MUTUA MATHEKA : Artist extraordinaire
He credits his creativity to The Creator, God, who created the beauty that surrounds us, and his mother for what he amusingly describes as the three-year-old crayon awakening. Twenty eight-year-old architect, photographer and singer, Mutua Matheka, talks to EDNA GICOVI about the art that is his life.
Mutua was destined to be an artist of sorts from an early age. At age three, his mother bought him sketching pads and crayons after seeing his interest in drawing. Paints and paintbrushes followed, as he grew a bit older. He was the type of child who drew on walls and any other surface that could be drawn on.
At around age 12, he knew he wanted to do architecture. This was after he spent time with a friend whose older brother was studying architecture at the Jomo Kenyatta Institute of Advanced Technology (JKUAT). His blueprints, drawing board and little models of houses all seemed very fascinating to a young Mutua who had a lot of questions for him. At the end of this meeting, he had made up is mind to study architecture in JKUAT just like this cool older brother of his friend.
In high school at Moi Forces Academy, Mutua still dabbled in art. Apart form taking fine art classes, which he enjoyed immensely, he was also in a group that sang acapella with a few friends. He passed his ‘O’ levels and qualified to join JKUAT to study architecture just like he had desired.
Campus life was different and exciting for Mutua. Nevertheless, after failing some classes that put him back a full year, he learnt a few hard truths. “It’s possible to disappoint my parents and everyone around me but at the end of the day, I faced consequences for my actions,” he says. “I learnt to take charge and be responsible for the direction my life took,” he adds. Insignificant as it may appear, this lesson played a big part in Mutua’s life. It changed his attitude and approach towards life.
Architecture requires one to do several internships to gain experience and Mutua started working in his first year. He made building models for several architectural firms and apart from getting the much needed experience, he also gained an income that enabled him to pay for his university fees.
In his fifth year at the university, he applied for an internship in Germany and was accepted. His aptitude for art followed him those many kilometres away from home. He discovered in himself a love for photography he never knew existed. “As an artist, I appreciate all forms of art but I had not done any photography prior to that,” he says.
During his free time, he walked around the small town of Detmold in Germany where he was staying, admiring the architecture and serenity of the town. It was summer time and the sunsets were around 10 p.m. “I hardly ever slept. Sleeping seemed like a waste of time,” says Mutua of his excitement at the sights and sounds of a foreign country. To top it all he met a photographer who showed him a few tricks he could employ on his camera. His mind was exploding with ideas at the new discoveries he had made and the things he had learnt.
On coming back to Kenya, he learnt as much as he could about photography. Towards the end of his university studies, he landed a contractual job doing architectural animation. With his first payment he bought a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera that cost him a pretty sum. “I remember going straight to town with my first pay to buy the camera. My pay was Ksh50000 and I bought the camera for Ksh45000. I went home broke but happy,” he says.
After graduation, Mutua got a job at Image 360, a commercial interior design firm where he put his architectural expertise into practice. The company specialises in the interior architecture of buildings and he was involved in floor planning, installation of air conditioning and plumbing, among other fixtures.
He had however not abandoned his newfound love. He hadn’t done much with his new camera by then, only taking a few photos here and there. He could tell that he had the touch though it wasn’t refined. He would take good photographs but was unable to replicate this ability. What makes a seasoned photographer, he explains, is the ability to achieve quality photographs over and over. “Beginners, like I was at the time, get one good picture out of a 1000,” he explains.
A friend who was getting married and knew of his brief stint with photography approached him to do their wedding photography. This puzzled Mutua. He did not consider himself a great photographer yet his friend seemed to have a lot of confidence in him. Nonetheless, he was up to the challenge. That was his first experience with professional photography. With the help of a photographer friend who had more experience, he gradually started learning the ropes of this intricate art.
Perfecting the art…
He realised the need to practice to perfect his skill. He rightly observed that he could not be an overnight success. He then committed himself to taking a photo everyday. “I enrolled in an online exercise that required me to do this. The aim was 100 days of shooting. It required one to take a photo each day while learning different aspects of photography,” he explains.
He also started a blog (an online journal) and joined Twitter, a social networking site, as the assignment required him to showcase his work to the website’s moderators via social media. This was in early 2010. The blog kept him accountable. He posted his work there on a daily basis. With time, a considerable fan base of his photography grew on Twitter. By the time he got to day 70 of this exercise, he had grown in leaps and bounds. He was also getting a good number of clients who wanted him to do photo shoots of different people and places.
“Some of the skills I learnt through that online exercise take people years to learn,” he says, adding that he is thankful for the Midas touch he seems to have. Somehow, most of what he has attempted that requires creativity and the use of his hands has become a success. He was however not able to go past day 70 of the online photography exercise as he got too busy with shoots. He looks back on the exercise with a lot of gratitude.
“As an artist, I am driven by the need to create something good,” says Mutua, adding that according to him photography is art in every sense of the word. He loves the creativity entailed in the art. “It’s not just capturing a moment. Rather, it is capturing the beauty of a moment,” he says. He goes on to explain rather passionately that a moment can be created but that the manner in which this particular moment is captured in a photograph can invoke a lot of different emotions.
A picture’s worth…
A picture is indeed worth a thousand words. For Mutua, in order for it to be worth that much, one must learn to capture a lot of different elements to depict the various emotions behind just one photograph. He doesn’t think he is at this point yet but says that this is what he is working towards.
Last year, 2011, was a great year for him. He was not making too much money but he was very busy with shoots. “In fact, I was working more than I was making money,” he quips. This was not necessarily a negative thing for him. “My blog grew and became quite popular. I also started being associated with the face of photography in Nairobi,” he adds with obvious pride. Mutua blogs on WordPress, a renowned online blogging platform.
In addition, his blog mutuamatheka.wordpress.com has been freshly pressed twice. To be “Freshly Pressed” on WordPress is to have ones blog featured amongst a handful of bloggers who have been chosen for the unique quality of their content. These individuals get to enjoy the rarest of blogging experiences, that is attention. This has seen Mutua’s photography viewed by people in different parts of the world.
It has been an amazing two years of photography for Mutua. He attributes the tremendous growth he has seen in this short time to hard work. “I believe in doing my best and letting God do the rest and also bring me the opportunities I very much need,” he says. “I shoot a lot. Intentionally. Even when it does not make me money, I shoot,” he says.
Mutua was doing all this while still working as an architectural interior designer. He was rarely ever free. He says his wife can attest to this fact. He did photo shoots an average of three times a week on top of his regular day job. In November last year, he decided that it was time to leave architecture and make photography a full time job. “My job at Image 360 was exciting and I loved it but this is what I feel I should be doing now,” he says thoughtfully. He still does a few jobs for the firm on contractual basis. Mutua’s ultimate goal is to help Kenyans and Africans by extension appreciate the value and beauty of their land through his photography.
To aspiring photographers, he says, “Go out and take photos! Do not worry about camera settings and other conditions at first. When you worry about settings, you worry about failing and obsess about perfection,” he advises while encouraging mistakes. “This is an important teacher in photography. Mistakes teach you what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to fail. Shoot, shoot, shoot!” he adds.
Photography is, to Mutua, an endless learning experience. For instance, photography has given him a greater appreciation of beauty. He has not only learnt how to appreciate by capturing the said beauty in a photo, but also how to appreciate with his eyes. “Not everything is to be photographed. Neither does everything that looks good make a good photo,” he says matter-of-factly.
“At times, just feast on the beauty you see with your eyes,” he advises. He adds that sometimes when he sees a beautiful sunset, he is not just thinking of capturing it in a photograph. He wants to enjoy the moment. These moments, he says, will be stored in our memory banks so we can look back on them at a later time. “Your brain is actually the best camera,” he quips.
Apart from architecture and photography Mutua is part of Five Oh One, a gospel quartet, and has worked with different artists in various capacities. He is married to Noni, a kindergarten teacher.
Published in March 2012