My lens captures what your eyes can't see: Award-winning photographer
Like many before him, Ochieng, who works for Standard Group PLC, has narrated impactful stories with a single shot, which have gone viral and elicited heated debates up to the floor of Parliament.
His latest is a picture of a young boy from Ogenya Primary School in Nyando, Kisumu County, who focused on his books despite being surrounded by extreme poverty. Thanks to this photo, politicians, human rights activists and scholars are all scratching their heads over the plight of children in a school environment clouded by Covid-19.
After his photo, the boy is the new owner of a spanking new set of uniforms and more donations are still trickling in.
With this kind of eyes, Ochieng has bagged several local and international awards. A chat with the soft-spoken photojournalist, whose ambition as a young school kid was to become a mechanic, reveals what the images he captures by his camera lens signify.
Many of your photos have gone viral, how does that make you feel?
It feels good whenever I take pictures that stand out. But remember news pictures no matter how good, are highly perishable and audiences move on quickly to new things.
Did you always want to become a photographer?
Not really. When I was a young boy in primary school all I ever wanted was to be a mechanic. I was inspired by a mechanic in my village, who was doing well financially and I just wanted to be like him.
How do you start a conversation with strangers and what do you do if they demand to be paid?
The approach matters a lot. When a photographer uses their wit to talk to a source, they listen. Proper introduction will boost your credibility and the source will consent to have his picture taken. In news photography, one should capture the moment. The object/ subject should be there in front of the camera.
Composition of pictures also comes in depending on the angle of the story. However, we don’t pay to take pictures of news sources. So whoever demands for a pay is informed and if they insist you move on.
What stories are you most anxious to tell through your photography and do you fail sometimes?
I like human interest photography. It has a place in my heart because the impact is huge. Sometimes, we fail to get the best shots. But if you are at the right place at the right time, you must have your shot. I also doubt myself, but whenever I feel low and think I can’t do it well, I consult my seniors because with photography you learn every day. No one is perfect.
Talking of learning, which photographers mentored/ inspired you?
I have three people. Joan Pereruan did a lot when I joined her team at Nation Media Group. She mentored me from nothing to something, told me about taking killer shots and corrected me after every assignment. Thomas Mukoya of Reuters and Jacob Otieno of Standard Media Group inspire me.
What was the first memorable picture that excited you?
Meat sellers at Burma market hawking meat along a dusty road in Maringo, Nairobi. I took this picture when the government closed the market because of foot and mouth disease.
Among your shots, which one is your favourite?
I have clicked many shots, I’m spoiled for choice. But a picture of a businesswoman drying omena with her child strapped to her back earned me international awards.
What motivates you to wake up every day to do this job?
The urge to do things differently and to share human life and feelings with others who will see the pictures keeps me going.
What is your story and how did you become an award-winning photojournalist?
My first time pursuing a media-related course was at the Nairobi Aviation College where I learnt photography. After joining mainstream media, I became a go getter and this boosted my skill. But I later joined Maseno University, studied Communication and Media and graduated in 2019. Currently, I am back to school at Mount Kenya University specialising in Electronic Media. To be an award-winning photographer, one has to believe in self, consult widely and read extensively, besides studying what other worldwide winners are working on.
What gadgets and technology do you use?
I use professional cameras only. As my seniors always told me, besides being at the right place and at the right time, I must have an eye and mind for photography.
Long ago, photography was an event reserved for special occasions, vintage photos looked good and we even had albums. Do you think technology has disrupted the beauty of photography?
Vintage photos are nostalgic and we still have albums but in digital format. We are experiencing a revolution in photography. Gadgets have become easily accessible and phones with good cameras are in the market. Since things change, photography too has also changed.
In the age when everyone is making photos, who is a good photographer?
A good photographer is one who does not alter facts in the final copy of the picture and tells their story as it is.
Does photography pay bills?
Yes, photography is a full time job. It pays well. That said, many people underestimate photographers as desperate and unschooled people. It is sad that in this day and age, photographers are still treated with contempt.
What is your greatest achievement so far?
I have won several awards, some come in monetary form or equipment. But my greatest achievement is when my story promotes social impact, transforms lives and my sources find refuge.
You talk fondly about your late father, mother and your humble background; how did growing up affect the man you have become?
Life was hard after my father passed on. My family lived in abject poverty and we experienced the true colours of relatives. But on a less serious note, had father been alive, I probably would have been a mechanic.
50 years from now will you still be taking photos?
No, if I will be alive then I know I will be too old. But photographers should invest wisely to create different sources of income. Remember new photographers come to the field with agility and we have to create space for them.