Photos are capable of telling the story using a single or a few images. They help give viewers or readers a better idea of what is happening. However, the images used in any instance must be relevant and consistent with what is being reported. The internet has allowed us all to document existence as it happens and become visual storytellers. But what does it take to build a sustainable business around visual storytelling? We’ve asked freelance photojournalist Bryan Otieno, also know as Storitellah .
Bryan Otieno operates an online photo project called “KiberaStories” since 2013. The project captures the visual realities and documents the norm of everyday life from the people around him. His visual stories attempt to go beyond the chaotic appearance and to demonstrate the daily lives in Kibera from socio-economic, cultural, political and environmental perspectives. By doing so, Brian also tries to draw the attention of the public to understand the diversity, dynamics, and inequality of urban life as an observer with a unique point of view through photography.
- How was your journey to becoming a photojournalist? What were you doing before?
It all started with a great passion I had for photography, I started documenting my hometown of Kibera, taking photos of anything and everything that I found interesting in one way or the other and posting on social media. Hough these photos I started a photojournalism project called KiberaStories, committed to telling stories from Kibera, about its people, its potential and its realities. That same year I joined campus to study journalism, this really played an important role in paving my way into the world of visual storytelling and documentary photography.
- What has helped you the most in launching a freelance career? and Why?
In October 2016, I was one of the selected participants for the World Press Photo East Africa Masterclass in Nairobi, that was like being born again in photography, I can’t really explain what I got from the masterclass, but it taught me, that apart from being a great photographer, one must know how the industry operates and fully understand it business side as well. That has helped a lot in building my career as a freelancer.
- What does your business model look like?
As a freelancer, most of the time, I depend on NGO assignments, sometimes reportage work, that is, if there’s anything like breaking news, sometimes I do my personal projects, recently I have started trying my luck with stock photography.
- Is photography your main source of income?
Yes, for now photography is my main source for income, and maybe it will in the next 3 or 4 years’ time. This is solely what I depend on to live and to prosper.
- As a photographer, how do you create and maintain loyal customer base?
I do my work perfectly, I always give a good first impression and do my best to make it constant, I have built a strong online portfolio and that’s how I met most of my clients, my connection with them is impressive and whenever they need photos taken, they will always get back to me and sometimes give referrals, because I always deliver my work in good order.
- What challenges have you faced as a freelancer and how have you overcome them?
In the beginning, getting people who are interested in my stories was really a challenge, most of the times, I had the photos and the stories, but I never had any idea of where to take them or what to do with them and how to make money with my photography, it was all for my online audience, I had no direction and nobody came to my rescue until very late in October 2016 when I was selected for the World Press Photo East Africa Masterclass. Before then I was just another photographer, hoping the big photo outlets will pick me up. Even right now, it’s still tough to make a living out of this, if it’s not for breaking news with a global impact, NGO assignments then I will be broke, recently I have been thinking of doing videography or even photographing weddings.
- How do you stay relevant in your industry and compete with others?
Maintaining a strong online portfolio in platforms like Instagram, Tumblr, building a brand name like mine which is – #STORITELLAH, attending portfolio reviews, getting into photo competitions, sharing my work out there to get that maximum exposure, those are the kind of things that have worked for me.
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I would have made it through with photography, travel most of the world, meet different people, shared stories from different places and turned all my KiberaStories into a book or even something bigger.
- What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers in Africa?
Be consistent with your work, reach out to people, brand yourself, share your work online, what’s the point of being a photographer if people don’t see your work.