Behind The Lens with Paul Otieno

Sometimes, when I’m sick and tired of sitting at my dungeonly desk in my equally light devoid lair, I seek out other creative minds. One such mind and a great friend of mine, is Paul Otieno- better known as Pau Shinski.

Most times, we like to build castles in the sky about all the projects we’d like to do if resources and time allow. Yesterday, however, I was in for a treat. Pau was finishing up on a project close to his heart. A personal, passion project to be exact. Now a passion project is exactly one of those I mentioned earlier- given an abundance of resources, you’d make it work, somehow, to capture our imaginations with your heart’s work.

I quickly made time for a chat about this inspiring fictional portrait series, titled Women of the Burning Spear that Pau had undertaken to commemorate Mashujaa (Heroes) Day.

 Why did you decide to give us Women of the Burning Spear?

The Burning Spear is one of the highest head of State commendations in the republic and for me; the characters exhibit the characteristics necessary to receive this award. I decided to create a series centred solely around women who participated in Kenya’s struggle for independence. It also sounded more elegant and majestic than “ Women of the Badass Order”.


Beyond the meaning this project has around Mashujaa and Kenyan heroes, what does it mean to you, as a creative and photographer?

I have had the idea for this project in my mind’s eye for a very long time and the decision to get it done was just my own way of getting over my fear of failure. I feel that I am now more confident in my photography- as a technical skill, as well as my concept generation. Beyond the fact that it’s meant to be really patriotic and uniquely Kenyan, I feel like this body of work is quite experimental in subject matter as well as at an executional level. I love the fact that it straddles the themes of independence, heroes and strong, powerful women so well.


Take me through your work process. What did it take to bring this concept to life?

I had initially wanted to deal with continental characters/ heroines for this project, but as Mashujaa day drew close, I was inspired to pick characters closer home as my way of commemorating this special day. I worked closely with a couple of photographer friends to get this shoot done in about 4 hours or so. Initially I had approached a make up artist and hair stylist to work with the models, but came to realize that the models’ natural hair and beauty suited the theme and respective characters quite well. For this shoot, I wanted women with richly toned skin full of depth and character. This singular focus is what helped me achieve the results I am deeply happy with.

Pau’s work can be found on his Behance Profile.

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