Name: Eric Gitonga
Occupation: Owner, Eric Gitonga Photography
By virtue of having a father who worked in the forest industry, I spent most of my formative years in the forest environment. My brothers and I spent countless hours exploring the forests we lived near, having adventures that were paradise for a boy. At one point in high school I had even said I would be a forester in future, but my father convinced me against that, as he saw a bleak future in forestry, given the way forests were being decimated by grabbers.
After high school I did a degree in electrical engineering, a decision informed by my taking electricity as a subject. After graduation, I got a job as a hardware design engineer for General Electric company. In the course of my work there, I was fortunate to have a commute to work that took me through forest country. In the warm months, I would ride my bicycle to work, stopping along the way to admire what beauty lay in the forest. At one point I got a camera and began capturing this beauty photographically. Nothing was off limits. Plants, fungi, arthropods, water, all was fare game.
I started sharing my work on a blog online, and people would tell me how good the photographs were. At that point I started thinking that photography could be something worse pursuing in greater detail. When my work visa came to an end in 2007 (I was based in the US at the time), I decided to move back home. At the time I wasn’t sure what I would do for a career. On speaking to people and telling them of my interest in photography, they suggested I speak to established photographers and get their views. This I did and ended up deciding on taking up photography.
Initially I took up all kinds of jobs, since at the time I thought you needed to do this to survive as a photographer. However, over time, I came to realise that there were different aspects of photography that I could focus on and still make an income. I decided to let go of the aspects I wasn’t interested in such as weddings. I decided to focus on portraiture, non-wedding events and documentary.
While doing this I was still photographing arthropods, but in an unstructured manner. Once in late 2012 while reading a photography magazine, I came across an article on the photographer Thomas Shahan who specializes in jumping spiders. I saw the images he produced, and I knew there and then that I had to photograph arthropods the same way he did, and to the level of quality he did. At around the same time, I came across the work of Markus Reugels, a German photographer who specializes in water drops. I was blown away by the quality of photographs he was making. That, again, marked the time I decided I had to produce the kind of images he did.
Even as I was making these decisions, at the back of my mind I kept wondering how I would ever sustain myself doing this kind of photography. And so I kept on getting the portraits, events and documentary commissions, and working on the arthropods and water drops intermitently. At some point I did get recognition for my arthropod photographs, going even as far as doing some work for ICIPE in Kakamega. Some of the images I took for them were printed and mounted on the walls of one of their buildings. I have also produced cards for sale. I have held a group exhibition. Some of my images have been used in a book on Insects of East Africa. I have also given a paper presentation at a scientific conference on Pollinators and Pollination. The paper was on the use of media to communicate the importance of pollination to the general public.
When the opportunity to take the course on Creative Entrepreneurship came up, I decided to do so. Taking this course and listening to the various creatives that have talked to us has made me realise that with proper planning and execution, I can make a living out of the art I love. Meaning photographing arthropods and water drops. It has given me renewed impetus to look at those two more critically, and to get them to the point where it is all I am doing. Something else that has inspired me, especially on the water drops side as I had effectively abandoned it, is an enquiry by two people that I had spoken to about them a while back. They had been intrigued that I was doing it, and so they wanted to know how far I had gone with it. That made me realise that there must be others beyond just them who would be fascinated by water drop photography. I have since taken it up again and working on it to master my art.
Beyond just pursuing the photography of arthropods and water drops as art, I am interested in ecosystem restoration and conservation. This lends itself well to the two subjects I enjoy photographing. An intact ecosystem means a safe haven will exist for the many arthropods I love to photograph, as well as a sustainable source of water. My hope is that by showcasing the beauty of both arthropods and water, people will be made aware of the need to be more mindful about the environment.
To capture the images of hidden beauty magnified.
To use macro and high speed photography techniques to make images of arthropods and water drops, thereby showcasing their beauty in a way that is visually accessible to us.
18 Month Plan
Set up business structures.
Identify and establish working relationships with organizations that use the photographs I make, especially those concerned with conservation of the environment.
Have a solo exhibition of my arthropod photographs and another of my water drop photographs.
Get representation by an art gallery for my work.
Publish a photobook each of my arthropod photographs and water drop photographs.