Saturday, April 16, 2016

Documentary and Portraiture: Maintaining Personal Style with Clients

A farmer poses amongst his banana trees in Kendu Bay, Kenya. He exudes strength and confidence.

Shooting on assignment, versus for individual artistic projects, is always an interesting balance. My true passion in photography is portraiture and documentary. But, while I love to capture the stories in people’s faces, and the candid moments that define their lives, clients have special requests that are tailored to their business needs. While I tell all my clients that, as I was trained as a photojournalist, my style tends to be very documentary, gravitating towards unscripted moments as opposed to directed shoots, if I’m on their payroll, it’s their opinion that matters. I understand that while I’m hired because of my vision and style, I also need to produce a set of photographs that depicts the scenes they most need. The magic happens when my vision, my style, can effectively convey a clients desired message in a unique voice, a story that only I can tell.

Two recent commissions allowed me the flexibility to use my own style to effectively illustrate my clients story. I’ve recently been working out of Kisumu, Kenya and was approached by two solar-based organizations, Futurepump and the Global Off Grid Lighting Association, otherwise known as GOGLA. Many clients can be very set in their own vision, hiring a photographer simply to execute what they have in their head. In my experience this leads to difficult situations and conversations because I am as much of an artist as anything else. I can’t force what I take photos of, just like a it would be difficult to ask an impressionist painter to make life-like paintings. Luckily, both of these organizations were willing to give me the freedom to fulfill their photographic goals while taking advantage of my style. Honestly, it’s refreshing to work with clients that are so open, and from my end, as the photographer, I embrace an iterative process where frequent image reviews allow for a better, and collaborative creative process.

A group of children pose in the courtyard between their homes at dusk, illuminated by a solar lamp.


GOGLA is not a social enterprise but instead is an association that works to promote the development and sale of solar devices around the globe. They were looking to update their website and publications, and needed a diverse set of images that showcased the different companies with whom they are partners, as well as the benefits of the products they sell. This became the perfect opportunity to approach the commission as a documentarian, and we worked together to find situations where I could be a “fly-on-the-wall” and simply observe people using, and benefitting from the products. 

Children complete their schoolwork in a study group hosted by a local good samaritan in Kisumu, Kenya.

The dinner table and the study desk are the same in Kisumu, Kenya, both lit by a solar lantern.

A young boy stands illuminated by a solar light, in-between two houses in Kisumu, Kenya.


Futurepump is a social enterprise that is selling a solar-powered irrigation pump, the Sunflower. The pump removes the need for farmers to buy fuel to run their conventional pumps, creates a cleaner farm and working space, and provides the ability to cheaply water their crops year-round, significantly extending the growing season. Working with Futurepump gave me the opportunity to not only document farmers in their fields, but also to create a set of portraits of each that will be used to tell their individual story. 

A farmer in Kendu Bay, Kenya, walks her solar panel through her crops. She uses it to power a solar irrigation pump.

Joshua, a farmer in Kendu Bay, Kenya poses for a portrait on his farm.

A young farmer in Kendu Bay, Kenya.

Using the Sunflower solar irrigation pump to water crops in Kendu Bay, Kenya.

A confident farmer poses on her farm outside of Kendu Bay, Kenya. She uses a solar irrigation pump to water her crops.
Final image: A farmer is dwarfed by his crops, mostly banana trees, in Kendu Bay, Kenya.

Thanks as always for stopping by. Any comments or questions are very welcome.