Bill Muganda, based in Nairobi Kenya, is a gifted photographer and passionate book lover. Inspired by literature, art and nature, Bill captures moments through the lens in a poetic yet powerful way. With his talent in using colours and movements, emotions and moods are conveyed vividly in his work which deeply connects to others.
How has Covid-19 and lockdown impacted your creative work?
I have been predominantly working from home for the past few years. So I have created spaces at home which have helped my creativity and I do not have to go out and look for things or inspirations which is a blessing. These works are for my instagram account, which I also call it my escape. It is what my world is viewed - cats, books, flowers and plants etc.
As a professional photographer, I also do various projects for small businesses. I enjoy working with others; the energy and feeling of connecting to people are great. However that part has been impacted when Covid-19 started. It was hard as I love discussing creative ideas with people in real life and seeing people’s reaction face-to-face when I collaborate with them because those things cannot to be quite delivered through emails or texts. That makes me realise that I live for interactions. As much as I enjoy creating at home, I love creating things with other people or creating in their spaces, which help me change my perspectives. When learning and observing other’s perspectives, I also add new elements to my own work when I come back home.
All your photos look very homey and beautiful. Does your home naturally look like that? Or you usually stage it for photo-taking?
It is really not! But I like putting efforts into scene setting.
I usually follow the window as I always tell people to follow natural light since it is unfiltered and alway alleviates my art to another level which I did not expect. I have three windows, in my bedroom, living room and office respectively. It depends on my mood and how I want to shoot in that day. If the office is dark and moody, I may find the lighting is totally different in my living room. Then I just have to be patient after setting things up as sometimes my cats jumped into the pictures I did not want them in or I wanted them in but they were less cooperative. However sometimes the unexpected ones turned to be even greater than I have anticipated. So I have learned that sometimes just let it be or even be more effortless as I could, although sometimes I do have to move things around or try different angles.
The combination of the lighting and your objects has created a unique ambience in your work which make people feel very warm and cosy. Do you have any messages that you want to deliver through these pictures?
I read a lot and I gravitate towards moments in the books that are cozy. There are many small things people just forget about or do not pay attention to in their lives. Especially the pandemics made me realise that things and magic moments just pass so quickly. Hence I want to frame my work so people could identify these moments when they look inwards and enjoy the coziness through simple things like opening a book, lighting a candle and chilling with pets. I personally will never be tired of doing these things.
I noticed your coffee pots in the pictures. Do you also drink tea?
Yes, I do, I drink my tea at 4pm everyday. I would stop what I am working on and have a proper time to drink tea. It is a must and I enjoy the relaxation when you allow yourself to rest.
I usually shoot in the morning when I have my coffee. I am a coffee lover too and we have so many amazing coffee producers in Kenya.
Do you have a favourite kind of tea?
I love trying different types of tea and I drink depends on my mood and my body. Just listen to your body!
How do you normally schedule your day?
Sometimes, I am bad at planning but sometimes I am good at planning. I leave rooms for spontaneity. If I do not feel like taking pictures, I let myself indulge into books and forget about instagram etc. If one day I feel good and creative, then I know what I want to present in the pictures. I have learned not to beat myself up to create something.
Somedays when I have projects with others, I go outside and come back with fresh perspective. It is difficult when you constantly create in a limited space where sometimes I have run out of ideas. However somedays you get surprised in the space you are most familiar with.
Your work has evolved in the past few years since you first started posting on instagram. Any turning points which made your style change?
When I first started posting on Instagram, I wanted to meet and connect to like-minded people in different parts of world. In the past three years since I started my account, I have also moved houses, changed jobs, had various projects, and slowly become different compared to my previous self.
Now I want to look into myself and internalise my thoughts, then this cozy feeling in my pictures surfaced out of deliberate design. Calm down and take it easy - that where my brain is now. I did not intentionally change my pictures and I just let it flow gradually and naturally. Subconsciously maybe somethings has changed but I am not aware.
Have you always had this mindset of letting things happen naturally?
Not really. Looking back I am quite different from several years ago. Previously I was all over the place - I was lost and I did not know what I wanted to do. I tried many jobs prior to photography, such as marketing, other kinds of corporate jobs, which did not bring me any joy. Then I realised that I had to look internally and understand what I really wanted to do, that what has driven me to become the person I am now. I was not a Zen person before but I am trying to become one now.
How did you start photography?
I always love cameras and films. I used to watch tons of films, but never thought I could do something creative. So I followed the conventional path - finish school and get a job. One day, I felt that I needed to give a try at least. Hence I started taking pictures with my phone, first take picture of the books I was reading, then moved to other objects. Afterwards I bought a camera which changed everything! I started travelling more, taking random pictures, and doing all sorts of experiments. Later on, I started practicing lighting techniques. I was learning all the time through online tutorials and books. Then I incorporated the skills I acquired in my own shootings. Of course to date I am still learning and trying new things.
If you check out my website which has more work I did for my clients. I still remember the first photography work I did for a local food company, which opened the door to so many opportunities. Honestly I never thought or planned to become a professional photographer. It just happened and I am very grateful.
Do you have a group of photographer friends to exchange ideas or you like create on your own?
Although I have a few photographer friends whom I have met through work, they do very different things from me. I enjoy exchanging ideas and appreciating their work. Kenya has a lot of talented photographers and I love meeting them. But when it comes to my own pieces, I am pretty solitude. I have my own bubble with my emotions, thoughts, self-doubt, self-exploring and so on. Sometimes it could be toxic, but it is also a rewarding process.
How does literature play a part in your life and work?
When I read a book, I have a connection with the writer and I absorb things and emotions from the book. My pictures are like a way-out to take off the things I have absorbed. I love quotes and I interpret these quotes into my images in my style. If I do not consume, I do not create.
Do you take nature pictures for commercial work?
The nature pictures on my websites are not for commercial. Every year, I do a trip with my friends. There are many beautiful places and mountains not far from Nairobi. I hope to explore nature more after the pandemic.
Your instagram has a highlight of rainy days. Is it because you love rainy days?
Yes, rain forces you to stay inside and deal with yourself. I love sunshine, especially sunshine in early mornings. But rainy afternoons are my favourite times, my creativity rockets and I am very productive. I am a rain lover - the sound of rain, the soft light, the whole package really - and I even have a rain playlist on Spotify!
How long have you had your cats?
I have two cats - the white Maine cat came to me five years ago prior to my photography journey, and the ginger one came to me three years ago. They were both abandoned cats previously. I was not even a cat person but cats have their charming side.
Over the years, I have learned about my cats and understood their behaviours. They are very active in early mornings. These are also perfect moments if I want to capture their motions in the images but a lot of patience is needed. I never force them in my pictures.
What does serene living mean to you?
It means being in the moment - no future nor past. It is like when you read a book or listen to good music, you forget about time and have the power to feel every bit that the moment offers.
Do you have a ritual that you do when you are stressed or emotional?
I talk to my family when I feel a bit down or stressed. They live in a different area and every time I speak to them, the conversations helps me to take myself out of things or emotions which trapped me.
Also taking a walk helps. I enjoy listening to audio books or music when I take a walk in the park I live close to.
Could you please give three advice to people who want to pursue serene living?
Firstly, do things that you enjoy doing and not for someone else or other pressure.
Secondly, journaling and writing down your ideas.
Lastly, reserve time to indulge yourself with things you enjoy. I know the concept of self-care sometimes make people think that they have to buy some expensive stuff, but it is really not the case. Listening to a podcast, doing some colouring, or other small things all do the magic.