Monday, 31 March 2014


A while back, a friend asked me what my favorite photography subject was and without giving it much thought, I said people. Actually, my exact response was that “I love editorial and commercial photography which most often than not involves photographing people.” “What kind, adults or children?” she probed further. “I prefer adults,” I said. “They are predictable and consequently, less troublesome to work with.”
“Inaonekana hupendi watoto,” –“it seems you do not like kids,” she declared and what followed was a lengthy ‘sermon’ of how I should learn to love those “adorable little subjects.” For the record, I do not hate photographing kids. On the contrary, I find it very interesting since unlike adults who are always self-conscious in their character; kids are very genuine –like leather. They truly do not know how to pretend; what you see is what you get.

Very unpredictable
Having said that children especially the small ones; full of curiosity and possessing very slim concentration spans can be very unpredictable and fiddly during photo sessions and will really push a photographer’s patience to the limit. Some will decide they do not like you or your camera and will try to hide or even worse… scream their little heads off! Others will be too friendly and will even want to play with your pricey camera thinking that it is a toy –well, to be fair it is but not for kids! 
Personally, I dread coming across a little fellow who does not know what it means to follow instructions –not even from the parents, since I know my chances of getting a decent image of the kid are as good as gone. Overall, I find taking pictures of children fascinatingly challenging and my little (pun intended) experience over the years has taught me to approach such assignments with an open mind. Besides, they are “adorable little subjects,” right?  

After keenly observing me taking pictures during his friend's birthday, my 
little friend here decided  it was his turn to ‘peep’ through the lens, never 
mind from which side.

Camera - CANON EOS 550D
Focal Length - 20 mm  
Shutter Speed - 1/32 sec  

Aperture - f/3.5 
ISO/Film - 640  
Category - Birthday  
Uploaded - March 31st 2014   

Taken - September 3rd 2011
Location - Sarova Panafric Hotel Nairobi 
Copyright - Stephen Mukhongi/Talkback Studios

Wednesday, 26 February 2014


Can’t believe it’s already a year since my very first post… how time fly's. It just seems like yesterday when I was second guessing whether or not to start a blog. Looking back, I felt like I didn’t accomplish much over the past year, and so I decided to follow Elizabeth Halford advice of “browsing through my hard-drive” to see what I was up to throughout the past twelve months. Looking through all those images, they brought back memories of what a full year I actually had. 

My 2013 in review
  • I finally started a blog (this blog) which was “originally a class project and the intention was to make it more than just that…”  
  • Was part of the team that created The Masterpiece (yearbook) – awesome folks!
  • I learnt a new skill of designing stuff like newspapers and magazines using In-design with amazing results.
  • Through photography, I worked and travelled to new destinations, met and made friends with remarkable individuals - got to work-hard to keep them though.   
  • I discovered writing and I must admit it’s not the easiest thing. In the process I got my work (photos and articles) published; not one’s, not twice but a number of times in different publications with three articles as main stories.  
  • Got chances to photograph some eminent persons including the president.
  • Taught three of my ‘students’ basic photography skills and today I stand a very proud teacher.
  • Wrote 26 posts about photography here on my blog and to date hit approximately 2680 views.
  • Successfully organised a three-day photo exhibition – always wanted to do this.  
  • Finally completed my undergrad and it sure feels great!
  • Covered several events as a freelancer including six weddings (got to double that)    
  • Toyed with the idea of executing my start-up – a photography outfit which am still debating.
Well, those are some of the things that I can remember and while I know the year is not new to make resolutions, it’s not too old not to either. However, my mantra over the years has been: “Don’t say what you’re going to do, just do it and let them see it done,” consequently I have never been a fun of making resolutions but there’s always a first time for everything, right? I vow to make 2014 better and yes… to also quit second guessing! 


Camera - NIKON D90
Focal Length - 40mm 
Shutter Speed - 1/200 sec 
Aperture - f/9 

ISO/Film - 200 
Category - Absruct 
Uploaded - February 26th 2014  
Taken - February 25th 2014
Location - Westlands Nairobi, Kenya 
Copyright - Stephen Mukhongi

Friday, 31 January 2014


We all have our dreams and ambitions; all those things we wish to pull off at different stages of our lives, some are out of the ordinary while other aspirations are undemanding. Some of us at some point wish to compete in a marathon –for fun or even to attend a world cup tourney, some want to learn a foreign language or how to play a musical instrument, others want to star in a movie or better yet make one, while for the business minded, starting a venture like quail farming that would see them ‘rake-in the profits’ is their major desire. Personally, since taking up photography I have always wished for a chance to showcase my images beyond the usual sharing on the Internet; holding an exhibition of my work has been in recent times one of my aspirations. I know myself well and one thing am not is a spur-of-the-moment kind of person, not that I always wait for all the stars to align in order to act on something but I would never hold something like a photo-exhibition just to fulfil an ambition… at least not without a ‘real reason’.
A storyteller
I finally found this reason in my project class where I was advised to undertake a task that “best defines me”. A storyteller is how I described myself; narrating stories through photography and writing and with that, “USIU THROUGH MY LENS: A HISTORICAL JOURNEY” was born. The exhibition sought to literally put in picture the university’s history by showcasing distinctive locations, infrequent moments as well as personalities who in one way or another played a role in USIU’s growth. This according to my concept paper was to be achieved through beautifully created photographs accompanied by narrative on little known facts and history about the university. This was going to be easy! I thought to myself but as I soon found out, there is more to holding an exhibition than just taking pictures and displaying the printouts; it required organising an entire event. Apart from doing research, conducting interviews, taking pictures and post processing the images, adverts also needed to be created, equipment and venue booked, sponsorship acquired, and official invites dispatched among other tasks.
Had doubts
Until the very day of the event, I had doubts whether the exhibition would happen successfully. But there was no going back, for me the task was no longer a class assignment… it became a passion project and it’s then that I understood why Nelson Mandela said: “It always seem impossible until it’s done”. After lots of preparation and support from a very diligent team that believed and shared in the idea, we watched as the three day event came to life.
Over the years, USIU has undergone several milestones to be where it is today. This project 
-USIU THROUGH MY LENS- narrates in pictures some of the institution’s highlights.
A poster advertising the event.

1969: Dr. William Rust, USIU’s founder pursued the prospect of establishing a private American University in an African country. Inspired by his believe that... “International universities would promote the understanding of different nations and cultures and consequently encourage world peace.” USIU was thus eestablished in 1969, becoming the first institution of higher education to be set up after Kenyan independence.

1979: The first USIU commencement in Kenya took place at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre K.I.C.C, where less than 20 students graduated compared with the current figures of over 1000 per year.

The same year (1979) the campus then moved to Second Parklands Avenue (a house) where numbers rose to 95, with 3 full time faculty and 8 supporting staff.

Titus Musyoka – Transport
He came in as a mechanic back in 1979 when the campus was in 2nd parklands. For his job interview he was given a task of repairing a broken down Datsun Omni-bus and later asked by the then Director Dr. Dee Aker to test-drive it from Nairobi to Kisumu.
“The vehicle reached well and I got the job!” says Mr. Musyoka proudly, “and it was my first time to see a bath-tab; I found one in the hotel room I was staying in at the then New Kisumu Hotel.” According to Mr. Musyoka, back then they provided transport to around 100 people compared to approximately 5000 people he and his colleagues serve today.

1981: Dr. Dee (Diana) Aker the first woman to serve as Director moved the campus to the former new Mayfair Hotel where population eventually grew to 250.

Sara Mweu - Library
Joined USIU in 1981 as a secretary and later moved from the switch-board to work under the then university librarian Mrs. Anne Kinara. She was among three ladies sponsored by the school to study library and information studies – librarianship at Kenya Poly-technique, in1995 after the secretary docket was abolished.
According to Mrs. Mweu the university has come a long way; the library was originally located in the current class-rooms’ I-J (1991-1994). “One room was for course text and the other for circulation,” explains Mrs. Mweu, “students could only borrow, since the place wasn’t enough for everyone to sit.
Current class-rooms’ I-J where the library was originally situated.

Joshua Tsisanga – Laundry
Joined USIU staff in 1983, when it was more of domestic laundry, using simple apparatus and only serving a handful of students. According to Mr. Tsisanga the number of USIU staff has significantly increased over the years. “Back then there were a few people,” he narrates, “I used to know each and every member of the staff plus students. Today that’s impossible.”
Mr. Tsisanga has seen the laundry transform over the years to serve an increased number of USIU, community using contemporary laundry machines.

1984: Lillian K. Beam becomes Director of the Nairobi campus heading the university for 10 years between 1984 - 1994.

Francis Kamau Muhindi - Hostels
Joined USIU on 27th September 1985, as a result worked for only three days and got paid. This remains his “most memorable payday!”
Mr. Muhindi started off in the security department then later moved to the hostel reception. “Together with my colleagues we were absorbed in various departments after the university started to outsource security and thats how I ended up in the hostels,” he says.
Mr. Muhindi cannot compare the accommodation at the former new Mayfair Hotel to any other. “The place had the best set up; with carpeted floors, telephone service, and self-contained rooms,” he says.

Mary Were -Laundry
Started work in USIU in 1986 at a time when the laundry staff consisted of a small team. At one point tokens were used to transact business in the laundry, according to Mrs. Were but were later faced out due to ineffectiveness. An old drier that Mrs. Were and her colleagues used to utilise still stands idle at the laundry perhaps as indicator of time past.
Mrs. Were has witnessed many staff members come and leave including one ‘very strict’ lady supervisor called Miriam. “She used to make us do all sorts of odd jobs,” Mrs. Were recalls with nostalgia, “but no one dared to cross her path.”

Julius Manga – Transport
June 11th 1986 was the day Mr. Manga first reported to work in USIU. According to him the university has developed a lot since his arrival. “I witnessed most of the advancements you see around us” he says.
“When we came here,” adds Mr. Manga, “the VC’s office and the building adjacent to the administration block were the only structures present in this entire compound.”  
Mr. Manga vividly remembers the vehicles he and his colleagues used to offer transport with to a much smaller USIU community back then. “There was a green 3-geared Toyota Land cruiser – KQJ 340 and a Nissan oven - KUS 402,” he explains.    
VC’s office was one of only two buildings present when the campus moved to its current location.  

The current quality control office, together with the VC’s office where the only buildings around when the university moved to Kasarani.

Erastus Kiragu - Transport
Joined USIU in 1986 and started by working in the security department, back when the campus was still at the Mayfair hotel.
Mr. Kiragu moved to the transport department between 1998/99. At the time the university owned a 25-sitter mini-bus, two Nissans and two buses obtained from general motors’ compared to now when the department, boasts a total of 14 vehicles,  including 4 buses, an ambulance, and a mailing van.
Mr. Kiragu has seen the entry and departure of several transport providers for day scholars. “Many transport companies existed before Zuku,” narrates, Mr. Kiragu, “long ago there was Vg transport, then came Mittal transport, followed by Kenya Bus, at one point there was Eldoret transport, and not so long ago Budget transport provided the services. 

1989: USIU officially became a registered university along with Daystar University College, East African School of Theology, Kenya Highland Bible College, Nairobi International School of Theology, Pan Africa Christian College Scott Theological College, and University of Eastern Africa.

1990: USIU purchased land in Kasarani belonging to Late Honorable Jeremiah Nyaga through an instalment plan. On the same year the university began pre-university program. 

1991: Began construction of new campus, student population was approximately 220. On 8th October the same year, moved to the Kasarani campus and students population grew to 350. 120 Residential students remained on 6th Parklands Avenue in an apartment complex.

1992: The university opened Lillian K. Beam Library, named after former Executive Director, which originally had a seating capacity of 250 with 30,000 volumes.

Prof. Freida Brown
1994: Professor Freida Brown becomes Executive Director. In an article published in the yearbook Ruby of Excellence Professor Brown highlighted the challenges and criticism the university went through during its history such as “setting up in a house and a hotel, not having 50 acres of land. Being a campus of a foreign university and even… having a woman as V.C.”

USIU Road – Used to be a murram road and vehicles regularly got stuck especially during the rainy season –Remmy Maganga, Transport

1994 also saw the construction of two 128-capacity student hostels, cafeteria, health centre, and laundry. Student population was now at 1200 and 7 full time faculty.
Prof. Mathey Buyu
The very first day of September 1997, was when the current Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC), Academic Affairs, joined USIU and according to him has had unforgettable experiences ever since.
“My memorable year,” recalls Prof. Buyu, “was when USIU nominated me to go to the University of South Florida as an intern.”

Wazee Kwa Vijana rugby match is a long time tradition of the university bringing together USIU Alumni (Wazee) verses continuing students (Vijana). The first edition of this event happened in 1997.
“It is an important event where the ‘wazee’ offer valuable lessons and experience to ‘vijana’ – Prof. Max Muniafu, rugby team patron.

1999: The then president Daniel Arap Moi awards USIU Charter in December, the same year the university went on to acquired 60 acres of land in Garden Estates.

2000: Interestingly enough this is the year student population reaches 2000.

The current School of Arts was originally the main faculties block housing different majors. The building has 40 offices and three administrative suites.

2001: The university constructed the auditorium and purchased 100 acre coffee farm in Kasarani.

The auditorium hosts most in-campus events like educational talks and conferences.

2004: The university constructed Business School or SOB as commonly refered to.

Business School was later inaugurated Chandaria School of Business in 2010.

2007: Constructed a new 10,000 m2 floor space library that holds up to 300,000 volumes; including 165,000 print volumes, 190 journals, 24,000 e-books, 4,600 audio visual recordings and 18 e-databases.

The ultra modern library was officially opened in September 2007 by then president Mwai Kibaki. Apart from it being a source of information, the library also serves as a quite place for individual study as well as group discussions in library carrels. 

2009: The university remodelled Lillian K. Beam Building to house IT labs and journalism labs.

Same year (2009) Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) was launched.

2011: Student population reached 4829; Countries represented 52; 56% female; Full time faculty 83; Retention rate: 86%

USIU’s history depicts one remarkable journey that was started with nothing but a vision. That journey began gradually and gained momentum over the years. To be where it is today, USIU had to overcome many setbacks and remain focused in order to achieve academic excellence, according to Professor Freida Brown: “Excellence is about focusing on doing the right things and doing them right,” 
The university continues to grow; total student population as at summer 2013 stood at 5401 (4564 under-graduates and 790 graduates) with 237 faculty (94 full time and 143 part time) the university has surely come from a far but still got far to go, USIU’s journey has just began…

Visit for more on USIU history 
N/B: The original photos displayed during the exhibition both in print (A3 photo-paper printouts) and soft copies (in a slide-show) will be donated to various relevant departments in USIU and to the respective interviewees.