Peter Ndung'u: "A Single Frame can Convey so Much"

If in his teenage days some of his peers chose to call him “Size10” because of his large shoe size, this moniker, he may well owe it today to his great talent. We discussed with this promising photographer who likes to think about his photography journey as a path he was meant to be on.

You were recently exhibiting some of your photos at Cheche Gallery, can you tell us more about that exhibition?
The exhibition was dubbed "Environmental Defenders". This was in a bid to have defenders of the Lamu county showcase their work on highlighting the plight of the coal plant. The aim of the exhibition was to enlighten people about the challenges that the people of Lamu will face if the coal plant is put up. 

So, you have a passion for the environment, how did it come about?
I love everything about nature and being in the environment. This was even made stronger by my passion for photography and photographing nature and landscapes. It was inevitable that I would fall in love with the environment.

lamu fishermen by peter ndungu

#EnvironmentDefenders | © Peter Ndung'u

Nairobi, Nairobi, reading you, there is something magical about that city. Why do you love it that much?
Nairobi is a city with different stories, some love to hate it and others just can't. I was born in Nairobi and for most of my life, the city has been at the heart of everything. When I started photography, Nairobi provided the best "studio" for me. It was easy to photograph but now it's become such a challenge because of the political situation, security threats etc. In any case, that hasn't made me hate the city. There is a lot that this city has to offer, and it hasn't realized its full potential yet.

Have you found the same magic in any other city you have been to?
I haven't really been to many cities but for the ones I have visited, I wouldn't say I have experienced the same vibe. Though I would love to give a much more informed opinion after visiting and probably even, living in more cities.

self portrait by peter ndungu

#MeMyself&I | © Peter Ndung'u

What or who brought you to photography? How did it all start?
I feed on a lot of online content and most of that includes imagery. 3 years ago, I used to see images of Nairobi, Kenya and even other parts of the world but I never knew who took these images or what went behind making them. Out of curiosity, I found the photographers responsible and followed their work keenly. Mutua Matheka, Mwangi Kirubi and Elia Locardi are some of the main people I looked up to. I then started it out as a hobby and picked it up consistently, now I've got no regrets.

When looking at your pictures, one can feel the love you have for what you do. What excites you most in photography?
Thank you. I am mostly fascinated at how a single frame can convey so much. In a single frame, a photo can express so much joy, anger, beauty, contrast, etc. The ability to express yourself in a frame to me is the most exciting bit of photography.

"The ability to express yourself in a frame to me is the most exciting bit of photography."

If you did not discover photography along the way, which profession would you have been into?
I would have most likely been a practicing lawyer. I'm a law graduate from Strathmore Law School.

What is your thing with perspective and scale?
Everything. Especially for landscape photography which is one of my focus points. We live in a world where perspective is not greatly appreciated unless you put two contrasting subjects together or do something different in a way that people have never seen before. This helps trigger an emotion of appreciation when you manage to convey the scale of a subject using different perspectives.

Is it cliché to say African photography today is more about women and makeup?
It's cliché! There's a lot more to African photography than makeup and women. Africa is the future. Artists are now showing Africa in ways never seen before.

decoalonizing lamu by peter ndungu

#Decoalonizing | © Peter Ndung'u

If you were asked to propose the top 3 of African photographers, who will make it to your list? Who will be your all-time bests (worldwide)?
Currently, Osborne Macharia and Mutua Matheka do it for me. They both are pioneers of African photography in their own unique way and they are people I have admired for the longest time.
All-time bests are a tough one! But I'd probably go with Benjamin Von Wong and Elia Locardi. This is based on the level of passion I see in their work. They not only inspire me through imagery but the effort they put into making their work stand out.

You have already won some awards in Kenya; how does it feel to be recognized for your work?
To be honest, those awards serve as reminders for me to keep pushing and going for my dreams. Nothing more than that. I don't let them take too much of my thoughts because I can easily get distracted.

Of all the projects you've worked on so far, which was the most fulfilling? Why?
Photographing the Pope during his visit to Kenya for me was the most humbling experience. Seeing one of the humblest human beings in this world brings people together from all walks of life was eye-opening. His humility and nondiscriminatory personality are astounding. He managed to unite people in a way I had never seen before. It was a voluntary project that stood out as the best that I have worked on so far.

pope francis by peter ndungu

#HolyFather | © Peter Ndung'u

What do you enjoy most, working on commissioned projects or on personal ones?
Personal ones.

I create better when working on personal projects and sometimes even find myself doing things I wouldn't have thought of doing in search of that personal fulfillment. However, there are times when there's commissioned projects that are very enjoyable.

Some people believe photography can be a tool for change, do you agree? how can it be used?
I definitely agree. In fact, I believe that everyone's line of work can be geared towards change as long as they do their best and do it for the good of others. Photography has the capability of impacting the world through storytelling, changing negative narratives into positive stories and even using it to share different perspectives. There's a great potential for photographers in their different lines of work to change narratives and bring change.

What would be your advice to a beginner?
Patience, persistence, and consistency. There's no manual to life. I have personally learned these three things along the journey and I pay most attention to them before anything. You must be consistent in your work, patient for your time, don't chase the money.... If you chase the money first then you're in it for the wrong reasons. Work hard at being consistent and your success will find you.

You can check Peter's work on Instagram and his website


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