Photographer Allan Gichigi Talks Tembea Kenya’s Journey to Mt Suswa, Life in the UK, Dating, and More

March 5, 2018

Meet Allan Gichigi. He is the adventurous guy you’ve been seeing on the cool Tembea Kenya advertisement on his journey to Mount Suswa. The video has since been viewed more than 2.2 Million times in less than two months.

Allan grew up at the Coast and studied Communication at Daystar University before relocating to the UK for his Masters. He has been a practising photographer since 2007 and specializes in documentaries/documentary photography, people driven narratives, portraiture and wedding photography.

Having been involved in a devastating motor accident about three years ago, Allan, now more than ever, lives life without fear.

He spoke with freelance journalist Yvonne Aoll about his life without limits.

Was photography always the dream career, Allan?

No, not really. But my dad is a photographer, he worked for Getty Images, and I think I picked up the interest from him.

What did you study for your undergraduate degree?

Communication. Then I travelled to the UK for my Master’s degree.

How long was the Master’s course?

One year, but I was there for about two years.

Do you want to get a PhD?

I do. Not because I really want to use the degree or anything, but just so I can be called, “Doctor.” So that I can walk around telling people, “I’m a doctor.” (Laughs)

How was life in the UK?

Interesting. Strange. A bit detached.

Detached? How so?

Detached in the sense that everyone does their own thing. I particularly found that difficult because I’m  from the Coast.

The Coastal culture is such that everyone knows everyone, random people want to know about each others lives, strangers sit down and eat together, it’s a bit unique, but its nice and friendly and warm. In the UK everyone keeps to themselves, which is what I struggled with.

Did you experience any reverse culture shock when you returned?

No, not really. Perhaps because I hadn’t been away for too long.

I, however, get how that can happen. One goes away for studies, and sometimes you subconsciously think everything at home will be at a standstill. Then you return and you realise nothing paused. Things changed. People graduated, got married, had babies, changed careers, started ventures – it can be intense. I get it.

Do you plan to settle down in Kenya?

Maybe. I don’t know. (Laughs) I don’t even have a plan for the next few weeks. I don’t know what next month will look like. I’m extremely random. I just go with whatever is happening at the moment.

What kind of photography do you specialise in?

Hmm, good question. (Thinks) I want to call it people-based. If it’s anything to do with people, getting connected, interactive, that kind of thing is my thing. I love it.

Is it hard to be a thriving photographer in Kenya?

Yes. It is. It can be. Some people still don’t see it as a career in itself, that’s always tricky. Although now, there are more people who really appreciate what we do than previous years, it’s not easy.

There seems to be “cartels” in every industry in Kenya, do they also exist in the world of photography?

(Laughs) I mean, there was a time when all the jobs would go to certain people and certain people only. But now, even the newbies have a chance. It may take time to prove yourself, but if you’re diligent, you can get your share.

Describe to me what your ideal client is like?

Clients who let me be and give me the freedom to just get the work done. When that happens, it’s the most amazing thing.

And, what are the characteristics of some of your most difficult clients?

The opposite of the ideal ones. (Laughs) Clients who micromanage every single shot are difficult to work with. Even weddings, I get that it’s the bride’s happiest day, but it’s hard to get the work done when every single instruction is checked and counter-checked.

Are you a thriving photographer?

I don’t know. Do you think I’m a thriving photographer?

I don’t know, but look, you were on Magical Kenya. 

(Laughs heartily) Yeah, that.

Let’s talk about it, Tembea Kenya, how did that happen? Did you go looking for the opportunity?

No, I didn’t actually. They came to me. They approached me and said since I’m a photographer and I ride a motorbike,  they’d like to follow me on a journey. It was fantastic, but I was a bit nervous.

Why nervous?

Nervous for a number of reasons.  One was because the production team we worked with does not play when it comes to work. On the day I thought it was just going to be myself and a few people, it wasn’t. About 15 people showed up, they were all part of the crew, that was intense.

15 is a lot of people. 

It is. Another reason for the nervousness is that I’m shy.  I’m terribly shy in certain contexts, and for this video they asked me to speak, I wasn’t sure about that, it made me really nervous.

Were you truly hesitant to use your voice?

I was. I actually almost turned down the whole thing because I didn’t want to speak.

Allan, have you seen the comments on the video?

No, why?

Most of the comments consist of women gushing and drooling at your voice.

(Excitedly) No way! For real? Seriously?

Yes, seriously. Someone said your voice was the only reason they watched the advert to the end. 

Oh wow. I certainly didn’t know that. Are you for real? (Laughs)

I am for real. 

(Laughs again) I’m going to check it out immediately we are done.

How was the journey to Mount Suswa?

Incredible. Absolutely incredible. A lot of fun too.

Do you feel like a celebrity now?

Oh gosh, I don’t know. I’ve been receiving phone calls from people I haven’t spoken to in years.

And then the other day I was at the barber’s and the advert came on TV, I was so uncomfortable. I couldn’t run, and I couldn’t “Skip ad,” like on Youtube, I didn’t know what to do. This is all strange to me.

Do you worry about the dangers of riding a motorcycle?

Yes. All the time.

Do you worry about the aggressive road users we have in Kenya?

Yes. Absolutely. As a rider, you have to be more cautious than everyone else on the road. Riding is not for the fainthearted.

Aren’t you fearful of getting into an accident?

A part of me always is, but that’s why I have to keep riding, to combat that fear. Once I stop riding, that’s it, the fear wins. But also, I’ve been involved in a pretty nasty accident before, so I know how bad it can get.

What happened?

I was riding on the Northern bypass, then a motorist ran into me. I later found out it was a drank priest who was behind the wheel.

A drank priest?

(Laughs) I know.

Was the priest held accountable?

He was. At some point he tried to deny and place the fault on me but I was lucky, there were many witnesses, so he couldn’t really succeed with that.

Did you follow up and ensure justice was served?

I did go to one of the court appearances; he showed up in priest clothing and a Bible, that was a bit hilarious.

Eventually I just decided to let it go. The entire episode was getting to my head, it was a lot of negativity, so I just moved on. I needed to heal physically and psychologically.

How bad was the accident?

It was bad. The reason I have this scar on my right hand is because two of my fingers were badly injured. The medical team had to place a metal plate in one of them.

How were you coping during your recovery period?

Yvonne, let me tell you, I’ve never appreciated the smallest of things like I did after that accident. I have so much appreciation for my right hand now. Things like just brushing your teeth! You know?

And then I’m a photographer, most cameras are designed for people who are right-handed. I’d never even realised this until my accident. Adjusting was a struggle, but I’m very appreciative of things now. Those small things, those are the things that matter.

And yet you still ride. I’m not quite sure I  understand this. 

It’s the thing with fear. I never want fear to win. Fear robs us of a lot of things in life. I want to tackle it head on.

Now that we talked about women and your voice, are you dating?

(Laughs, fidgets in his chair, sips drink, then coughs) I’m…(mumbles)it’s complicated. It is complicated, that’s what it is.

Who’s your ideal kind of partner?

Someone free-spirited like me! That quality in itself, just that, ah, amazing. I like someone I can laugh with easily, who loves the outdoors and enjoys travelling.

For the people who perhaps silently look up to you as a photographer, what piece of advice would you give them?

Oh man. Am I now at that point where I’m giving others advice? But, I’d say keep at it. Work hard at it. You have to put in the work. Eventually, it will pay off.

Any last words?

When you start doing okay, give back. It is for this reason that I’m into mentorship. I like bringing people in to show them how things are done and teach them what I can. That makes me happy.

You can catch the full interview here

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