A unique book that uses photography to get under the skin of a community and will excite anyone who delights in the creative energies of the street.
This photographic portrait of the merchants of Nairobi offers an encounter with a community rarely glimpsed by outsiders. Steve Bloom has ventured away from the centre of this dynamic African metropolis into neighbourhoods where malls and supermarkets have not yet penetrated. Here people buy their daily necessities locally, from small traders in their communities. Shopkeepers decorate their hoardings with hand-painted signs. The results are often delightfully quirky – an authentic form of popular street graphics.
Store façades are painted with images of goods of all kinds, from light bulbs to cuts of meat. Affirmative messages abound. ‘Beauty is your birthright’ proclaims the Eclipse Hair Salon. ‘Never give up’, urges the Bora-Bora Bar; ‘Life continues’. More than one shack hotel wittily declares itself ‘Hotel Hilton’.
‘Ghetto life is not easy’ says the façade of Abdalla Store. Indeed not: life here is very hard. Yet in frank interviews, ordinary Kenyans display extraordinary goodness and charity. Their priorities are faith, family, love and community.
This book is a tribute to the creativity and generosity of the human spirit. It is also timely, for it depicts a world that is changing fast. Hand-painted hoardings are rapidly being obliterated by advertisements for mobile phone networks and other expanding brands. While that is good news for some of the people we meet here, it adds an extra poignancy to this celebration of the resourcefulness and resilience of their lives.
Thames & Hudson
Available November 2009
Talking about Trading Places: The Merchants of Nairobi
BBC South East Today: The Merchants of Nairobi