Raw expression and emotion is what I go for in my photography

Saturday March 02 2019

Mburu Muruthi, a documentary and nightlife photographer known for his rich, emotionally intense photos. PHOTO | BETT KINYATTI


The photos Mburu Muruthi captures seem ordinary. It is in the post-production that he curates them and turns them into timeless art.

Mburu is also a self-confessed perfectionist who obsesses over every acute detail. He has a discerning eye — he can spend over an hour editing one photo. The result of his vigour is a body of work rich in human emotion.

This is Mburu’s story:


Mwaniki Will has been my mentor. He is a wedding photographer. I had been following his work on Facebook and I liked his style and authenticity. One time he was at a restaurant in Karen when I bumped into him. I told him I loved his work. He invited me to tag along to his events. He became my friend, then my mentor. My first camera was a Nikon D610. I bought the body brand new off OLX. Then I got a used 24—70mm lens. The total investment was Sh200,000. I’ve gradually invested in more lenses. Now I use a Nikon D810.

I graduated in 2011 from Multimedia University. In 2014, I did a second degree in development communication at St Paul’s University. I put a pause to it to become a salesman. While at a sales event, I got acquainted to a photographer called Chava. He had a Canon 5D Mark III camera, I’ll never forget. A few days later, he tagged me along to an assignment. He let me shoot. It’s there in Dandora that I was truly inspired to become a photographer.


My gift of photography came with a curse of depression, anxiety and alcoholism.

I’m a documentary and nightlife photographer. My style is to capture the essence, candour and raw emotions of real people. My creativity isn’t controlled; my subjects aren’t staged. I don’t just click the camera and take a photo. I first win the trust of my subjects so they can let me see what they won’t say in words.

I’ve photographed reformed gangsters and drug addicts, female pimps, old retired actors and street boys, porn stars, LQBTQs, revellers uncensored in nightclubs, men on bicycles delivering bread … I reach for diversity.


My childhood made me a more empathetic photographer. I was raised by a single mum in Kinoo, it wasn’t unusual to hear gunshots. I remember when I was 17, it was raining and the cops had just shot a thug. I saw his body on the ground, his blood mixed with the rain and collected in a pool. It was disturbing.

I battled depression and alcoholism for most of 2017 and 2018. It’s because I wasn’t getting support at home; my wife (now ex) wanted me to get a salaried corporate job. I was also struggling to make ends meet. For a photographer, as with any artist, it takes time before the money materialises — most artists give up because they lack this patience.

I had to hang in there because of one of my daughters. Her name is Muthoni, she’s four now. She always asked me to take her photo and was proud to tell her friends I’m a photographer. She still does. She makes me very happy. She’s learning the piano but I’ll buy her a camera one day.

Find some of my work hanging in Kioko Art Gallery and on my Instagram page, @nyuso_za_nairobi.

I was a salesman with Multichoice for about a year from 2015. I was on commission selling decoders — first in Kahawa West then at Kenya National Archives in the CBD. I saved money from this job to invest in my photography equipment.

Muthoni’s was the first portrait I ever took. It was in 2017, she was two. I took the portrait in the backyard of her aunt’s house. I love the photo because of its sentiments, but in terms of skill and technique, it doesn’t live up to what I can do now.

I want to travel around Africa taking photos. I was in Kampala last week, next I’ll go to Tanzania then Kigali. I want to contribute them to Getty Images and Time magazine. Someday I want to run my own library of African stock photos.