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Funeral photographer: I lost my mother but discovered my passion

MONEY
By Jael Musumba | December 8th 2021

Derick Owuo is a freelance photographer. He talked to Jael Musumba how life turned around after  he suffered loss. 

What prompted you to focus on funeral photography?

I lost my mother in 2014 when I was in Form Four. Being the first born, it was devastating to mourn my mother. I wanted to keep alive memories of her funeral. By then, few photographers would agree to capture such events. The few who did  would charge exorbitantly. My former physics teacher, who is also a photographer, taught me photography skills, which I applied at my mother’s funeral. It’s then that I decided to roll the lenses for the first time. I hired a camera and decided to challenge myself. The photos were so good that the attempt immediately turned into a business idea.

What was your mission at the outset?

I wanted to create and provide memories for bereaved families. Most families, especially those directly affected by the death of a loved one, usually find it hard to control their emotions and end up missing out on the vital part of the funeral proceedings. So through my work, I help most of them to catch up with the proceedings they missed. It also makes it easier for loved ones who are not able to attend to mourn together with their families without necessarily being present.

How has it been for you?

I would say yes because by the end of 2015, I had grown to the point that I dropped hiring equipment and set up my own studio. When I started out, I had no specific place that I could be found in case someone wanted to connect with me, but after saving some money, I opened a studio in Busia town. I also diversified the business from not only shooting in Kenya but also in neighbouring Uganda.  

What are some of the challenges associated with your work as a funeral photographer?

Not many families think of documenting such events; they are always overwhelmed with grief and the bills ahead of the burial, and photography is the last thing they think of. Secondly, most of the clients I deal with, apart from bereaved families, are funeral attendees, whose photos I take without their consent. I take random photos and then display them. Some take advantage of  my being busy and disappear with the photos without paying. Others claim I have breached their rights by capturing their images without consent and either refuse to pay or take the photos without paying. Sometimes, I am forced to clear the memory card before I leave the site, especially when the bereaved family links their kin’s death to witchcraft.

Is the business profitable?

Yes. I make between Sh8,000 and Sh10,000 on a good day

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

 Persistence, adaptability and hard work. If you merge the three and still not realise growth, then you should probably blame your business language.

What business tricks have you learnt that keep you focused and productive in your day-to-day activities?

I am always flexible and ready to work anywhere. I am also an early bird and start my day very early in the morning.

Many people in business are not creative and only ride on other people’s ideas and brands.

How do you remain relevant?

I try as much as possible to be unique. I ensure I am always one step ahead of copycats.  

What advice would you give to graduates waiting for white collar jobs?

We are at a time when we need to showcase our creative minds and eventually get paid for it. Develop your skills and use them to create job opportunities.

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