‘After five’ is often seen as the time when people get off work and let their hair down.
It’s when, according to Kenyan web designer Christina Engell Andersen, people get back to the business of pursuing their primary passion, be it a sport or workout session, play rehearsal or music lesson or some other creative exercise.
After 5 is also the name of the online magazine that Ms Andersen started less than a year ago to celebrate Kenyan creativity and provide a digital platform for a portion of those artistic passions to be shared with the wider online public.
It was the passion of the Kenyan photographer that first attracted Ms Andersen to design her own magazine to spotlight young visual artists like Philippa Herrmann-Ndisi, Zack Saitoti, Jimmy Chuchu (better known for his work with ‘Just a Band’), Neil Thomas and Karungari Wambugu.
Already on her sixth issue of After5, Ms Andersen has yet to make a bundle of money from her magazine. “But that wasn’t the point of my setting up the website in the first place,” said the daughter of the award winning public relations doyen, Yolanda Tavares-Andersen.
“We wanted to see if we could create a viral effect online with the magazine,” said Ms Andersen, referring to the tsunami-like effect that various YouTube videos have had (such as Justin Beiber’s rapid rise from nobody to becoming a pop star overnight via YouTube).
In fact, she’s found that Kenyans are still more inclined to pick up a newspaper than look at an online magazine, unlike media consumers in South Africa where she studied for seven years, from her first year in secondary school through University of Cape Town where she graduated in 2007 with a triple major in Film, Media and Interactive Production.
“They still seem to trust the print media more than online services,” she said, admitting that changing people’s media habits is a slow process. Nonetheless, her audience is growing.
“Initially, we had to call up photographers and ask if we could put their images online, but now they are calling us and asking to be featured,” said the 24-year- old founder of the online magazine devoted solely to exposing the works of Kenyan photographers.
Highlighting one photographer every issue with visuals and an in-depth interview, some issues of the magazine have included as many as 21 visual artists, all of whom are either Kenya-born like Herrmann-Ndisi (whose ‘She series’ was featured in the first issue) or long-standing Kenyan residents like Neil Thomas (whose ‘Turkana series’ was the centrepiece of issue no.2).
Her latest issue no.6 is all about exposing the Instagram, a cutting edge online application (app) that anyone can download for free on their cell phone and take photographs of their ordinary everyday experiences.
It’s an ‘app’ that Ms Andersen says has caught on like wildfire in the West. It has also come to Kenya where increasing numbers of amateur photographers have become what she calls “Instagrammers”, spontaneously shooting random images that catch their eye.
In a sense, the Instagram has had the viral effect that she had hoped After5 would. But being at the cutting edge of online culture in Kenya isn’t all that easy a place to be. It’s understandable, however, given her background, both academic and experiential.
First of all, she returned to Kenya after living in a society where a good percentage of the population goes online regularly for everything from shopping to researching people and places. She sees Kenyans moving in this direction gradually.
Second, she interned at a South African online visual arts magazine called One Small Seed while still an undergraduate in Cape Town and quickly felt she had found her calling.
“It was such a creative atmosphere to work in that I felt that one day, I would love to work in Kenya in an environment just as exciting and stimulating as I found at One Small Seed,” said Ms Andersen who, at age 22, had to decide whether she’d claim Danish or Kenyan citizenship (since her dad is a Dane and her mum a Kenyan).
“There was no doubt in my mind: I had always planned on returning to Kenya, and I especially wanted to join the Kenya Ladies Golf Union,” said the award-winning golfer whose mum is also an avid golfer.
But it took a job working for a Kenyan web design company called Zamoya after her first year back in Kenya before she could gain the confidence required to go out on her own and start to utilise all the online skills that she’d acquired in Cape Town by starting up her own web design companies.
The first one she constructed is called www.celebrationskenya.co.ke. It came out of her seeing how difficult it was for a dear friend to organise and plan her wedding since there was no central place to get information on everything from wedding reception venues to catering services and bridal gown designs.
Unfortunately, the site hasn’t earned her a fortune as yet; but then, she feels compensated in knowing that people’s weddings have gone well thanks to the information they access.
She continues to develop the Celebrations Kenya site, but since she started after5, she admits her focus has primarily been on building the website until it will one day look more like One Small Seed, which is available both online and in print.
She hopes her websites are serving a useful purpose enlightening the public about the creative capacity potential of online publications as well as of Kenya’s visual artists.