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The Beauty That Surrounds Him: Photography by Osborne Macharia

By Kim O’Neill

When asked about his art, Kenyan photographer Osborne Macharia speaks eloquently about his homeland. “For so long, Africa has been known for poverty, crime, war, and disease,” he says. “Yet there is a side that people do not see that’s beautiful, rich in positive vibes, authentic, and ready to be shared with the world. It’s about sharing our stories from the way we see them.”

One look at Macharia’s work, and these words come to life. In his recent Capture Kenya 2016 series, we see the people of Kenya as Macharia experiences them. A man and a young girl are seated in what appears to be a machine or repair shop; he shows her a piece of machinery—a quiet moment, perhaps between a father and a daughter. A 99-year-old grandmother draped in red fabric smiles playfully. A dapper gentleman in a newsboy cap sips coffee in a dark café lit only by a delicately filigreed lantern.

These photos are from Macharia’s Capture Kenya 2016 series. (Click on the magnifying glass to enlarge an image.)

FINDING HIS OWN STYLE

The Nairobi-based photographer places his subjects in thought-provoking situations, employing deep contrasts and targeted, colored lighting to give those subjects depth and dimension. It’s something of a surprise to learn that he is completely self-taught. Trained as an architect, Macharia delved into commercial photography and soon discovered a style all his own. As he describes it, “The end result was images being transformed to look like a mix of paintings and illustrations but without the viewer being able to distinguish between the two.”

Among his sources of inspiration. Macharia counts Kenya and its people, as well as the work of photographer Joey Lawrence: “His Ethiopia series was what sparked this journey,” he says. “I remember having a tab on my browser that had his website always open. I had never seen photography that evoked to that extent. I also fell in love with lighting and decided my work would be defined by dynamic lighting. The challenge was defining my own style, and that has been my journey ever since.”

When he talks about this journey and his early work, Macharia is wryly humorous. “Let’s not even go there…I’ll just say a lot of experimenting was involved,” he says. “I was learning through tutorials, e-books, and behind-the-scenes footage on YouTube. I built a couple of DIY light rigs that failed miserably. I was frustrated many times as to why my images were not coming out as good as what I was seeing out there, and this pushed me to research more—and slowly things began to make sense. From the get-go, I knew I wanted my work to be different, so the early stages of my work were more about understanding light. I grew up in the era of digital photography and never used film, so Photoshop has been my ‘dark room.’ Learning from different sources definitely takes longer, but each tutorial you go through helps in carving your own path in the way you capture, as well as retouching.”

These photos are from Macharia’s Macicio series. (Click on the magnifying glass to enlarge an image.)

OPENING OUR EYES TO BEAUTY

In work as arresting as this, it’s tempting to search for deep meaning, whether it be political or personal, but the artist thinks his works is more about the latter: “My work is governed by three principles: culture, identity, and fiction,” he explains. “Maybe in the future I’ll have a change of heart and tackle political issues, but not for now.”

He believes that beauty can be found in diversity, and that it surrounds us, even though the very act of searching for beauty can make us blind to it. “Beauty is found in the things we take for granted,” he says. “My work has made me appreciate people of diversity and different social inclinations. It all starts with a good story, fictional in most circumstances, which is so detailed that it sounds believable. The planning takes close to 40 percent of the entire process, while photography will take 30 percent. The rest of the work goes into retouching. A couple of times I’ll dive into a project without knowing the kind of look and feel I want, and it’s only on set that a slight error will reveal the look that ought to be there.”

Macharia’s Behance portfolio offers a wide range of rich, gorgeous images. When asked what he would like viewers to take away from his work, Macharia has an uplifting message. “I just want people to enjoy and identify with the work that they see. Everyone interprets it differently, and this is why I try hard not to explain my work. Whatever emotion it evokes, I just hope that it’s positive, optimistic and uplifting.”

These photos are from Macharia’s Melanin-0 series. (Click on the magnifying glass to enlarge an image.)