Kibera Stories is a blog, Facebook page and Instagram account set up by Brian Otieno to document the everyday in Kibera, Nairobi. Brian is a freelance documentary and press photographer and grew up in Kibera. He is also part of the Everyday Africa network of photographers. I asked Brian a few questions about the fantastic Kibera Stories project.
When and why did you start the Kibera Stories project?
I started KiberaStories in 2013 just when I was about to start college. Every day I walked around my neighbourhood trying to discover new places and with me, I had my cellphone which I used always to capture casual moments of ordinary life during my daily encounters along the way. One day while I was sitting at a vantage point near the railway line that passes through Kibera, I started searching for images of Kibera on Google and I was frustrated by the images because they only depicted misery, and abject poverty, unlike the usual moments I was seeing every day. It was at the moment that I opened a Facebook page and started posting images of Kibera, according to the way I was seeingit. Images that were normal and ordinary and represented reality.
Tell us a bit about your background/education as a photographer
I am a freelance photographer, I studied journalism at Multimedia University of Kenya and in 2016 I was among the 12 selected visual storytellers for the World Press Photo East AfricaMasterclass which took place in Nairobi. It was at this masterclass that I started understanding the ways of being a professional photographer and met other artists from the global photography industry and this marked a new beginning in my photography career.
You say that the account helps to “understand the diversity, the dynamics and the disparity” of Kibera. Can you give us some examples…?
This is mostly to outside, the first images that people always have in mind when they come to Kibera are poverty, misery, hopeless, garbage. But this is not the case to a person born in Kibera. Despite poverty, there’s also prosperity, there is talent and potential, there are people trying to make their way out and through. There’s a side of the slum that is unseen, unknown that goes beyond the stereotypes of the slum as its always viewed. Through this project I try to show the many different faces of Kibera, I try to show the people and their positions in the community, and paint an honest picture of not just poverty and misery.
Please share your 4 favourite images and tell us a bit about each one
Elsie Ayoo, a ballet dancer, trains on a busy street of Kibera. The first time she tried on a pair of pointe shoes, she fell in love with ballet and now she dreams of becoming a professional dancer. While I’m hoping she’s on the right track to make it in life, the dreams of kids growing up in Kibera are just the same as anywhere else in the world.
Stephen Okoth, also is known as Ondivour, is a 25-year-old filmmaker, photographer and model known for his self-styled colourful and vintage fashion. He has made it his mission to stand out in bringing joy and happiness to the streets of his hometown. His signature bright clothes bought from the local second-hand markets have turned him into a local personality and a source of inspiration for the youths in the slum.
Men hang out the door of a commuter train that passes through Kibera daily, carrying passengers to and from Nairobi’s city centre. The railway line built in the 1900s which passes through Kibera is an important landmark in the community. Most people who use the train work in the industrial areas of Nairobi and the train provides a cheap alternative to transportation to and from their places of work.
Contestants at the annual Mr. and Miss Kibera fashion and beauty pageant. The event which started as a beauty pageant has grown to build dreams of the youthful population by promoting their talents and nurturing them to be responsible leaders in the community and beyond.
Kibera Stories has obviously benefited you, how has it benefited Kibera?
With KiberaStories, I have partnered with other organizations in Kibera, to offer photography training to the youths in Kibera, I have had exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles to fundraise for a school and an organization offering scholarships programs to students in Kibera. Recently I have also partnered with another organization to help bring books to a community library in Kibera. I think this is highly beneficial to the community and I am still aiming to do more than that.
What advice would you give to other African photojournalists wanting to document everyday life across the continent?
Follow your dream and your passion, without the passion I would have given up a long time ago. The best stories are right here at home. Keep shooting and shooting.by