Kisumu photographer pulls double duty as a coxswain

Victorine Obola the coxswain on the left and the photographer on the right. Photo by Sammy Koech/ Collage by Agnes Rube


When one visits Kisumu city lying on the western parts of Kenya at the shores of Lake Victoria, one cannot miss an opportunity to sample some of its beautiful beaches among them, Dunga beach that is just an 8 kilometers drive from the city center.

Birds at the shores of Lake Victoria at Dunga beach

The beach is alive thanks to various activities going on. However, it is hard to spot Victorine Obola’s small photo studio, despite it being one of the busiest places inDunga. People from all over Kisumu county flock here to capture their memorable moments on the shores of the largest freshwater lake in Africa.

Some are photographed while on the beach while others prefer to have their photos deep into the waters while boat riding. Weekends ushers in a beehive of activities for friends and families who want to experience the cool breeze here, eat fish, or just while away time. 

This is where Miss Obola plies her trade and this has turned her into the most sought-after photographer on the beach. This is manifested in the long ques of people lining up waiting for their photographs to be processed in her studio.

She juggles between her interests in photography and the highly competitive but male-dominated profession of being a coxswain.

Victorine Obola the coxswain at Lake Victoria. /Photo by Sammy Koech

“What happened is that while doing door-to-door photography in the market, I saw a school bus by the roadside,” she says. “I went near it and talked to the driver and requested them if the teacher would want some photos to be taken because it seemed they had come for a tour. So they accepted. They told me they were looking for a photographer but they did not know where to get one. So I got onto the bus, we went to Kisumu Airport, then Kisumu Lakeport took them some photos, then they came to Dunga beach for boat riding,”

She was also fortunate to be admitted by the Dunga Beach Management, to practice her trade here. She however did not know that she would end up also doubling as a coxswain.

Initially, she had been working in a photography studio owned that time by a member of parliament in Kisumu city.

“I had a passion for photography. I decided to go to my member of Parliament who employed me in his studio. I worked there for one year.”

“After that I decided to buy a small camera, using my savings. It cost around Ksh.8000/$80.The first day I went to Kibuye, the jua kali sector, I talked to a few people. Luckily the first day I got Ksh.350/$3.I also took photos of my neighbors.”

After getting a permit to work as a photographer at the beach, she also saw another opportunity. An opportunity to learn boat-riding skills and earn an extra coin.

“Since I had a passion in physics and there are some topics that we were taught in high-school concerning navigation, navigating a ship, I just had the interest and so I talked to some coxswains around to see if they could train me and they accepted.”

But what happens in case there are clients who need their moments at the beach captured on camera and those who need to be boat ridden in the Victorian waters?

“There are so many male coxswains around, but in case I get a customer who wants boat riding, I talk to my fellow photographers to help me as I do the boat riding,” She says.

Her job requires an agile person and who is hawk-eyed to be able to spot clients streaming into the beach. But not just that, one needs to be patient and persuasive to convince them to be photographed and part with some cash rather than using their own phones to do it.

Victorine Obola the photographer at Lake Victoria’s Dunga beach. /Photo by Sammy Koech

“The major obstacle is this era of digital. Personally, I trained using a manual camera, but people come with their phones. You just have to explain and tell them why you want them to use your camera,” Obola submits.

Additionally, she says, with regards to being a coxswain, there are customers who do not have confidence in a woman. But some only want to be taken to the lake by a lady, and if it’s not her turn because they ride these boats in turns, they refuse to go with male coxswain.

Obola however says she faces those challenges in stride knowing that her two jobs help her put food on the table as well as educate her siblings.

Victorine Obola the coxswain on the left and the photographer on the right. Photo by Sammy Koech/ Collage by Agnes Rube

I come from a family of nine. I am the 6th born and I am the breadwinner because I have been able to educate my three siblings in high school and university level using the same photography and boat riding work.”

It has been four years of photography and boat-riding at Lake Victoria. But for the 36-year-old Obola, expanding her territory is her biggest dream now.

The Kenyan government has established a marine school at the Port of Kisumu and Miss Obola wants to take advantage of the institution to hone her boat-riding skills and become a certified coxswain soon.

“If the light of God illuminates my life one day one time, I get a speed boat, after having gotten the certificate to do my own, have my own boat because these ones are not mine.”

“And as for my photography, my ambition is to have a big studio right in the town center with big digital machines plus the latest machines for lamination in bulk so that customers will be coming to do their photo-shoot and get what they want,” she concludes.

As we finish our interview with her, she smiles at the next clients who want to be photographed. She quickly bids us goodbye and tells me that life is to be lived and to be enjoyed but the biggest step is to not fear anything.