Hassan Bakari, a talented graduate of a Photo Start program, has emerged as a notable figure in Kibra, Kenya, by captivating with his vivid portrayal of his community. His distinctive style illuminates the essence of Kibra in vibrant hues. Hassan is one of the top students from Kibra Films and continues to lean into his passion for photography. He has not only honed his craft but also found empowerment and a voice through the lens. Read below for an insight into his journey and how photography has impacted his life.
What initially sparked your interest in photography?
My father passed away a while back, and I have no photos of him. If my dad had known about photography, he would have had pictures taken of himself, and I would have something to remind me of him. I also never had my picture taken growing up, so my childhood was not documented.
Since I learned photography under Photo Start, I have been taking pictures. I took a picture of my friend’s baby from the day he was born. When my sister had a baby, I was there to take all the pictures. In my own way, I am changing the narrative by creating memories for the people in my life to look back on. I have taken about 29 thousand photos of people, objects, and events, and they are all in my Lightroom.
What made you realize that photography was not just a hobby but a powerful tool for self-expression and empowerment?
I realized that a photo has the power to bring a smile to anyone’s face. Two or three years from now, my sister will be the happiest mum in the world as she will have pictures of her baby’s progression. She will be able to share those memories with her child many years later just because I took the initiative to take a photo.
How did you discover Kibra Films as a platform for learning and expression?
I used to livestream through my phone and had several people working with me in the community. One of them is Hassan Ahmed, who informed me that photography classes were coming to Kibra Films. He knew I was dabbling in photography and that my photos were not that good. This was my opportunity to upskill, and I took it.
How has being a part of Kibra Films impacted your life, both personally and professionally?
I now have the courage to sell myself as a mobile phone photographer, and people have seen my work and gained confidence in me. I may not have the best equipment right now, but I have a phone. I always have my phone, so I can take impromptu photos and capture current events at any given moment. I’m the only purely mobile photographer in my community. Others have access to cameras and only use their phones when the gear is unavailable.
Are there any specific skills or lessons you gained that stand out to you?
Leadership, patience, and discipline. I have learned to confidently stand on what I know and make people see my capabilities. Not everyone loves that I can do everything from my phone, but that has not stopped me.
Your photography is known for vividly capturing the essence of Kibra. Can you tell us about your creative process and how you choose the subjects and scenes for your photographs?
I don’t choose scenes; I capture memories. I used to take pictures of a certain program that was doing good work in my community. It’s all about the community for me. As long as I can take pictures that document and prove that a person or organization is impacting my community positively, I’m happy. So, my subjects are mostly the people and organizations that are working to better my community.
How has photography served as a means to build your confidence and find your voice?
I now have the confidence to stop and seek permission from a random individual to take a picture of them or their work; I could never do that before. I used to be scared of being denied, but I have realized that it’s better to try and be denied than not try at all.
Most of my pictures have been captured after approaching people and asking them to allow me to take their pictures. A lot of them say yes, and I do not disappoint. All these photos have my “Brown Empire” watermark, so in a way, I’m marketing myself in the process.
Your Facebook page, “Brown Empire,” showcases your work to a wider audience. How do you feel about the positive response and recognition your photography has received locally and beyond?
I’m happy that my page is growing and that I’m reaching a larger audience. It’s such a good feeling to know that people are receiving my work positively. Every like, follow, comment, and share is a boost to me, personally, and my community. I do not take it for granted.
Can you share a challenging moment you faced during your photographic journey and how you overcame it?
I have faced so many challenges. I have been judged and bypassed because I lack a camera, just because people do not understand how powerful a mobile phone camera is and what I can accomplish with it. One time, I was invited to photograph an event only to be sidelined because the other photographers all had cameras. My solution was simple; I let my work speak for itself. Of all the photographers in that event, I took the best photos.
In what ways do you believe photography can be a catalyst for positive change within communities, especially in areas like Kibra?
I’m very young; I just received my national ID last year. If a young man like me can do what I do, other youths are also inspired to pursue this course. My community has a lot of crime and negative influence, and photography offers an alternative. When youths in my community realize that they can also learn and make a living through photography, they are less likely to be tempted by crime.
Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals as a photographer? How do you envision continuing to make a difference through your art and storytelling?
My first goal is to bring change into my community. I have a vision whereby I will open a studio in Kibra where youth can learn photography and other digital skills. The studio would also create employment opportunities for the youth. This would be a first around here, and I have faith that I will accomplish it sooner rather than later.
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