Raila photographer's career-making shots

Evans Ouma (centre), a Nairobi-based photographer. He talks of how he has built his career as a photographer. PHOTO | POOL

As first jobs in a big, new city go, one whose job description involves a crash course in American accents to sell car loans to those Americans ranks among the most interesting. When done in the dead of night in Nairobi due to the time difference makes it even more so.

Off a bus from Nyakach, in a t-shirt and jeans and with no CV to boast of, Evans ‘Dims’ Ouma did just that.

So good did he get at his job and accent that when a customer could not discern what a phone marketer in a fourth-floor room in downtown Nairobi was saying, they were instructed to say, “Let me put you through to my supervisor.” It would be ‘Dims’ Ouma on the seller’s end, ready to close the deal!

His reality, then and now, are worlds apart. These days, Mr Ouma is one of the most highly sought-after photographers in Nairobi, having graduated from a one-roomed apartment he and others called JKIA [Jomo Kenyatta International Airport]– it was where young men from their village back home transited before moving on to bigger and better things in Nairobi and elsewhere.

Despite a less privileged background, Mr Ouma always had an eye for a good photograph. He recalls, “Scrolling through magazine’s pages, I saw beautiful shots of elephants and sunsets in Amboseli and was mesmerised.”

He is referring to copies of Msafiri – Kenya Airways’ inflight magazine - which somehow found its way into a grass-thatched shanty in his rural home. “They say these things exist!” He laughs about it now, at the memory. He also credits his elder brother as being the one who sparked a curiosity about a bigger world out there.

His current path was set after joining forces with his cousin, writer Oduor Jagero who wrote gospel-themed plays which were retold on stage at All Saints Cathedral. Mr Ouma’s job was to set the mood with music.

In the course of this artistic vein, they got their hands on a digital camera, the one with a lens that whirrs while zooming in and out and it took most of his time. He studied his craft, reading and re-reading content from the Digital Photography School.

Before the Olympic Games in London, the Olympic torch was taken on a trip around the world and when it got to Nairobi, Mr Ouma was charged with taking a photo he remembers, “would go on the front page of some British newspaper.”

The job required a better camera, he relayed to his cousin, and they hired one. As one of the iconic symbols of the Olympics was snaking its way through the slums of Nairobi’s Korogocho, he lay in wait from a distance and as the torch bearer ran, children behind him and a backdrop of the ghetto – he took aim and took his shot.

Evans Ouma (centre), a Nairobi-based photographer. He talks of how he has built his career as a photographer. PHOTO | POOL

They loved it; he was told. This was his first published work before the blitz of social media swept the world.

The first camera that he owned was given to him by a visiting American acquaintance, a Nikon D3000. Right at the time, his elder brother invited him to Juba where he did a few assignments which were paid in US dollars.

When it was time to go back home, he wanted to transit through the real JKIA and booked a flight. His cousin was there to pick him up and to crown the glorious trajectory of his career, on top of an HP Pavilion laptop he acquired, he also sent his mother in Nyakach some money – for a bull and a cow.

“In photography, we say that your first 10,000 images are your worst,” says Mr Ouma reminiscing on the unpaid work he took.

He especially liked to photograph the Lele Band as they played. All those pictures went up on his social media platforms. He took on any job that he could find – bar funerals. He shot weddings, birthday parties, anything to keep his lights on.

“Now I can pick and choose who to work with, back then I had to do everything.”

Mr Ouma always wanted to tackle studio photography. A portrait of Kofi Annan caught his eye.

“I liked how it was lit,” he says.

He wanted to learn how to do it as the South African who took the photo had. That led him to Pawa 254, a creative hub where artistes were welcome to practise their art, at no cost. Boniface Mwangi then Director at Pawa 254 welcomed him and let him use all his lenses and lights!

“He was the first guy,” he speaks of Mr Mwangi, “I ever saw with a Canon 5D Mark III!” This is in response to the age-old argument about a workman and his tools. With the kind of equipment, he got to handle there, the quality compared with his previous work was ‘night and day.’

Over the years, he has taken some iconic images, some even highly acclaimed on National Geographic. The most iconic however may be an image he took of Raila Odinga during the 2017 campaign trail.

In it, the former Prime Minister stands atop a vehicle between two roads. The photo went viral and the calls started coming in. Earlier, he had been introduced to Mzee (as he calls him) through his portrait work on social media.

“I remember when I joined, Mzee had close to 120,000 followers on Facebook. After the campaign period, his followers stood at 1.4 million!” Mr Ouma believes this was in part his doing.

“I was super nervous when I got to meet him,” he recalls of his first encounter with the former Prime Minister. “He knew where I came from, knew my grandfather!”

Since then, Mr Ouma has been on an upward trajectory in his trade and has continued to capture – for prosperity or just memory – some iconic images of Kenya’s history as well as personal treasured moments for his ever-growing and overawed clientele.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.