- Interview with Jim Chuchu
A few months ago we featured digital artist Jim Chuchu. We are always excited whenever he launches exciting projects like the TRNSMSSN, video art exhibition with Just A Band. Here’s your chance to get Jim Chuchu a little more.
Give us a little run down on your profession/area of expertise.
I still hesitate to call photography my profession because of the way I gatecrashed into it through the back door. Also, these days I find myself jumping from one medium to another; photography one day, video and music the next, then a little animation and graphic design the next. I don’t know which I enjoy most. Right now, I make a living mostly from the photography.
How did you get started with photography and videography? Was it a deliberate decision? Do you have an educational background in this field?
It was not a deliberate decision. I’d always wanted to make films since I was about 12 – so it was a hazy future goal that always hung around in the back of my mind. After college (where I studied IT – so, no I don’t have an educational background in the field), I worked for 6 months as a graphic designer at an ad agency (and hated it) – where I routinely saw commercial photographers saunter in and out of the place, looking like they were enjoying themselves. So I quit in late 2006 with the intention of becoming a freelance graphic designer who dabbles in photography.
I can’t remember what was going on in my head at the time, but I took a loan from my brother to get my first camera. I figured if I could learn how to take good photos, then making film would be easier in terms of getting specific looks. Then all this happened.
What is your favorite tool/application, and why?
My favorite tool would be light – having a snazzy camera doesn’t really matter if the light sucks. I’ve seen the most amazing photos taken on crappy camera phones, and it happened because the subject was surrounded by delicious light.
As for my favorite application, I really like the whole Adobe suite for making it very easy to get ideas out in whatever medium you choose.
So you are an Afrigadget inventor, how did this come about? What has been the response so far? Do you have any more inventions lined up?
A – get REALLY expensive lights from the likes of Film Studios Kenya, or
B – get REALLY crappy tungsten floodlights (which are modified security lights) for hire
I didn’t have a truckload of money, and I really hate the floodlights (they waste so much power and they’re really hot). So I stuck a couple of compact-fluorescents in a cardboard box and used them to shoot the video (I never tell purists this story because they’d vomit all over me).
It was surprising then to hear that there was an article on AfriGadget about my little box. Later on, I began to wonder why there’s such a shortage of innovation in Africa that when someone sticks bulbs in a box he becomes an inventor. The nature of this work forces you to come up with solutions to problems quickly, so there’s always a lot of duct-taping of things to one another, and misusing of ordinary household objects.
What are the fundamental design/artistic challenges you face when working in Kenya (Africa)?
There’s a very strange unofficial motto in Kenyan advertising that goes something like: “Kenyans wouldn’t understand this,” (usually delivered in a resigned I-like-it-but-that’s-because-I’m-cool tone). It’s a firm belief on the part of both the industry and their clients that the average Kenyan doesn’t understand anything that’s slightly humorous or creative.
So the agencies and clients spend hours stripping the life away from any of their cool ideas so that the average Kenyan can keep up. That attitude filters down to all the creative work in Kenya – resulting in us being surrounded by bland and safe adverts, programs, plays, books and music. I always thought that artists are supposed to gently nudge their audience into new places with their work – there’s not much of that happening around here.
Do you think coming from Africa influences your work at all? If so how?
Yes, being in Africa does influence the work. I’m really interested in afro-futurism – the theories about what happens when you place Africans in a future context; our interactions with science and technology and the place we occupy (if any) in a fantasy and science-fiction world. The modern African regards things such as fantasy and science-fiction as suspect, which I find strange considering how naturally we took to things like animism in our past.
Anyhow, there’s an inescapable tone, color and grit that somehow permeates all the work that’s done around here. I also suspect that even the quality of light in Africa is different. There was a time I tried to escape it and create ultra-clean, cold, future-inspired work because of watching too much Hollywood stuff, but I noticed that there was always that color and texture seeping in. So I’m learning to embrace this undefined quality and incorporate it into any vision I have of an African future.
Who are your major artistic influences?
That’s a long list, but I’ll single out David LaChapelle, Pedro Almodóvar, Bjork and Radiohead – they all work in different media, but I like their common disregard for convention and their love of surrealism (and the camp humor of the first two guys).
Which African artists do you have your eye on?
I was lucky to meet Nii Obodai from Ghana – he’s amazing. He showed me some photos he’d taken with a broken old camera; they looked like abstract paintings – spectacular. Many African photographers feel under pressure to depict all the tough things they see; street-life, war and hardship, but not enough of them take photos of all the beautiful stuff. Try doing a Google Image Search for Africa and the first pictures you’ll see are some civil war somewhere, a drought-stricken refugee camp and if you’re lucky, you’ll get photos of some school kids receiving hugs from a missionary. Sigh.
Any advice you’d give to up and coming African digital artists?
I don’t know if I’m in a place where I can start dishing out advice, I still have a long, long way to go. Give me a couple more years?
Do you have any projects you are excited about and want to share with others?
I just finished TRNSMSSN – a video-art exhibition together with Just A Band; it allowed me to mix photos, animation, music and live action. I really enjoyed that; being commissioned to make pieces without logos and corporate agendas and people seemed to like it. Next up, I’m finishing two more music videos, and then I’ll disappear for the next 3 months to work on a secret project.