Meet Lyra Aoko, Kenya's Quintessential Millennial Photographer
BY HARUN MOMANYI FOR KUNG'ARA STORE
Lyra Aoko, whose interests range from music to photography, is undoubtedly one of the most forward-thinking millennial artists shaping and curating Nairobi’s creative scene. The 24-year old's dedication to crafting beautiful imagery within Africa has led her to work with East African models, firms, restaurants as well as fashion and lifestyle brands including the Kung’ara store.
Lyra is also a Blaze Kenya mentor, a BAKE award nominee, and her online presence tells it all; she is beloved. Her work is always top notch and evokes a color-conscious visual aesthetic. We caught up with the fervent creator to unearth some interesting things about her. Read on.
Kung'ara: Lyra, you're one of the most recognized urban trendsetters in Nairobi, and your interests range from music to photography. Your creative portfolio and online audience are a testament. Tell us, how did it all start?
Lyra Aoko: My creative journey started when I was very young. I used to sing, dance, paint and more in primary school. My musical side however progressed in High School as I was part of the school choir. I did not know whether I wanted to be a full-time artist at the time but I went with the flow and ended up winning a singing competition and doing music professionally for close to two years. Photography came naturally over time and has always been a part of me and my identity. I started my photography company a year ago and have been creating images ever since.
Kung'ara: Was there any moment in your childhood that you imagined you would be in this position? What memorable moments inspired your career trajectory?
Lyra Aoko: I did not know what I wanted to do growing up so I cannot claim to have always wanted to be a photographer but one thing I knew for certain was that I had a creative side in me. This side has taken so many shapes and forms over the years and it makes me so happy to be part of the creative economy in Kenya. We always had cameras and a million photo albums in my home growing up and this exposure to the craft definitely influenced my decision to become a photographer. Furthermore, I have always had an eye for detail and good visual work and it was just a matter of time before I started creating my own images.
Kung'ara: You are clearly a colour conscious creator we have seen your work with models, The Endo sisters, and Syra Tyra and there is always this irresistibly wonderful pop of color in the aesthetics. What's your philosophy behind your photography?
Lyra Aoko: I have a love affair with colour, their correlation with each other and all the theories related to it. Colour has always been a big part of my identity and ammo as a photographer and I love exploring the different ways in which colour affects the mood of an individual. I love images that pop and make you feel some type of way and this is why I choose the palettes I use in my work very carefully. I also enjoy capturing beauty and showing it to people who do not see it in themselves.
Kung'ara: You've covered major events in Kenya, from movie premieres to fashion shows to art gallery exhibitions! Which has been your most memorable one in your photography career and what would you like to cover?
Lyra Aoko: My most memorable shoot to date was actually not an event or art exhibition. It was the documentary coverage of the NIKE Rift Shoe and the amazing Kenyan artisans that were responsible for making the tie and dye material that was used on the shoe. I spent a week with the women and immersed myself in their process, got to know their stories and created images from the heart which were used in an international campaign. It was wonderful capturing them in their element and I could tell that the images were loved and appreciated both by the clients and the ladies at the workshop.
I love covering humanity. People’s stories and their intricacies fuel my love for my work.
Kung'ara: Who or what is your muse?
Lyra Aoko: I do not have a specific muse. I try and make each one of my subjects a muse during my shoots. The energy the subject brings to a shoot will definitely be seen in the photographs we create. Photography is not just a picture, it is the soul of an individual captured on film. Everyone is my muse!
Kung'ara: You recently collaborated with Google on an art project. It seemed all-interesting. The train ride, the spectacular destination. What was that all about?
Lyra Aoko: The event was an amazing tribute to African Culture at the African Heritage House in Syokimau. Google Arts & Culture is an app that puts over a thousand museums at your fingertips. It’s a new, immersive way to explore art, history, and wonders of the world. Following projects that made Street Art, Performing Arts and Natural History accessible to people all over the world, “We Wear Culture” allows everyone to explore the world of fashion. The Google Arts & Culture team is an innovation partner for cultural institutions. The team works on technologies that help preserve and share culture and allow curators to create engaging exhibitions online and offline, inside museums.
Kung'ara: As a constant active creator, wearing out is inevitable. What do you do to revive your energy and creativity?
Lyra Aoko: I try to focus on other things aside from photography to keep me active and ever creating. Relying on photography alone for creative inspiration is null and void. I dance, travel, eat, visit cool places, interact with amazing people and do many more things which keep me active and inspired.
Kung'ara: Most photographers have a niche whether it’s wedding, nature, fashion or lifestyle. Your niche seems eclectic. On your website, we have seen food reviews, travel reviews. How would you sum up your photography scope?
Lyra Aoko: My website is my personal journal and is more of a diary of my daily escapades and lifestyle interactions. My photography business however is heavily focused on fashion and commercial photography. It is great to have a niche for business purposes but passion will have you shooting everything and anything and that is more valuable in the long run as it is a means of training your eye and skill on an everyday basis.
Kung'ara: You've worked with the most beautiful and talented models in Kenya. Africa-wide or globally, whom would you love to work with?
Lyra Aoko: My experience so far with models has been through my personal scouting efforts. This has made me find and work with the most amazing talents who would have never been discovered in the first place. I can’t really mention a model I would like to work with, but I will know when I see them.
Kung'ara: Your work with Kung'ara Kenya is exceptional. You never disappoint! You deliver beyond expectations. What is unique about Kung’ara that stood out during your collaboration?
Lyra Aoko: Thank you so much. I really appreciate your kind words towards my work and the support which you have shown me on my journey so far. The unique part about my collaborations with Kung’ara is always the pre-planning that goes on before any shoot we embark on. The levels of research that Kung’ara undertakes is not only visual but also meaning-driven which is something I truly appreciate as it helps me understand the shoot direction better.
Kung'ara: How does the future of photography look like in Africa?
Lyra Aoko: It is LIT! It is growing at a very fast pace and I love it! We Africans are taking control of our narratives thanks to social media and easier access to cameras and film equipment. We know ourselves, we love ourselves, therefore, we portray that in a more beautiful and authentic way. It fills my heart with so much joy knowing that we will be in full control of all our visual stories in the near future. Gone will be the days when a foreigner dictates the African landscape from their foreign and mostly negative perspective. I am optimistic about the future of African storytelling through photography. We might have a long way to go but it will happen.
Kung'ara: Why would you recommend a friend to shop with Kung'ara?
Lyra Aoko: I would recommend a friend to shop in Kung’ara because they curate their garments and have good quality clothing items.
Kung'ara: If you were to go pick a friend from the airport on a cold evening, which outfits from the Kung'ara online store would you shop for?
Lyra Aoko: The navy jumpsuit for sure. I love the color plus it looks comfortable too.
Kung'ara: Finally, what's that one thing that keeps you going that you also think upcoming photographers can use to excel?
Lyra Aoko: I work hard and create every day! Upcoming photographers expect their work to be the best on the first try but that is sadly not the case with creative hustles. The more work you put in, the better the results and it should keep getting better and better by your standards.