Trading Places - The Merchants of Nairobi

A long walk down Kitengela Road, Langata, Nairobi.
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The photographer’s ongoing challenge is to encapsulate life’s experiences in a rectangular, two–dimensional form. In reality, of course, we perceive the visual world as an endlessly unfolding synthesis of images, in which pieces come together and then disperse as our eyes dart around and we move through time and space.

The long photograph of Kitengela Road here captures the hustle and bustle of Nairobi's Langata neighbourhood in a naturalistic, unposed way, giving the viewer the illusion of walking down the road. I started at the Hotel Hilton at the far end on the right, and moved along to the Jeddy Hair Salon, taking a photograph every four paces. I used a 50mm lens, which approximates the field of view of the human eye for the 35mm film format, and a small aperture to maximize depth of focus.

The resulting images were painstakingly stitched together. As the eye moves along the photograph, the viewpoint changes continually, as if the viewer is physically moving down the road. Because we read the image from left to right, the viewer goes backwards in time through a period of about forty-five minutes. Some of the traders, such as the knife sharpener, are seen repeatedly, going about their business in different parts of the road at different times. This image opposes the 'decisive moment' approach to photography, and is more cinematic in its structure.

In the book, this image stretches across the title page and sixteen pages of the introduction. When printed one metre high, the print is about forty metres long.