Your name and what do you do?
My name is Haytham Bhalo. I am a Corporate Banker working for one of the fastest growing banks in Kenya. Away from the bank, I am a photographer and a community activist.
You have a full-time job, you do photography and have a family, how do you balance all that?
By planning my days, there is no shortcut to it. My career as a banker is very demanding and I must admit it comes first before my other interests. I believe in giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar so I balance photography and blogging around it which leaves it to after 5pm and the weekends. If I get a client, I make it very clear on my availability and why. Otherwise I would jeopardize the quality of my input on every side. But this of course comes with sacrifice like having little time for things like socializing. I think of family as something that drives me as a person, I don’t really have to balance it because it is more of a support system for me.
You have done quite a few start-ups, what made you go in photography?
Oh yes I have! I’ve failed and succeeded. You win some you lose some, that’s life, right? Initially photography wasn’t a start-up but an interest. I have been a creative my entire life and always attracted to imagery. So photography began with my phone. The more I pursued it the sweeter it got. It got to a point owning a DSLR camera felt like the next move to taking my photography to the next level. I thank God I found the means to acquire one and the rest is history.
How did you turn photography into a business?
I was sharing my work through social media and months down the line I would get people expressing interest and requesting for quotations. I would pass it off as no I don’t want to monetize this! I don’t want to spoil my happy place! Then one day my brother, without my knowledge, referred me to a successful aviation school in Nairobi who were looking for a good photographer. They approached me, I hesitated at first until they told me what the offer was like and the Kenyan in me figured what the heck! Pleasure might as well be profitable!
You are from Mombasa but live in Nairobi, How do you compare work ethic between Nairobi and Mombasa?
Compared to Mombasa, Nairobi is a bigger and more mature market. Life is a bit faster in Nairobi, a lot faster to be honest. Nairobian’s sense of urgency is more pronounced mostly because their attitude is more of ‘you snooze you lose’! Again, an average customer in Nairobi is more exposed and generally demands more in terms of quality so you simply can’t afford to be below par. However, Mombasa is not as bad as people are meant to believe. What Mombasa lacks in speed, makes up for it with generosity and warmth. I think people are slowly shaping up and it is just a matter of time.
Tell us more about Haythambhalo.com?
I thrive in learning new things but I also flourish in sharing skills and experiences. I must have been a teacher in a different lifetime. haythambhalo.com is an avenue for me to share my journey through photography. It’s a podium where I share ideas and tips on the things that I have come to know about photography. I also try to reach out to other creators; writers, painters, musicians and the like by providing my insights and reflections into the creative world. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what your art form is, we all share the same creative energy.
Do you think creatives in Kenya are getting enough resources to grow?
Did you know that the top earning YouTuber in 2016, Felix Kjellberg, made $15 Million just from YouTube alone? We have not even talked about sponsorships, endorsement and product sales. Convert that to Kenya shillings and Felix made approximately 4.3 Million shillings every single day during that year. Now, to start a YouTube channel, you only need a phone with a camera and an Internet connection. See where am going with this? We may not get all that we need but we have more than enough. It is high time we stopped whining and focusing on doing what creatives do best, be creative!
If you were given a chance to do whatever you want right now and unlimited resources, what do you picture yourself doing?
Travel the world and make photographs! There are way too many places I wish to visit and tell stories about through photography. I want to explore cities in India, Morocco, Tibet, Thailand, the list is endless!
What advice would you give to a form four student?
That I wish we could trade places. Man, school life is so much easier! And Fun! But I will tell them what I wish I knew when I was in there place. That you realize many years after school and when you are all grown up, class assignments, homework and reading for exams never really go away after school. Only that they then come in the form of responsibilities! Life is all about doing what you are supposed to do. You are in school to study, do just that because it is what is you are supposed to do. If you are to study for one reason and one reason only, let it be because you are practicing to do what you are supposed to do!
God gives us today what is enough to build a bigger tomorrow. That’s the natural law of life. God gives you a seed, water and sand, they seem small right? They are enough to give you a big tree tomorrow. When you look at Felix Kjellberg don’t wonder because you already own an internet enabled camera phone!