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Osborne Macharia: “A new era for African photography”

Published on 31 July 2018

Kenyan photographer Osborne Macharia’s pictures are used by the world’s biggest brands and displayed in galleries across the globe. He’s thrilled to see that other African photographers are breaking into the predominantly ‘white’ sector.

 

A revolution is afoot and 32-year-old Osborne Macharia is at the heart of it. In just 5 years he has become one of the world’s most famous African photographers, winning three Lion awards and two Loeries. He has worked for Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen and Coca Cola, Disney and Marvel asked him to create exclusive artworks for the launch of Black Panther in London, and advertising agencies like BBDO, McCann Erickson and Ogilvy & Martha EA all but fight over him. As if that weren’t enough, when he’s not doing commercial work, he’s creating photos that look like master paintings and exhibiting across Africa (in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mali and Kenya), and in Brazil, Italy, Holland, Bahrein and Dubai.

“The secret of my success if is my failure at university,” the photographer told My Chic Africa. “I studied architecture in Kenya, and loved the first two years because they were creative, but when we started the technical and mathematical parts, I knew it wasn’t for me. I scraped through to make my parents happy, but I’d already decided to try photography.”

His inspiration was Canadian photographer Joey Lawrence’s portraits of Ethiopian people. “I had never seen Africans photographed that way. Between 2010 and 2013, I decided to teach myself photography, concentrating on lighting, then I used my paychecks to buy material.”

Guinness gave him his chance

One of his first gigs was with the economic magazine Forbes Africa, but he was determined to get into advertising. “I had always wanted to work in the ad sector because you get a relatively free reign to create. At the time, though, all commercial photos in Kenya were taken by expats.” Then one day he saw an ad campaign for Guinness and decided to offer them his services. “One morning, someone from London called to say they’d like to work with me. It was the defining moment of my career.”

Soon, the young photographer started working on his own artistic projects too. “Art and commercial work are complementary,” he said. “Advertising finances my personal projects, which in turn inspire my commercial work. It’s not easy to put a name on my style, but I’d say it falls within the realm of afrofuturism.”

The birth of a new era

Despite being relatively new to the industry, he has already noticed a change. “Though 90% of photographers in South Africa are still white, 70 to 80% of my colleagues in Kenya are now black,” he says. “They’re mostly self-taught and all have their own style. They want to express who they are, their culture. They use storytelling to convey messages. They don’t use the same colours or fabrics as white photographers. It’s a real revolution – the birth of a new era for African photography.”