I got a chance to interview Emmanuel Jambo; a renowned photographer whose work knows no borders.He has an extraordinary talent of freezing moments and turning them into great memories.Emmanuel is also the official photographer of the current President of the Republic of Kenya. To add to his impressive profile, he is well traveled and comfortably wears the crown of ‘citizen of the world.’
- Best place you ever traveled to?
Why? Its beauty, captivating history and rich culture. It is one of my favorite Islands.
- Do you always travel for work?
Mostly. But I try as much as possible to travel for fun or in some cases I merge the two.
- That means you love travel?
So much… If I could, I would just travel for fun!
- What is the first thing you do when you visit a new city?
(Laughing) Look for the nearest brothel.
- Three things you always carry during your travels?
My music, camera and laptop. When I travel for fun I don’t carry my camera.
- Worst country you’ve been to?
Dubai. The racism, heat and ignorance puts me off! All roads in that country lead to a bad experience. It is the only city I have been to that makes one feel like an animal.
- Which are your favorite African Countries?
Kenya, Senegal, South Africa and Ivory Coast.
Why? They have a balanced combination of landscape, deep cultural roots, beautiful music, nice weather.
- You have a unique fashion style…What is the inspiration?
I like unusual wear. It is better classified as Rebellion Mentality ;not following trends, a mix of vintage African and European wear.
- Who is your favorite photographer?
Richard Avedon.I admire how he revolutionized photography from a lifelessness and indifference with the camera during shoots, to capturing full emotions of models in a more relaxed outdoor setting!
The other one is Annie Leibovitz. She is phenomenal woman who is adventurous and a risk taker. Most female photographers are very safe. They wouldn’t dare take risks compared to their male counterparts. Annie Stands out.
- Biggest risk you’ve taken in life?
Quitting my career in I.T to start photography about ten years ago. Also,relocating from the States to come to live in Kenya.
- Did you go to school to study photography?
Everything I know is self taught. School doesn’t teach you anything. It is all passion, hard work and talent. The closest I got to being taught was a week with my mentor.However, he had to go California for treatment.
- Highlight of you career?
I have a number but most notably;
Shooting my first ever cover of Drum’s Adam Magazine.
The day Francis Okomo-Okelo The then Chairman of Barclays Bank Kenya told me he was excited to have a black photographer take the Board of Directors photo for the first time in twenty five years.
During Zambia’s Fredrick Chiluba’s funeral when the current president pulled me aside to introduce me to other African presidents in the presence of hundreds of presidents.
- You are the official President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Photographer. How did this happen and how is it like working with him?I have previously worked with the president and his family on several occasions and covered his nephew’s and niece’s weddings.During the previous political campaigns I did shoot of him and the current deputy president and that is how it all started. It is very easy to work with him. He is a simple man.
- Is Jambo your real name?Yes. Haha. (Pulls a picture of his Great grandfather) I was named after my Great grand father.
- What is your worst travel experience?The first one was during Fidel Odinga’s ( The former Prime Minister’s son)burial in Bondo. All my equipment was stolen from the hotel room. This included all the photos I took from the start of the ceremony at the Capital of Kenya in Nairobi. I lost everything.The other one was in Mogadishu! I was taking pictures as usual. Unfortunately we hadn’t noticed the presidential convoy that was ahead of us. In the blink of an eye, there was a huge confrontation and a fully loaded technical with countless AK47 rifles right where we were! A few slaps were exchanged as the aide-de-camp kept shouting…”Kill Picture!” “Kill picture!” “Why you take picture?” I was scared stiff! The whole time, another senior officer kept stroking his beard (When an Elder in Somali strokes your beard, they are simply trying to calm you down) but he couldn’t hear any of it. It was terrifying.
- Best traveling experience?Watching my first NBA game in Africa. It was held in South Africa. I travelled through Addis Ababa, Senegal to South Africa. It was fun. Everything I like all combined in one experience. Basketball, travel and good friends.
- What do you think about Photography in Kenya?
An evolution has definitely happened. In the past, photography was controlled by expats.Nowadays, parents are embracing photography and there is a growing number of photography schools. On the other hand, there is also a section of the population who view photography as a social trend. Most people buy cameras because they can afford it and call themselves professional photographers by Opening Instagram accounts and posting substandard photos just for the likes. Not for the passion or career.
- If you are not shooting or traveling what do you do?Sleep.
- What is your dream destination?Cuba!Why? Cuba is vintage, photogenic and has been isolated for fifty years, rich culture and nice music.
- Who will shoot your wedding?
(My clever question to find out whether he is taken!)I have a whole community of expert photographer friends who would be willing to cover my wedding.I just haven’t decided when or if I will get Married!