let’s do it.
I do it, and I don’t know the impact of the work. But, sometimes I meet people, I don’t see them liking my work online, but in person, they tell me they like my work. That keeps me going, I want do more of that or a different thing, within the Akorino community.
But there are times, the things I do raise questions from Akorino community. When you pose a lady for photo, it may raise questions, because sometimes the pose I make them take, may come of as not so comfortable within the Akorino community. Like if the pose makes the curves come out.
Any Interesting project you’ve been working on lately.
I haven’t done a project, per se. I have not sat down and said now, I want to do this specific project. But I find myself in situations and come up with a concept, and the way I will post them, that’s what will make seem it like it was a project. It is only that when I post Akorino stuff they look like a project but they are actually random.
Let’s talk about your images that went viral.
I could say that was the most interesting stuff because they went viral. I never thought they’d go that far. Actually, I was taking them for their personal selves.
I attended the wedding because I know the bride and groom. I was not the contracted wedding photographer but I carried my camera. I took photos alongside the official photographer, including the photo shoot of the bridal party.
But during the bridal party shoot, he had asked them to put on the outfits that they appear in on the photos. They had not been part of the wardrobe lined up for the photoshoot. He sent the images to those featured, only to realize they were circulating online after sometime.
How do you select your models?
I often find myself in Akorino events, sometimes someone would walk up to me and ask me to take a photo of them. I don’t take it lightly. I always promise myself that by the end of the shutter count, this would make people marvel, or look at them differently. I don’t select, I only do my best with the one chance.
Do you think you are shifting how people view the Akorino community?
Yes, in a good or bad way. It depends with whom is looking at them. Like the photos with the ladies, there were some really negative comments. It really got to them.
The Akorino community and non- Akorino.
There are people who looked at them in a more modest way, more open. They’d say cool, we’d like to see more of this. Also, some would think I am not doing the right thing but would not say it to my face. More in the “unapoteza watoto wa wenyewe” way.
How do feel when you make something as simple or complex as one frame could elicit such kind of reaction?
I believe in one thing. We were created to create, and when God was creating us, He created everything, except human beings, through words. When it came to a human being, He used His hands, so that whatever human beings do with words, they might create. In the same breath, words are not the only way through which you can create or bring into existence. So, I feel that I am exercising what God gave me, and that is actually re-creating stuff. They are there but I am bringing them into existence, that is what photography does.
Something you wish people could understand, or could see when they look at your work?
Purpose. What I am doing right now is because I believe it is purpose. Whatever you are doing right now, is it your purpose?. Life is short, work on your purpose. That is the reason you are here. Not the society. Society has a way of structuring stuff but purpose keeps things in focus
///Images: Shege Wa Njuguna