Keeping film alive in a digital age

Selina Onyando: young film photographer in a digital age
SELINA ONYANDO, 19, was first runner-up at this year’s Canon Photography Awards in the Portraiture category. She talks to JACQUELINE MAHUGU about her passion for film photography that was supposed to have been killed off by the digital era.

Generation Next: How did you get into photography?

SO: I immersed myself into photography last year. It all began when I one day had creative block-I also draw as well- and was lacking in inspiration. A friend advised me to take a photograph of interesting objects and later draw them. When I bumped into a group of people sitting in front of a very interesting background, I thought it was very cool and captured it. That drawing was actually exhibited last year at the Kenya Art Fair. That picture was what motivated me to pursue photography.

GN: What is the story behind the picture that you submitted for the award?

SO: It is a picture of Jojo Abot, a singer and songwriter. She is currently working on a project called Afrinaladi, which brings together Africa’s innovative underground artists. The photo was taken in Mathare in February. We were finished with the shoot and were looking at the skyline from a rooftop. Someone saw an old couch on the roof of another building and exclaimed at how it would be a really cool place to shoot from. I was shooting in film, and had only had two more shots remaining. I decided to shoot anyway. As fate would have it, that’s the picture that won – the one I least expected.

GN: Why film in this digital age?

SO: I find film fascinating. It is a hit or miss. You cannot see the pictures until they are developed. However, it is often fulfilling to see the end product. I shoot on an Olympus OM1N and a Nikormatt ft2.

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GN: You really are a film enthusiast!

SO: Yes I am! Some of my cameras have technical issues so I am also learning how to fix spoilt cameras. To improve my expertise, I watch related videos online. I learn about film development, the process – maybe in a few months I will be able to develop my own film and not have to take it to rely on commercial studios.

GN: What are some of the challenges you face as a photographer?

SO: Nairobi is very vibrant and I wish I could capture all the vibrancy. However, it is quite expensive for someone of my age to acquire a license which costs Sh7, 000. Ones safety while taking shots in places like Mathare is also not guaranteed. I have been manhandled several times because of restrictions on where to shoot. Gear is also extremely expensive, so you have to compromise quality

GN: Have you considered taking it as a full-time career?

SO: I am a Law student at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. Photography is my hobby remains a hobby at the moment, but I do not see any reason why I cannot pursue the two concomitantly.

GN: What do you hope to achieve through your photography?

SO: I hope to have a lot of influence. I have to admit that I still am not so sure what kind of photography I would like to specialise in. I have taken an interest in street and documentary photography. News photography has also really appealed to me. I would love to show people what is happening in our country in a new and interesting way-in a way that gets their attention and spikes their thirst to know more.

GN: What would you tell someone starting out?

SO: Do not be intimidated by anyone. There are common mistakes in photography, but beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Create your own identity so that when someone looks at your work they can say, “This was shot by Selina.”Be persistent and surround yourself with people who support and share your interests.

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Canon Photography Awardsfilm industry