Behind the Lens….A Snap| A Shot| A Story

It is 11:37am…

We are in the dining hall at The Kenya High School, thronged by close to seven hundred high school girls. They are all in high anticipation of the insights the day would bring, from both the industry expert talks and the experiential career fair lined up for later. Half the school is present – the form twos and fours- and the other half wishing they were there.

Contrary to the common complaints in this country about ‘manels’ and the general lack of female gender expert representation at various events, this mid-morning panel is quite the opposite. Richard Allela – photographer and film maker par excellence, is flanked by five formidable women in the fields of aviation, law, social justice, education, and storytelling. His being here is not by chance, but by a purposefully determined objective to not only provide personal and professional insights as a photographer, but also offer the girls exposure to non-traditional yet fulfilling career options.

Rich as he is popularly known, presents the girls with a refreshing view about his journey, how this has shaped his career choices, the lessons learned along the way, both wrought with challenge and lined with joy, as well as advice to maximize their strengths and fuel their passions. The girls are rapt with attention; not only intrigued by his metamorphosis from a footwear designer to a rich (pun intended) storyteller of Africa’s treasures, but also that he seems quite affable, and not mired in his worldly success to take time out to share of himself. That his story is of great interest is not in doubt… what with several awards under his belt, and high level features in both print and digital platforms. But what pray tell is his take on the philosophy of life as seen through various lenses not regularly looked through?

Catching up with Rich’s thoughts later, reveals that although it said that our experience of the world is profoundly influenced by colour – and more so by in those in the visual and creative arts where photography is anchored – he feels there isn’t any specifically profound influence of colour in relation to the world, especially in the creative space. And that whilst colour can be used to communicate different elements, the lack of it can also be a message in itself. This in tandem with the words of wisdom earlier imparted to Kenya High School’s young ladies, emphasizes his point that the world is constantly messaging, and all we need to do is stop and appreciate what life offers, even if it does not conform to a predetermined mould.

And in the spirit of discussing conformance, unpacking the popular question about leadership – if leaders are made not born – behavioural theory posits that they’re actually created through a process of knowledge transfer, learning, practice, and experience over time. Likewise, rests Rich’s credo on photography – that one need not exclusively be naturally talented to be good at photography. What you need he says is passion. Passion is the central cog in the wheel of creative success. That passion and hard work are sufficient to provide the drive to create great images, which end up making a great photographer… and so great images make the photographer and not vice versa. Philosophically cryptic right?

Rich also figures that photography is a powerful communication tool. That it’s important to fully understand that a single photo can have great or grave consequences. Photography therefore calls for high integrity levels, which can be achieved and maintained, despite being in this era of ‘doctoring’ photos to reflect a desired perspective. “The best images that stand the test of time are those that are minimally edited, if are edited at all.” The wisdom witnessed here, doesn’t happen just by chance. On the three maxims : the books we read, the movies we watch and the company we keep, Rich advises that dedicating at least an hour everyday to reading is critical. That books allow one to travel the world and to get to learn from other people’s experiences, with autobiographies in his view, a form of distant mentorship. Keeping good company – especially those smarter than you – will serve to empower more holistic development. And he of course a positive stand about the dreaded but much preached about minimizing time in front of the television. Quite the tall order these days…what with television being a keyboard/keypad touch away? Rich food for thought…

And yes! We take a sneak peek into what Rich Allela feels has been the biggest mistake so far in life and what have he’s learned from it…

“I would call it risks rather than mistakes. The biggest risk I ever took was quitting a well-paying job two years ago to pursue photography. Along the way I have taken assignments that I wasn’t qualified for but ended up delivering beyond the clients’ expectations. When I was beginning photography I had a fancy email that ended in @photographer.net. I thought it would impress clients so I used it to apply for several jobs but rarely looked at it. Turns out Forbes Magazine contacted me through the email to do for them some work. I only saw the email 3 months later. I have never felt so disappointed in my life. Needless to say, I never got that job. Since then, I have learned to keep things simple and check my email every day.”

We end where we began – at The Kenya High School, where Rich  continued on and spent the entire afternoon at the career fair, in the room that hosted a group of professionals, passionistas and advanced students in the Applied, Visual and Performing Arts sector that included: Photography, Painting, Sculpturing, Videography, Sound Engineering, Dance, Drama, Music, Spoken Word, Fashion/Couture/Apparel Design, Graphics, Interior Design, Cosmetology, Coiffeurs, Aestheticians and Barbers. The traffic of students to this particular room where career counsel was being provided about venturing into being a creative, far outweighed all the other professional clusters. What a great testament to the mantra that dares us to be different, and to the generosity of professionals like Rich who purposefully set time aside to mentor and coach the next generation to fly to places never dared before…

Rich Allela’s story as narrated by C. Gathuru

Author: Admin

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