The man who broke tradition and showed the President's human side and made Kenyans fall in love with Uhuru
Khateli caught the Public and the President’s eye during the Barclays Kenya Open golf tournament, 2016.
Amidst all these holiness and greatness, a woman in a boudoir style still squeezes herself between them, they all have a special place at his home in Langata, Nairobi.
From the Pope to pop culture celebrities all their photos which he took are hanged on his wall, forever capturing the work of his hands by freezing time.
For a man who started his trade in boudoir photography to photographing heads of state he has certainly broken a lot of barriers and tradition on his way up.
Just like across the world, in many African societies, the President is the highest office on the land and most African Presidents have been conditioned to carry themselves with an aura of authority fit for a demigod.
Hawk eyed security detail combined with nervous presidential unit would go to extreme lengths to ensure only authorized photos of the head of state are taken and sometimes with a toothpick laboriously go through the entire album and approve all photos before it is published.
That has been the norm for decades in Kenya at least before President Uhuru Kenyatta come to power.
“You know the president is like this demigod to a lot of Kenyans like the way President Moi was, they will not want to portray the president in bad light, it’s always in good light but not this time” Michael said.
Michael Khateli, one of Kenya’s most sought after photographer is however changing this narrative and breaking state traditions with every click of the Camera.
“I am sure he has seen my photos and the fact that nothing negative has ever come back to me about my photos shows that he really doesn’t mind, I know he has a sense of humour and so he sees the humour in all these photos”
Khateli caught the Public and the President’s eye during the Barclays Kenya Open golf tournament, 2016 when he took a photo of President Uhuru being handed a bottle of Champagne.
Within minutes of sharing the photo it went viral and almost landed him in hot soup and forever changed his career.
“I don’t know about other photographers but for me when you take a picture and then you look at it you can actually feel this is a good photo, like that photo of the President when I took it and I looked at it my first reaction was like okay, I even laughed so deep down you know this picture might be viral, so for that photo I knew it might be viral but I didn’t think it will be that viral. I remember I shared that picture on Sunday night and when I woke up on Monday morning it had gone round through Whatsapp groups even the ones I was in”
For a man who is yet to be officially contracted by the state house to be the President’s main photographer he has none the less caught the attention of the house on the hill and demystified the President.
“I have never been officially contracted by President Uhuru Kenyatta communication team to be his main photographer, what happens is if I go to events and he is there, apart from me being a photographer I also have a blog so I look for content for my blog so I will take photos of whatever I am told to do but then I will also do my side photos for my blog”
Before Uhuru come to power in 2013, there were only a handful of photos of him online, all of which were official and average at best. However, thanks to Khateli the picture is completely different today and the internet is awash of photos of President not just as a president but a husband, a father, a son and just like any other another Kenyan.
“For me I want to show his human side, yes he is the President but he is also a human being with feeling and stuff that is why I take pictures of him I can’t say awkward but things that shows he is a human being just like you and me”
One must however never lose sight of the presidency office stature in their quest to make the president appear human and related since the office of the presidency is held in high regard, Khateli a master of crafts has mastered the art of balancing between humanity and responsibility making sure not to degrade or lower the integrity of the highest office in the land whenever President Uhuru comes under his focus.
“I always go back to my background which is Public Relations (PR) and when we were learning PR we were told whatever picture you take ask yourself can this photo be published? And if this photo is published will you be proud of that picture, supposed someone came across my camera and leak my photos would it tarnish my name and other peoples name as well? so I always try as much as possible to make sure each picture I take not just of the President is something I can be proud of later, I always keep that at the back of my mind”
The 33 year old father of one reveals the key strategy he normally uses whenever in the company of Uhuru to ensure virality of his photos.
“If you check the photo of the President you catch him unawares, when I go to events I always try to be invisible so that I can capture people when they are unaware and in their moments and not conscious of the camera those are usually the best photos because that is when you get raw emotions”
His extensive and exemplary work saw the Jubilee administration during the campaign season to contact him for a photo which would sell Uhuru’s down to earth personality, something which would resonate and connect with Kenyans as he drummed up support for his re-election.
“About Uhuru ni wetu (Uhuru is ours) photo on billboards across the country I was called by Jubilee and told we have seen your picture, we like the picture can we use for a billboard and that is how my picture ended up across the country"
Since then, Khateli has continued working closely with the President’s communication team to the point that he was contracted to fly with the national team during 2014 Fifa world cup held in Brazil courtesy of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“my biggest event that I will forever cherish is going to brazil with the national team after the President sponsored Harambee Stars to watch the World Cup, I was told to go and take photos that document the whole trip from the moment we left Kenya, that was high for me and I will forever cherish that moment”
For a man many Kenyans have only seen on TV or had brief interactions, Khateli says the President is indeed a human being with emotions just like 48 million ordinary Kenyans.
“I have never worked with him directly he has a communication team that handles who does what and so forth but when I have gone for events where he is around. For example last year when the Kenyan Rio team went to the State house to be given the national flag I was there and he is a down to earth person, he will interact with people, take selfies and hug people, you know he is like your boy he is really a down to earth person until you even forget he is the President, it is only the security that will remind you he is the president”
In future Khateli would love to add a portrait of Vladmir Putin on his ‘wall of fame’ alongside more human photos of Uhuru Kenyatta.
“I would really love to take a portrait photo of Russian President, Vladmir Putin for me i think he is the most powerful person in the world and I know a few years from now he will really be a big deal”
“I would also really love an opportunity to work with the President but not as his official photographer on his official duties but his other lighter side like capturing him going about his normal life and doing normal things that an ordinary human being does, I will love that”
He also won’t mind following in the footsteps of the 43 President of USA main photographer whom he considers a mentor.
“I admire how Barrack Obama photographer, Peter Souza take photos, the photos are sub-conscious there is no pausing he captures you in your true element like the way he made us love Obama through his photos”
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