One on one with Njeri Mwangi: the woman behind the Canon Kenya Photography Awards

Njeri Mwangi
Njeri Mwangi

The Canon Kenya Photography Awards will be happening this Sunday at KICC in Nairobi and we shall be selecting the best photographers in the country. As we build to it we talk to the founder of the awards Njeri Mwangi. Mwangi is the Co-Founder PAWA254, Nairobi’s first unique social enterprise through which innovative creative professionals from diverse artistic fields exploit their creative genius to foster social change. A graduate of Daystar University with a degree in Public Relations, Njeri has experience in event planning and management, and organized the first Kenya Photography Awards in 2013.

Photography is an art that is slowly picking up in Kenya, tell me more about that?

With the wave of mobile phones with cameras, Kenyans have taken on to photography in a big way and have also come to appreciate it some more because with it they are capturing memorable moments. We are having more of exhibitions and Kenyans are also going to see these exposures. Others have even taken to it as a tool of communication/ information/empowerment. Better still it is a source of livelihood for many that are making it be for them.

What potential do you see in the art?

There is really no limit to photography as an art. Like I said we have taken to art as a tool of communication and you can use it to evoke all kinds of emotions and well done, it can arouse all the common senses.

Compared to other countries, how well are we doing in photography as a full time career?

Truly we are lagging behind in that area. Few of our photographers are making a decent living from photography (and I mean as freelancers without having to supplement their incomes). We have come along way as most of our photographers are self-taught and graduates of YouTube.

You started the Kenya Photography Awards in November 2013, how did that come about?

We did. Photographers are seen to deliver a service, something that people seem not to understand and as such they do not see why they need to pay well for this since it seems quite not quantifiable. Photography is also a medium that opens the world by way of taking us closer beyond the borders, sort of like books do. So we thought that we needed to acknowledge how much time, and trouble, and risk that photographer’s take to show us the things that we can only imagine. They give us a taste of reality in a dose that moves us to action on so many levels. We also really wanted to celebrate our own piece of work since it rarely happens. Other countries celebrate and acknowledge their creative and we want to encourage this culture here in Kenya.

It’s now over one year since you started the initiative, what changes or achievements have you seen over time?

We have seen photographers’ come together to realize what they can do and they have become even more aware of their trade. They have taken into sharpening their skills and have invested in getting better and learning from each other. They also have also learnt to package themselves and do business in a way that they do not need side hustles to make ends meet- and this is work in progress. They are getting better pay and are starting to put themselves out there to be acknowledged for what they are doing.

Njeri Mwangi with guest as they launch the 2015 edition of the Canon Kenya Photography Awards
Njeri Mwangi (R) with guests as they launch the 2015 edition of the Canon Kenya Photography Awards

You will be recognizing top photographers in the country on Saturday, tell me more about that?

So, we recently completed the 2015 competition. We got a total of 1166 entries, 34 short of the first competition. This time we had fewer ladies participating and even worse is that we got only one lady making it to the shortlist. I hope that the lady photographers can come forth boldly and take their place in this space. We will be recognizing top photographers in the country on May 10th, 2015 at the Kenyatta International Conference and through this we hope to inspire young photographers to take the space.

What categories are there under the rewards model?
This year we had 9 categories namely News, Daily Life, Sports, Nature, Portraiture, Creative, Most Promising Young Photographer, People’s Choice and The special category courtesy of Alliance Françoise, of a theme chosen to converge with the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December 2015.
We are seeing more and more young people in the country venturing into full time photography? What do you think has led to this?

I like to believe is because people have become more aware of Photography being a skilled art. Even though there are so many cameras around us, people are still looking for professionals to get some jobs done and this is where these young people have found relevance. It is also an adventure and a risk to find something that you love to do and go for it. They say do something you love to do and you will never work a day in your life.

What is your advice to young photographers as you prepare to crown top photographers in the country?

We have just scratched the surface with photography. We know Kenyans who are making a decent living out of Photography. If this is something you want to do, then take time and learn all there is to learn. Invest your time in shooting and working closely with those that do what you would like to do. Take classes. Invest in good equipment. A website, or a blog and go all out. You are young, you have time on your side so take your chances and go for it! You can change your world with that camera in your hand.

What is the future of photography in the country?

At the rate we are going, I hope to see Kenyan corporates supporting Kenyan photographers’ by giving them work and paying them well. It takes two to tango and there is great and amazing talent here at home. I hope we can also support and participate in local competitions and make room for local exhibitions so that we can empower both the aspiring photographer and the public on the power of a single camera. A single shot.

Are you working with any partners for the upcoming awards night?
We are very fortunate to have Canon (a leading brand of cameras) as the main sponsor this year round. This is a show of how serious they take photography and are keen on putting even Kenyans on the international scene of photography. We also have the Swiss embassy as supporting sponsors and the support of the Kenya International Conference Centre. Besides that we have Lightbox Production’s, Let’s Talk Kenya and Pinkfoot Consult.