Kenya’s 72-year-old Professional Photographer Defies Odds and Shines Light on Youth Empowerment
In a world inundated with visuals, there’s an unsung hero who has spent five decades preserving life’s moments – Mzee Omoyo, a professional photographer from Kenya.
Omoyo’s lens has chronicled everything from intimate family portraits to the grandeur of the country’s momentous political events, leaving an indelible mark on the art of photography on the African continent
At seventy years old, his photography business, based in Elgeyo-Marakwet County, is still going strong, photographing events on weekends and supplementing this with other work as both a cobbler and a farmer during the week – investing in land using money he made from photography.
Omoyo’s fascination with photography ignited at the tender age of 16.
In 1972, armed with a Canon manual camera that used film, he took his first steps into the world of photography.
Omoyo’s journey was anything but easy. Born at a time when conformity was the norm, his path was lined with hurdles that would test even the most determined.
Reflecting on the past, he says, “The community did not see photography as useful and certainly not a suitable career choice for a man.
However, I would travel a lot around the Trans-Nzoia County and saw that those who pursued photography were doing well.” As he had not attended school, this showed him that photography could be a viable alternative, and being exposed to others in the field was just the encouragement he needed to leave any doubts behind.
Working as a professional, however, is not as simple as just deciding to do it. Skill comes with learning and experience, but this wasn’t something that was readily accessible to the young Omoyo. Local photography courses didn’t exist, and online resources were over thirty years away.
He had no option but to experiment, and this trial-and-error approach came with a price, especially as all cameras at that time relied on film.
The challenges didn’t end with experimentation either; they extended to the arduous task of developing and printing photographs, often necessitating long journeys to the nearest town, only to find the services closed due to electricity outages.
Even today, prints are an issue, with frequent power outages. But deadlines are deadlines and Omoyo finds himself travelling some distances to access the print services that he needs.
With time, Omoyo’s talent reverberated, and his camera prowess became renowned. He ventured into unexpected realms, collaborating with community police in Eldoret Town.
Recalling his experiences, Mzee remembers capturing crime scenes and photographing suspects under arrest. “The photographs served a purpose beyond mere images.
They ensured that the police force became acquainted with the faces of repeat offenders, ultimately contributing to a decrease in crime within the region.” Additionally, his lens chronicled government events for over 16 years, even encapsulating the former President of Kenya during his ministerial tenure in late 2022.
Beyond his professional pursuits, Mzee embodies family devotion and community affinity. With a loving wife, two daughters, and three grandchildren, he channels his affection into heartwarming family portraits.
Today, even at the age of 70, he remains in demand, capturing the joy of weddings, engagement parties, and precious family moments.
Armed with his faithful Canon EOS 600D camera, Mzee is often invited to schools to take passport-style images of children. In the community, he is affectionately known as ‘Mzee Wa Maphica’, meaning ‘old man who takes pictures’. It marks the respect people have for him and honors his lengthy career as a photographer.
His passion, however, extends beyond the camera lens. He’s committed to empowering the youth of Trans-Nzoia County, a region plagued by unemployment, substance abuse, and poverty.
Drawing from personal experience, he champions photography and videography as viable career paths that can break the cycle of hardship.
He already works with young people to reach this goal, such as Cosi, a young woman he both inspired and coached to become the professional photographer she is today. His vision entails creating a cycle of knowledge transfer, with budding photographers becoming future tutors and mentors themselves.
The term ‘journey’ outweighs ‘career’ in his lexicon, highlighting how being behind the camera is his way of life.
For Mzee, retirement isn’t a consideration; the camera is an extension of his soul, an instrument to learn, document, and narrate stories that await capture.
“Photography is my way of preserving the essence of life, sharing its beauty, and leaving a legacy for generations to come,” he says.