Makena Mambo is a Kenyan-American photographer, filmmaker and writer based in New York City. Her latest photographic project, A Part of Me, draws on her cultural heritage through a series of soft, elegantly shot images of two close family friends.
After spending her childhood flicking through the pages of National Geographic and snapping pictures of friends and family on her disposable cameras, Makena felt that a professional photography career was the next logical step. “I’ve been photographing on a serious level for about three years now and, over the last year, I moved into the film industry, too,” Makena tells It’s Nice That. “I realised how heavily it resonated with me, to be able to visually tell my truth and document the stories of the people I encounter in day-to-day life.”
A Part of Me is Makena’s most personal project to date. It demonstrates the photographer’s faith in the self-expressive power of art. “As a Kenyan-American, I aim to present a form of my culture encompassed within elements of editorial fashion,” the photographer says. The protagonists of A Part of Me are Emily and Miriam Kinyanjui, a pair of identical twins who have known Makena and her family for most of their lives. “I reached out to their family about my idea and they were delighted to be involved,” Makena adds. “I approached this project with hopes of shooting subjects from within the Kenyan community in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. I wanted to illustrate the beauty of our heritage, as well as to bring visibility of an art presence among ourselves.” Empowerment, pride and community lie at the core of A Part of Me.
Warm hues and thoughtful compositions highlight the tender relationship that Emily and Miriam share. Makena embraces, rather than shies away from, the intimate dimension of the photo series: “I took my first trip home to Kenya this past summer where I stayed for two months. My experience was beyond enriching, so eye-opening and life-changing that it wasn’t until I returned to the US in early September when I felt truly ready to share my work,” Makena says. “Photography is a vessel that can illuminate multiple identities. This is almost sacred to me, and it is central to how I approach my ideas and handle this medium of visual presentation. Through cultural awareness there is greater appreciation and understanding of others, which reveals and reflects the multi-faceted world we live in.”