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Photography is medicine: Rich Allela on changing the world through the lens


Richard Allela, 29, is changing the world through his passion. He tells Annie Awuor more about it

Who is Rich Allela in a few words?

I am a photographer and filmmaker at Rich Studios Africa. I love telling stories that spark curiosity, inspire people and shift perspectives.

I have a wide range of knowledge in feature films, documentaries and commercial photography. I strongly believe that stories come from collaboration and understanding.

What notable projects you have worked on?

Some of the notable projects I’ve worked on are Mekatilili wa Menza’s story, where I collaborated with an award-winning Nigerian photographer called Kureng Dapel. The series went viral and was featured in several news outlets including CNN.

The second one was a project for Mother’s Day where we made the dreams of five mothers from Kibera come true, by placing them in their dream careers for a day.

The third, was a human interest project on FGM, where we told the story of a young Maasai girl who went through FGM and the dangerous effects it has on girls’ lives.

One of your pregnancy shoots went viral. What was the inspiration behind that?

When Frankie of the famed AlphaBeta YouTube vlog saw the photo shoot that was themed around the Mekatilili wa Menza’s story, he got in touch and told me he wanted something similar for their pregnancy shoot. Something extraordinary.

From there, I shared several ideas with them. We settled on an African-themed pregnancy shoot inspired by Wakanda, the movie. Although I did the photography, it was a team effort.

Eric Mochache did the styling, Daniel Macharia did the body painting and Muthoni Njoba did the makeup.

What kind of photography do you specialise in?

I am very versatile when it comes to photography and can shoot any kind of subject with ease, which is not normally the case with most photographers. I focus on capturing human stories in documentary style and through conceptual photography. I enjoy working with people a lot.

When did you discover that you had a gift and passion for photography?

While I was in my second year studying Product Design at the University of Nairobi. After graduating, I got employed as a shoe designer. I officially got into photography in April 2016 after resigning from a shoe company where I worked as a footwear designer.

The degree was not a waste because the creative thinking process I learnt in school has informed my approach towards creating pictures.

What motivated your decision to switch to photography?

I knew photography was the career I wanted because it enabled me to do the things I love, like travelling, while getting paid at the same time.

The decision to pursue it full time was influenced by the fact that I started getting paid more for my time in for photography than in my job.

How have you nurtured your talent?

Everything I know about photography is self-taught, through YouTube tutorials. I have been lucky to work as an assistant to Emmanuel Jambo, and have various mentors like Nick Klaus and Dano Kiriro who helped me out in the beginning.

Your turning point?

When a great creative that I looked up to took his life. He had everything I was hoping to get when I got to his level. I couldn’t understand why he would end it all. I decided to focus my work on telling stories of people from disadvantaged backgrounds who were doing great things.

That is when I did portraits of a group called Ghetto Classics made up of children from Korogocho who play classical music. The photos were nominated for the Kenya Photography Awards in 2016 and they won.

Highest career achievement, so far?

Seeing my work featured on CNN and having it touch many lives across different parts of the world.

You have won numerous other awards. What do they mean to you?

They are a validation that the work we do matters. They make the sacrifices and sleepless nights worth it.

Are you married? 

I am not married. No children yet, but I am an uncle to amazing nieces and nephews.

What one thing don’t a lot of people know about you?

I stammer occasionally. It used to be terrible growing up, but it has reduced as I get older.

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