A morning in Addis

By Tim Kelsall | November, 8, 2013 | 0 comments

I had a few days’ work in Addis Ababa earlier this week, and on the final day I was able to get out and take a few photos. Addis, of course, is one of the oldest cities in Africa, and the capital of the former Ethiopian empire. However, in recent years it has experienced double digit growth, and clearly has aspirations to be a modern African metropolis.


6th November was a religious festival in Ethiopia, and we started off at a modern church in the Bole neighbourhood. In the Ethiopian orthodox system, the church is considered sacred, and worshippers typically offer prayers and kiss the walls and steps before entering. Inside, the faithful prostrate themselves on the carpet of the aisle, palms upturned, before moving to their seats. As I said, this was a modern church, however, and I was very impressed to see the man kneeling next to me take a mobile phone call from his prostrate position.


At the front of the church, officials intone a liturgy to which the congregation responds. Many of the worshippers are wrapped in white shawls or cloaks, and many of the men lean on wooden staffs, which, I was told, represent Christ, as well as being something to lean on during the long service.


Next stop was the Piazza neighbourhood, an old district filled with jewellery shops. Although most had yet to open, the coloured hoardings made a picturesque backdrop for street photos. From there it was on to the vegetable market, and thence to the Merkato, Addis’s biggest market, selling spices, livestock, recyclables, and traditional foodstuffs among other things.


This was a pretty challenging environment in which to photograph. It’s very crowded, and you are constantly having to dodge donkey trains, porters carrying heavy loads,and people generally accosting you.


When I shoot street my rule of thumb is the following: if the street is the subject, just shoot; but if an individual is the subject, get permission for the shot either by asking or using eye-contact.


I’d say about 90% of people in the Merkato didn’t want to be photographed. My guide for the day explained that they were tired of tourists, or else they thought we were going to sell the photos on the internet (if only!), and were therefore like beggars, taking something for nothing. Even when we offered gratuities, most people refused. And very often, a person would agree to be photographed and then onlookers would crowd around and convince them against it. At one point, a woman absolutely screamed at me as I raised my camera to photograph her little teacups. Fortunately, my guide looked after me, and most of our exchanges with people were good humoured. Also, quite a few people did agree to be photographed, and I think I got some quite nice shots.


My advice for anyone visiting the Merkato and trying to take photographs there is to slow down. Take some time to build a rapport with a person before even taking your camera out, then see if they are willing to be photographed. To be honest, that was my plan all along, but somehow in the chaos of the environment I ended up taking a more hurried, and probably less effective, approach.


Our final stop was a traditional coffee house, thick with the smoke of roasting coals and incense, which also made for some good shots, even if playing havoc with my auto white balance!


My guide for the day was Nurelegn Weldemariam. He prepared a good itinerary, looked after me in some tricky situations, and was pleasant and knowledgeable throughout. If you would like to work with him, he can be contacted at minte112@gmail.com


All the photos were shot with the Fuji X-Pro 1 and 18-55mm zoom lens. Click on any photo in the gallery to view in a larger format or slideshow.



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