An interview with Dean Bradshaw
In August 2016, we traveled to Kenya for a photoshoot. We wanted to capture images of the remarkable women and girls we work with and to tell their stories, their way. But this was no ordinary photoshoot. Known for his dramatic, cinematic style, we invited LA-based advertising photographer Dean Bradshaw to come with us. This is his story.
You must get a lot of requests for photography work. What made you say yes to Amref?
Amref’s work is making a genuine difference to families and communities in Africa and if I can use my images to help in that cause then I couldn’t think of anything more creatively satisfying. I do so many projects for brands and large corporations and to use that same skillset for causes that do real, tangible good for people is really important to me. Photography has the power to draw attention and I want to be able to use my powers for causes that I believe in. Amref’s history and mission to not only provide resources but to teach people so that they themselves are empowered is worth promoting so that they can continue making a difference.
Did your experiences in Kenya differ in reality to what you expected?
I’ve spent time in other parts of Africa before visiting Kenya so I had a vague idea of what we’d experience but one never knows for sure. Nairobi was more modern than I expected with an unexpected layer of decadence as a result of the tourism industry and business investment there. Our time in Turkana, with the Maasai and in Kibera was incredible and I hadn’t too many expectations about those sections to our trip.
Were there any aspects of the trip that were particularly challenging or surprising?
I think the discomfort of bumpy, corrugated roads was beyond what I’d expected. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Australian desert which has some pretty bad roadways, but Kenya took the cake for hours and hours of bone rattling driving - particularly in Turkana.
How did your experience shooting on location in Kenya differ to the type of work you undertake back at home?
At home I’m accustomed to very comfortable environments where i have a large crew of people that manage every element of a photo shoot - from teams of assistants to hair and makeup and styling experts. This trip took me back to the roots of photography, working alone or with the amazingly helpful Amref staff to set up equipment and manage our subjects. I really enjoyed working with our small, intimate team as it made the photography so much more personal and the trip even more memorable. Working on location in the dusty, hot, remote conditions was somewhat difficult and certainly different to the usual commercial work back in the States - but it came with a certain satisfaction when we looked a the images we were able to bring home.
What were the people like to photograph in Kenya and how did you manage to bring their stories to life in front of the camera?
The people we met were amazingly hospitable. I think a big part of that was their relationship to Amref and the trust they put in us knowing that we were working under the Amref umbrella. Gaining trust in subjects, particularly in developing countries and remote communities can sometimes be difficult so it was really helpful to us to come in this capacity. The language barrier was a little tough at times, but the women we photographed were so naturally poised and beautiful that it made the photography much easier. The goals with our photography was to present the proud, beautiful, empowered face of African women and shooting our subjects on a plain white background helped make the process much easier. We worked quite methodically to gather all the assets that we needed.
What have you taken away from this trip? Did you learn anything that will help you creatively in the future?
I was reminded every day of the trip and also looking at it in retrospect how much I love working on projects that really matter and telling the stories of people and projects that are making a positive impact in the world. Africa is my favorite continent and being able to travel through the Kenyan bush to meet and photograph different tribes was a dream project for me. The trip renewed by love for photography and helped me realise the place for these kinds of projects in my life and career. I already have new projects planned that are inspired by what i learned on our trip.
On the trip you met a lot of Amref beneficiaries. What was it like to witness the charity’s work on the ground first-hand?
I think that is one of the most eye opening parts of working with charities. it was incredible to see not only the extent of Amref’s impact - which is considerable, but also how their projects are not just about providing people with free aid they are about empowering people at the community level and giving them the tools to make improvements to their own lives and that of their communities.
The photos captured in Kenya aim to show the people of this region in a different light. Why was this important to you, and how do you think these photos will assist in breaking down the stereotypes often associated with this part of the world?
One of the main goals of the project was to break free from the stereotypical perspective that Kenya and other parts of Africa are conveyed into the outside world. We wanted to focus on the beauty of each of our subjects and portray their individual stories so that the images as a whole would speak to a diverse and empowered group of women. I think that more of this kind of work needs to be done to change the perspective that the Western world has of developing countries, Africa in particular. I hope that we succeeded in our own small way.