Personal: My Top 3 Resources as a Photography Student

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It is that time of the year again – back to school season.

My little ones went back this week and if you do not know already, I am still at University. I will be going back towards the end of this month to start the second and final year of my MA in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism.

I want to share with you my top 3 resources that have helped me in my journey as a photographer even before I became a student and now moving forward as I try to build my brand as a photographer beyond the confines of an institution. So here goes!

#1: Libraries 

The Library at the university campus is really well stocked with books, magazines, journals and media like CDs and DVDs. If I want to do any research for a project I am working on, that is the first place I would go to for the resources I require. When I am working towards a deadline, I would rather stay in the library to get my work done than at home. One good thing is that once the term progresses, the library is open 24hrs. This has really helped me avoid carrying books home and instead, I stay in the library until I get most of the work done by accessing any research material that I require off the shelves.

And, I will still have access even after I graduate as alumni.

For anything Africa related, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Library is a really good resource. At the moment I have access via SCONUL which is a scheme that gives students and academics the use of libraries at other universities other than their own.

If you are not a student, you can access several libraries across London to do your research. A few libraries that I can recommend for photographers are the British Library, The National Art Library located at The V&A and Stuart Hall Library as these libraries are much better resourced as compared to your local council library which is still a good place to start. All libraries are free to access, but you will have to check their websites for opening times and details of how to access some of their catalogue of resources.

#2: Museums / Galleries

Visiting museums and galleries is always a good idea. I find looking at historical and contemporary artwork a good way of stimulating my way of how I see things and visualise how I would do it if it was my project. I try as much as possible to see not only photography related work but also sculpture, paintings, installations etc. when I visit these places.

This year alone I have visited Somerset House during Photo London, V&A Museum of Childhood with my kids over summer, Tate Modern, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, to name a few.

As the saying goes,

Variety is the spice of life.

Also, this is one way to exercise physically and mentally whilst at the same time try as much as possible to involve my kids.

#3: Websites and Social Media

This one is kind of an obvious one. Photographic websites and social media platforms are my go-to places for inspiration. When it comes to social media, Instagram is my preferred choice to see what others are doing in terms of their creativity and you can also engage with people if you like their work. It is a really nifty way of networking with other creatives from around the world.

With regards to websites, once I see or hear of a photographer I like, I go to their website to see more of their work. Most times you will find work they haven’t shared on their social media or you find they have even shared more details to particular a project.

Anyway, here are a few photography related websites for you to check out and be inspired:

Everyday Africa

American Suburb X

BJP (British Journal of Photography)

Lens Culture

Fotoroom

Women Photograph

And there you have it, my top 3 resources for photography as a student.

Do you have any websites that are photography related that I should check out? Please share by leaving a comment with a link.

#BacktoSchoolSeason

Revisit: Why Photography? Part II

It is interesting that when we think of photography, we only think about the visual until you are studying the medium and are thrown into a theoretical world of books that have been written on photography. Not until your lecturer points out that no one really writes anything about ‘the photograph’ or photography itself when it is kind of directed to the general public to make them understand photography in layman terms. It actually gets you thinking.

During one of my postgrad modules, Writing Photography, my lecturer set out writing tasks every week. In week one, the challenge was to write about ‘the most photographed barn in America’ or ‘origins of a photographer’. I chose the latter and decided to focus on myself. So going through my blog, I found this post I had written in 2009 and decided to ‘update’ it for my writing exercise. So, here goes…

Origins of Myself as a Photographer

I had a very interesting conversation with my mum just the other day about my passion for taking pictures.

Apparently, it started when she had a camera and I was a bit young. I would just take it and snap away. She used to scold me, but I guess I never listened. Otherwise, we (I) wouldn’t be here today.

I love being behind the lens rather than in front of it. What started as a hobby is turning out to be something I would like to do full time.

I have used film in 35mm and APS (Advance Photo System) formats, compact digital and now DSLR (digital single-lens reflex).

I just love being in this digital age of photography……no time to wait around for your pictures. Although, I somewhat miss the intensity of waiting for your films to be processed. Waiting to see if you nailed the shot or not.

Anyway, I just love the whole process of capturing life on a single frame and making it a personal journey of your life as a photographer.

I just love the beauty of storing pieces of ‘forgotten’ memories which can me shared years from when the picture was taken.

I just love the whole process and the lessons learnt from the whole experience. Be it fashion, sports, travel, nature, etc.

To me, photography is my way of showing the world how I see it, through my eyes and lens.

A passion I hope to nurture and let in grow within me.

I wrote the above piece on my blog on 11th February 2009, three or so years before I even considered studying photography. I knew deep down that I would have to get some sort of education or training in the world of photography. A foundation into how I can understand photography in depth, read it and use it as a tool to investigate and navigate through the world.

Have my sentiments over the years since I wrote that piece changed? Probably not, but what I am discovering now is that I am learning to be in the moment with photography. Pace myself even if the scene around me keeps changing. Wait for that moment and be patience with projects especially the ones with the potential to go on for years. Yet at the same time, I am unlearning bad habits that I have picked up along the way, like just photographing something because it looks good or pleasing to the eye. I need to stop thinking about how it makes me feel and just photograph it anyway. It may not look pleasing to the eye or make sense at the time, but eventually, it just clicks (no pun intended).

Coming from a background where photography is used as a tool to record mostly life events like birthdays, weddings, family gatherings etc., I am grateful and proud of myself for trusting the process of learning both the theory and practicalities of the medium beyond just taking family snapshots.

And there you have it. My updated version / revisiting and rewriting about my journey are a photographer. This also prompted me to start a series of vlogs where I talk about one particular picture. I am thinking of making this a regular feature on my YouTube channel. In a sense, it is my way of writing photography through spoken word and it is a working progress.

Click here for the playlist and tell me what you think.

If given the task, how would you write about photography? Or a particular photograph?

#WritingPhotography

IT’S OFFICIAL…

…I am a PHOTOGRAPHER!

Not that I wasn’t before, but it will all make sense shortly.

Ok…let me explain, I have been really caught up with events and my attention to this blog has slacked big time. I have a very good excuse though and I hope you will all forgive me.

Well, since my last blog post, I have gone and graduated, with honours, from University. I even did a whole vlog about it and in case you missed it…here it is:

So, I am forgiven, right?

I have been busy preparing for life after university and adulting, that this blog had to take a back burner for a while. I am back though and I will try as much as possible to keep you lot updated.

So yeah, my graduation happened and as a present to myself, I went away (without the kids) to visit my family in Poland (vlog on this coming soon). It was a much-deserved break after slogging away in Uni for the better part of 5 years. I am now back and ready to hustle.

Going to university was not a decision I made lightly especially when trying to be a wife and mother, it can get really tough. How I managed to get through it all, only God knows, as I was on the verge of quitting a few times. I wrote about joining here and the lessons I learnt here.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

So there you have it, folks, I am now officially a Photographer and it’s on paper. I am super proud of myself for seeing this part of my journey through despite the ups and downs.

Here is to life after uni! 🍻

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#IAmAGraduatewithHonours

Five Years On and the Lessons Learnt

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Technically, less than five, but who is counting, right?

Anyway, back in 2012, someone somewhere gave the bright idea that I should go to university to learn some more stuff. If you haven’t caught on, I was talking about myself…😁😆 (lame, I know)

Fast forward to 2017 (hence the five-year remark), I have come out the other side, well, better educated than I went in, overwhelmed, slightly traumatised, but with a sense of achievement and that I still have loads to learn. Looking back, I am really glad that I did go to Uni. Although, towards the few weeks/months leading up to my final assignment deadline, I wasn’t too sure why I put myself through it all. Writing my dissertation was a nightmare. I was on the verge of asking for an extension and at one point I almost quit, but none of those was an option. I was determined to see it through. After all, I deferred half of my final year so I could have more time to pace myself and this also meant graduating a year later. Getting an extension would just prolong the ‘trauma’ of writing my 10k and quitting would mean I would not graduate with honours. So, I soldiered on and made sure I submitted, beating the deadline with a few hours to spare….YAH ME!!

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Here is the thing, I started my university journey when my eldest was 2 years old. By the time I was in my second year, I was pregnant with my second child and instead of taking time off, I went back to uni in my third year when she was around 4 months old. Hence my determination to see it through and why I split my final year credits in half. As much as the course was part-time (4 years), it didn’t feel like it when you are also juggling family life and freelancing. It was not easy that I decided going back to employment was not an option anymore until I graduated, as I was already stretched thin. So, during my maternity leave, I made the easiest yet difficult decision to quit my job.

And here we are, recovering from the dissertation writing nightmare that kept me from this blog (asking myself why I couldn’t wait until now to revive it). You can also tell by now how much I have mentioned I hate writing and yet, here I am filling this blog entry with more words than pictures. Writing a blog is not the same as writing an academic paper and I find writing them a bore, disliking it with a passion. In other words, it is not me/personal or an exciting read. It is one of the things I didn’t enjoy throughout my university experience, but more on this on my list. Having said that, I did learn a lot and I am going to share my TOP FIVE lessons…now…

Lesson 1 – Time Flies

I remember when I got my student card in 2012 and it had, July 2016 on it (later changed to July 2017). It really looked like an eternity. Look, here we are in 2017 and I came out the other side unscathed and better for it. If there is anything to learn here, as always, time waits for no man. Knuckle down and get busy as it will be over before you know it.

Lesson 2 – Deadlines Cannot Be Ignored

Deadline dates are given at the beginning of every semester/module and cannot be ignored. You think you have all the time in the world (see lesson 1) and before you know it, you are rushing towards the end to finish that practice project that needs access to the darkrooms/studios or in my case literally sleeping in the library to finish my essays with hours to deadline. Thank goodness for 24 hr library access.

Lesson 3 – Abundance of Resources

In order to make your journey as a student much more pleasant, the university is full of resources that are easily accessible. This may not be apparent when you start out, but the more you start working on your projects, you will find most of what you need on campus. Well stocked libraries, access to darkrooms, photographic studios/equipment, workshops, lunchtime lectures, etc. Sometimes, though, some of these resources are accessed when it is too late to make any real use of them. Having said that, when I was researching for my dissertation, I found that most of the books I needed were not available. Let’s just say, my topic of choice hardly has any theory behind it. So I had to make due.

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Lesson 4 – Photography Books are Doorstops

The moment you are given a reading list by your lecture and venture into the library, you soon realise that your backpack just won’t cut it to carry the books home. You will have to invest in a suitcase or spend a lot of time in the library. A typical reading list will consist of at least 10 texts (books) and most of them are as thick as bibles and quite heavy. And if it is published with a hard cover, be assured that the library will purchase those over softcovered ones for the longevity of the book. Let’s just say as I wrote my dissertation, my bag of choice was a bag with wheels to ferry my research books back and forth. It got to a point I just purchased the ones I wanted to add into my collection to avoid carrying them around. Yah for African Photography books.

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Lesson 5 – Having Support Helps

Be it at home, at work or on campus, having that support helps you get through it all. University is not for everyone as it is not easy, but if you decide to go, having people encourage you along the way gives your something to look forward to when it all ends. In my case, I had two young children and my family and friends have been a tremendous help physically and emotionally. I haven’t seen or spoken to most of my friends for months, but their words of encouragement helped me through it. When I was deferring my credits, my personal tutor helped me through it. Even having support from my peers really helped as we kept encouraging each other when times were getting tough and deadlines getting the better of us. In campus especially, there was always someone available to help you through any struggles you were experiencing as a student.

I know I have left loads out, but I don’t want to be a bore. So, I will leave it there and just say, follow your own heart and path. You are the master of your own destiny. Mine was to go to university and see it through and I did. Now for the next chapter.

Let me conclude this post by sharing with you a personal story.

One day, I called my mum in Kenya and she happened to be visiting my grandmother (may she rest in peace). My grandmother kept asking why I don’t call my mum so often and I had to explain to her I was busy with school amongst other things. She went on to ask what I did and I mentioned that I was studying photography. Now, here is the thing with my grandmother’s generation, learning anything creative doesn’t need a university degree or constitute one to be in an educational establishment. In her eyes, I was wasting my time and money. She thought I would end up being a street photographer like those found outside KICC or used to roam the residential estates photographing house helps/maids if ever I was to practice my photography in Kenya (truth be told, I would as a project – sorry Cucu). She sounded disappointed and it broke my heart. I had to ask mum to explain it to her and that I wasn’t wasting my time and money. My mum did try, but bless my Cucu. She just could not see past it.

A few months later, I visited Kenya and as part of my trip, I went to see my grandmother. On this visit, I had my camera with me and the pictures I took of her were the first and last since I started my photography degree. They may not be the best photographs of my Cucu, but they are the most precious. I suppose being there and her seeing me taking her photograph, kind of made her understand. I could see she was proud of me even though she still did not understand. I left Kenya not knowing that I would be back four months later for her funeral.

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And this is one of the reasons I wanted some sort of foundation in Photography. The appreciation of capturing memories, to educate me and others, networking and most importantly, prove to myself you just have to try something once even if it is just for the experience and better understanding of the world around us. If anything, whatever photographs I take will be part of my story and legacy.

My undergraduate journey will come to an end in July. It has been a long and arduous journey, but well worth it.

It is the beginning of the end.

Are you contemplating going to university/college? Let me know if there is something you would like to know in the comments below and I will answer where I can.

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#UniversityisnotforEveryone

All images © Elsie Kibue / EK13 Photography

Documentary Project on Display

I am so glad to see my documentary project on display in the Faculty Hub at University.

I took this shot through a glass panel showing my images on display in one of the rooms where lecturers/tutors hold one-on-one tutorials with students.

I am not sure how long they will be up for, but I am happy to see my work printed and displayed in a ‘public’ space.

Project: Ngara ’97 (renamed to ‘Abstracts’)