Where Travel + Street Meet. A personal and widespread look into the world of Street Photography. Learn about Street Photography and Travel the World through the eyes of Street Photography. Join me as I travel the world on different photography projects one city at a time.
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* “Master Profiles” is a series profiling all the great photographers of uncontrolled life. Unlike the rest of the blog, I’m doing these in a straight profile format to make it easy for quick access to facts, quotes and knowledge on all the masters. I’ll also group them together here every time I add a new one. Profile: Rene...
* “Master Profiles” is a series profiling all the great photographers of uncontrolled life. Unlike the rest of the blog, I’m doing these in a straight profile format to make it easy for quick access to facts, quotes and knowledge on all the masters. I’ll also group them together here every time I add a new one.
Rene Burri (1933-2014)
Swiss photographer known for his work covering a range of subjects, locations and events.
Born: April 9, 1933 in Zürich, Switzerland
Growing up in Zurich, Switzerland, Rene studied there at the Zurich University of the Arts, where he worked under Johannes Itten, among others. While his interests started in documentary film-making, he also sparked an interest in photography during the military with his Leica rangefinder. After the military and working for Disney as a cameraman, he traveled to Europe, the Middle East and Latin America with his Leica. He worked on different reportages and series for publications including Life Magazine, Look Magazine, the New York Times, different Swiss periodicals, and others. His first report,“Touch of Music for the Deaf” on deaf-mute children, was published by Life and his photographic essay from Argentina titled “El Gaucho” appeared in Du Magazine. He also became known for his portrait work, which included the famous painter Pablo Picasso, who Burri formed a personal friendship with.
In 1955, Rene became an associate of the prestigious Magnum Photos agency, becoming a full member in 1959. Some of his most famous work came in 1963 when he was asked to photograph Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara during an interview, while already working in Cuba. Below is one of his iconic shots of the cigar smoking Che.
Going back to his early interest in film-making, Burri helped create Magnum Films in 1965 and filmed The Two Faces of China, produced by the BBC. In 1967 he produced a documentary on the Six-Day War in Jerusalem for German television.
While Burri said he never thought he’d become a photographer, he won commissions from The New York Times, Paris-Match and the Stern, while photographing around the world, from South Vietnamese troops and the building of the Berlin Wall to the landscapes of urban Brazil and John F Kennedy’s funeral. Burri was elected chairman of Magnum France in 1982, won the Dr. Erich Salomon Prize from the German Association of Photography in 1998, and named an honorary fellow of The Royal Photographic Society in 2002.
René Burri passed away on October 20, 2014 at the age of 81. He left an archive of near 30,000 pictures to the Musee de l’Elysee in Lausanne.
At the age of 13, he took one of his first photographs of Winston Churchill driving past him on a local street in an open-topped car.
- Wide range, from portraiture and life to landscape and geometry.
- Mostly black and white, but some color work, as well
- Geographical and political subjects and events
- Strong focus on style, geometry, light and other compositional elements
Gear: Leica M Rangefinders / Summicron-M 35 mm & 50mm / Tri-x & Ektachrome E-2
For much of his career, Rene used a Leica M3, along with other Leica rangefinders (IIIF, M2, M3 and MP, later switching to digital with the M9 and M9-P). Earlier in his career, he shot most with a Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 SAMWO, but also regularly used 50mm, in addition to other focal lengths, from 20mm up to 135mm. When not using Leica, Rene was known to shoot with a Nikon F and the Pentax Spotmatic camera, which he liked using the Takumar 135 mm f/2.5 lens with. During his days of shooting film, he mostly preferred Kodak Tri-X for black & white and Ektachrome E-2 for color, before later switching to digital.
“One of these days, I’m going to publish a book of all the pictures I did not take. It is going to be a huge hit.”
“My photography is the result of being there at the right moment.”
“The camera has always been a magic wand for me, giving me access to places where I could try new experiments.”
“I think that’s the strength of photography – to decide the decisive moment, to click in the moment to come up with a picture that never comes back again.”
“Everyone takes pictures, so you need to have your own opinion.”
“For me, Picasso was the ultimate man. He taught me that photography is all about how you approach an image: what you do and what you don’t do. He inspired me to go beyond what you think is in front of you.”
“In 1958, a year before the revolution, Magnum wanted to send me to Cuba because they had contacts with the rebels. I’d just spent six months in South America and said ‘No’, so I missed everything.”
“A photograph is a moment – when you press the button, it will never come back.”
“What counts is putting the intensity that you yourself have experienced into the picture. Otherwise it is just a document.”
“I suddenly had to chase after my pictures… Pictures are like taxis during rush hour – if you’re not fast enough, someone else will get there first.”
“It took me six years to get close to Picasso. I learnt a lot from him, and he was an absolute genius. He almost became my grandfather at the time. It was like he was a magician or something.”
“If you are truly successful in capturing the pulse of life, then you can speak of a good photograph.”
“A digital camera has to be kept in check like a racehorse.”
“To some extent, the cult surrounding black-and-white photography is based on nostalgia.”
Related Photographers to Check Out:
*A series of guides on shooting Street Photography in cities around the world. Find the best spots to shoot, things to capture, street walks, street tips, safety concerns, and more for cities around the world. I have personally researched, explored and shot Street Photography in every city that I create a guide for. So you can be...
*A series of guides on shooting Street Photography in cities around the world. Find the best spots to shoot, things to capture, street walks, street tips, safety concerns, and more for cities around the world. I have personally researched, explored and shot Street Photography in every city that I create a guide for. So you can be ready to capture the streets as soon as you step outside with your camera!
Situated in one of the most picturesque spots you’ll find anywhere for a large city, there’s no denying Cape Town is good-looking. Nicknamed the “Mother City,” Table Mountain dominates the background with endless beaches to explore along the coastlines. With all of its natural beauty, it’s not surprising there’s a very outdoorsy feeling here, but along with its natural beauty, you’ll find one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. All this is mixed in with an urban atmosphere and plenty of history, making it one of the more unique cities in the world. For street photography, you have natural beauty mixed with urban edge and some of the most beautiful light around too.
So here’s a Street Photography guide so you can be ready to capture all that Cape Town has to offer before you even arrive!
- Bo Kaap / Long Street / Market
- Camps Bay (Hout Bay further south)
- Muizenberg / St. James Beach / Kalk Bay (Simonstown further south mostly boring, except Penguins)
- Woodstock (Obz nearby)
Top 5 Street Spots:
1. Bo Kaap / Long Street / Market
Bo Kaap, formerly the Malay Quarter, is a former township on the slopes of Signal Hill near the city center. One of the oldest sections of the city, this historical neighborhood is known for its colorful buildings, architecture and cobblestone streets. The bright colors attract visitors for pictures, but there’s culture and character found here too, which makes it an interesting spot to come explore with your camera.
The popular Long Street is a quick walk from here, providing maybe the busiest street in the city. Lined with restaurants, bars, bookstores and more, it attracts most of the tourists that come downtown. Always busy, it doesn’t stop at night when it becomes the city’s most popular spot for nightlife too. Nearby, you’ll also find Greenmarket Square, one of Cape Town’s oldest markets, filling the square and connected street with crafts, clothing, jewelry, souvenirs and other items. Bo Kaap, Long Street and Greenmarket are all located together within an easy area to walk for street photography, so I’d recommending spending some time exploring it all.
2. V&A Waterfront
What’s the most visited attraction in Africa? Egypt’s pyramids? No. The Serengeti? Nope. The most visited attraction in all of Africa is a shopping complex. Not only surprising, but kinda sad if you ask me. I’ll be honest, though, calling it a shopping complex isn’t fair. It’s situated in South Africa’s oldest working harbour, containing 300 acres of retail outlets and ocean view restaurants, working fishing boats and container ships, street performers and more. It’s as touristy as it gets, but guarantees non-stop activity with the ocean on one side and the backdrop of Table Mountain on the other. And people love it, obviously.
This all makes it the place nearly every local recommends first for street photography. I understand why with all that activity, but for me it just isn’t that interesting for photography (But that’s me!). A good place to go for fun with friends, but extremely touristy and inauthentic today, in my opinion. But that’s just my opinion and plenty of others will love it for street photography. You have an outside shopping and entertainment atmosphere with plenty of people, street musicians, nice backdrops, boats and other interest so it is worth checking out. And many of you will keep coming back for more.
3. Camps Bay (Hout Bay further south)
Camps Bay is probably my favorite beach area to come for street photography in Cape Town. It’s huge, fills with a mix of locals and foreigners, has a variety of beach atmosphere and terrain, has a very active Main Street, and includes a beautiful backdrop of the Twelve Apostles, Table Mountain’s jagged backside. Camps Bay is an affluent suburb of Cape Town that you can get to by bus, around 10 minutes from the center. If you have all day and like to walk like me, you can also walk there and pass a variety of other beaches.
Camps Bay is the highlight of Cape Town’s Atlantic coastline for me, though. When it’s nice out, there’s just so much life everywhere here. The sandy beach, natural pool, rocks, grass, concrete football/skateboard park, and more fill with people enjoying life. Families, tourists, friends, and children come here to relax, unwind or get active. The last couple of hours before sunset, especially on the weekend, are really great here. The light, scenery and life really come together beautifully for photography at Camps Bay.
4. Muizenberg / St. James Beach / Kalk Bay (Except for Penguins, Simonstown further south is mostly boring, imo)
This section of beaches lie south on False Bay, around 45 minutes on the train away from the city center. That sounds long, but Cape Town is spread out and it’s worth making the easy and cheap trip due to the amount of beach areas to explore.
Muizenberg is one of the most famous surfing beaches in the world. It’s also the location of all those colorful clothes changing beach huts you see in photos from Cape Town. You’ll of course see plenty of surfers here, but non-surfing tourists love it too. There’s a nice, large concrete area by the beach that fills with activity, and a few streets to walk around with a surfer atmosphere. Down along the coast, you’ll find St. James Beach next, a small beach with colorful huts of its own. Then a little further and you’ll walk to Kalk Bay, a small fishing harbour that’s become a trendy spot with restaurants, shops and more. It’s touristy, but has some charm. If you continue walking, you’ll hit Fish Hoek, another fishing harbor with some interest. From here, if you want to go all the way down to the famous Simonstown, you’ll need to take the train. Simonstown is famous for its penguins. Crowds of tourists come down here, but I honestly wouldn’t give it a recommendation for street photography, unless you really love penguins.
This whole coastal section of beaches are filled with a mix of history, character, color and some of the city’s most known scenes. If you’re in Cape Town, it would be crazy to not make the trip down here to check it out with your camera at least once.
5. Woodstock (Obz nearby)
Woodstock is Cape Town’s oldest suburb. A century ago, Woodstock was a fast growing working class industrial town, but later hit bad times and turned into a poor, run down and crime ridden neighborhood. Over the last decade, though, it’s changed dramatically, becoming a hipster hotspot. Similar to other gentrified hipster neighborhoods around the world, you’ll find a vibrant blend of art, design, food and fashion with the edgy character of its past mixed in. There’s still a lot of diversity and mix of cultures found here, though, and plenty of local life. While it has been changed and cleaned up quite a bit, it’s still not completely safe feeling, as you will wander into spots that look like before if you explore enough. Overall, though, I found this one of the more interesting neighborhoods to shoot in. There’s a rough, but photogenic mix here, with graffiti and hipster influence next to its gritty, slightly run down past. Do be careful once outside the streets lined with cafes and hipster hangouts, even though I did find these areas the most interesting and authentic.
Sample Street Walk:
For a full day of Street Photography, covering some of the best spots, you can follow this sample street walk for Cape Town:
- Start your morning walking around Bo Kaap, Long Street and Green Market in the center
- Then walk northeast to the V&A Waterfront and explore the whole area
- From here, you can walk past the lighthouse to Three Anchor Bay
- After you’re done with this area, take the MyCiti bus south along the Atlantic coast to Camps Bay (3)
- Finish your day exploring this huge area around Camps Bay (3) and make sure to catch the amazing sunset before heading back home
3 Things I’ll Remember Most about Photographing Cape Town:
1. Those Backdrops
Capetown might have the most impressive backdrops of any big city I’ve been to. Rio de Janeiro is hard to beat looking from above, but down on the ground, it doesn’t get much better than here for an urban landscape. Everywhere you go, you have a background of picturesque mountains behind the city buildings or beaches. It’s most known for Table Mountain, a very impressive and uniquely flat-topped rock structure the covers much of the city, but that’s not all it has. You also have Lion’s head, a grassy hill with a rocky top shaped reminiscent of a lion, and then next there’s Signal Hill, another picturesque grassy hill that reflects light nicely. And a little further, you have the very impressive Twelve Apostles Mountain Range, a long rocky structure extending from Table Mountain to the southwest. Having all these amazing backdrops will make many photographers excited. Even if you’re shooting street, it doesn’t hurt to have this in the background.
2. Endless Beaches
One of my favorite parts of Cape Town are its endless variety of beaches to explore for photography. Many of them have their individual character and different atmospheres, while usually having some interesting streets to explore too. If it’s nice out, they’re guaranteed to be active too, especially on the weekends. Not only are they interesting, unique, and active, but they’re also beautiful, especially for a large city. And those mountain backdrops only make the beaches more impressive.
You’ll find a mixture of golden sand and grey rocks that give that African beach look, but the natural rock pools can be some of the best for capturing life. Children, and even adults, come here to jump in the pools, climb the rocks and lay out on the hot stone. Most of these are found on the Atlantic (west) Coastline. In beaches like Camps Bay, my favorite beach, you’ll even find a large pond in the middle of the sandy beach where people can swim. Most of these beaches attract plenty of locals too, and on the weekend you’ll see family, friends, children and young couples all here enjoying picnics, recreation and some relaxation. Then on the False Bay (south) Coastline, you’ll find some of the old fishing villages, like Kalk Bay and Fish Hoak, and Boulder’s Beach in Simons Town, famous for its penguins. And of course you have Muizenberg, famous for its surfing and colorful beach huts.
While I already named most of them above, below is a list of some the beaches I’d recommend in Cape Town for photography:
- Sea Point
- Camps Bay
- Hout Bay
- St James
- Kalk Bay
- Fish Hoek
- Three Anchor Bay (no beaches, but a large green space with a promenade and outside gym overlooking the ocean)
3. Mix of edge/danger in all that beauty
As beautiful as Cape Town might look from a distance, it’s still clearly in South Africa when you get up close in many places. Danger and edge is very much a part of the city, which is made even clearer when you look at crime statistics. It’s picturesque and touristy with a great atmosphere, but you need to be careful. That edge, found throughout the city, creates an interesting contrast to Cape Town, though. It might not be for everyone, but if you explore, it provides great character too. Table Mountain, beaches, tourist attractions mixed with graffiti, abandoned buildings and a cautious vibe on foot.
What To Do For a Street Photography Break?:
Climb Lion’s Head
If you’re here, you have to climb Lion’s Head. While Table Mountain is the symbol of Cape Town and provides great views at the top too, nothing beats the top of Lion’s Head. The climb to the top is fun too. Get up before sunrise and easily trek up the grassy hill until you get to the rocks where the fun starts. While climbing up boulders and rocks this high might seem intimidating, you’ll see 60 year olds going up along with you. I usually stick to street photography, but on my last day here I couldn’t leave without trying it and it was the most enjoyable quick hike and view I’ve had anywhere.
Street Safety Score: 4
*As always, no place is completely safe! So when I talk about safety, I’m speaking in general comparison to other places. Always take precaution, be smart, observe your surroundings and trust your instincts anywhere you go!
Cape Town might be one of the most photogenic cities in the world, but this is still South Africa so crime rates aren’t so pretty. Unfortunately, South Africa statistically has some of the highest crime in the world and Cape Town usually sits at the top in the country. While I feel much safer in Cape Town compared to Johannesburg, not all statistics back this up. I think one of the main reasons for this feeling is that in Cape Town you have more relatively safe areas to explore. It’s more touristy and there’s more focus to keep those areas safer. You still get warned by locals quite a bit here, but during the day, most of the areas I recommended above feel safe enough, except maybe some parts of Woodstock. You just have to keep your street smarts going at all times and as one local told me, you need to be “vigilant” if exploring the city on foot. The beaches felt especially safe, while other areas require extra observation to your surroundings. Just be careful and you should be fine, though, just like me. At night, though, I’d recommending using Uber at all times for transportation.
People’s Reaction Score: 6.5
Cape Town feels almost average for street photography reactions. South African locals give Cape Town a less friendly reputation compared to Johannesburg, which I would agree with, but that has more to do with Johannesburg’s big city friendliness than Cape Town being unfriendly. It’s fine here and you shouldn’t feel it much worse than most other cities. Maybe a slight negative feeling towards candid captures, but nothing to worry about. Be cautious in sketchier areas where people don’t want to be photographed for understandable reasons and you should be fine.
Cape Town is big and spread out, take the train
Cape Town feels really big, especially with Table Mountain right in the middle of it all. This means not only are many places spread far apart, but sometimes you’ll also have to go around the mountains to get there. Except for right in the center and waterfront, it’s not the most walkable city. You will need to take plenty of transportation if you really want to see what this city has to offer for street photography.
For example, one of the most popular areas to visit, which I’d also recommend for photography, is down around Muizenberg/Kalk Bay. This is a 45 minute train ride one way from the center. If you’re going to rent a car anywhere, this would be the city. But if you’re like me and don’t, then the train is really your only option without breaking the bank for a taxi/uber when going south. The MyCiti bus can be another decent option if you’re staying up around the city center to Camps Bay/Hout Bay. You just have to make sure you account for extra time with either option.
Don’t cram too much in, Pick a spot and work it
As I just explained in the last tip, Cape Town is spread out and Table Mountain makes it feel even more so. You’ll be in slow-moving transportation all day if you try to fit multiple spots in. So, I’d also recommend not trying to fit too many places in one day. I’d choose one area that includes multiple nearby spots and make it a day’s focus to explore there. I also tried to bunch them together for you above.
Starting early is also smart, while making sure to head back earlier than normal to give yourself time to make it home before dark, when Cape Town can be much more dangerous exploring.
Uber is a game changer and life saver in South Africa
Uber is a game changer in South Africa. The difference it makes here for safety and transportation is bigger than any country I’ve been to. While Cape Town feels much safer than Johannesburg, it’s still definitely not as safe compared to most other cities in the world. You have to watch out here if you explore around. Locals will always make it sound more dangerous than it is, but there are plenty of areas where you can feel and see the danger. Muggings are not uncommon, especially at night, and this is still South Africa. Combine this with how Cape Town can feel spread out, you’ll need to use to transportation.
Unfortunately, taxis in South Africa can sometimes feel more dangerous than walking around the city. Many of the drivers are criminals using this as a cover up job or side job. They’re not always friendly and if you’re unlucky, there’s always a chance something could go wrong. At the very least, they’ll try to rip you off. Fortunately, Uber solves all these problems. They’re much safer due to Uber’s background checks and strict guidelines. They’re friendly, comfortable and even quite a bit cheaper. Using Uber is a no brainer here. Only one bit of warning is that taxi drivers aren’t too happy about losing their business so sometimes they will attack Uber drivers. I didn’t have a problem, but the Uber drivers are sometimes worried depending on the area they’re in and might not pick you up or drop you off in certain areas.
It’s impossible to look at pictures of Cape Town and not want to visit. If you expect a picturesque city unlike another in the world, that’s what you’ll get. You’ll also find a mix of cultures, plenty of South African edge, and a very urban city in the middle of all that beauty surrounding it. There’s a variety of terrain, character and scenery to explore in a large city, making it a great place to visit for some street photography. As all those skyline photos show, there’s no city like Cape Town. And luckily, that rings true for exploring its streets, landscape and life on the ground with your camera too.
I hope this guide can help you go experience Cape Town before everyone else does discover it, though. So grab your camera and capture all that Cape Town has to offer for Street Photography!
If you still have any questions about shooting in Cape Town, feel free to comment below or email me!
(I want to make these guides as valuable as possible for all of you so add any ideas on improvements, including addition requests, in the comment section!)
*A new interview series with a play on “20 questions,” where I try to mix it up with different questions. Some serious, some not so much. I’ll also be focusing the series on some of the best street photographers from the cities I visit around the world during my 100 Cities project. I photographed Amsterdam earlier...
*A new interview series with a play on “20 questions,” where I try to mix it up with different questions. Some serious, some not so much. I’ll also be focusing the series on some of the best street photographers from the cities I visit around the world during my 100 Cities project.
I photographed Amsterdam earlier during my 100 City project, but have yet to do a local interview for the city. Until now. When it comes to photography, Amsterdam brings its crazier, anything goes side that its known for, but also a scenic, charming side that provides two very different atmospheres blended together. When it comes to local photographers, Amsterdam also brings the talented Julie Hrudová. While born in Prague, she’s called Amsterdam home for years and it’s where her photography career has really grown.
Much of Julie’s work gives a surreal and mysterious feeling. There’s a playful atmosphere mixed with humor and a slight strangeness to it all. Many times, her scenes bring questions that keep the viewer looking and wondering. Her unique eye for the obscure and how to capture and play with reality in her own way recently awarded her at the Italian StreetPhoto Festival, as well as being named the 2017 EyeEm Street Photographer winner.
So now to learn more about her, it’s time for 20 Questions in Amsterdam with Julie Hrudová…
20 Questions with Julie Hrudová
Before we get to the 20 questions, please introduce yourself. Your name, where you’re from and one interesting thing about you?
1. What is your earliest memory of photography?
2. What do you think drew you to your preferred subjects in photography?
3. What advice would you have given yourself when first starting in photography?
4. How would you describe your photographic style and what you look to capture?
5. Describe how you approach photography when out shooting?
6. When you’re looking at a photo, what makes a photo good, or even great?
Not So Serious Questions:
7. You get one superpower for photography, what would it be? (You can’t choose invisibility!)
8. You also get 3 photography related wishes, what are they?
- More international assignments and exhibitions
- Exhibit in public space
- Making more series and projects
2 Speed Rounds (Give the first answers that come to mind!)
This or That: (pick one)
9. Instincts or Planned?
10. Gritty or Pretty?
11. Single Photos or Series?
12. Inspirational Photographers (Past or Present)
- Lars Tunbjork
- William Eggleston
- Nick Hannes
13. Important Qualities for a Street Photographer to Have
- Ability to predict situations
14. Non-photographic interests
- Horses (at times and only outdoors)
- Crossword puzzles
15a. Where do you like to photograph most in your city, Amsterdam, and why?
15b. Originally from Prague, have you gone back since for photography and do you have any projects or interest in exploring this home region photographically?
16. I’ve read in prior interviews that being able to have the instant feedback of digital photography is important to you and helps you make the photos you want to take. What about this is important and helps in your photography process. And do you still find it important?
17. Many of your photos have a strange, almost surreal feel. Flying and floating objects are two interests you have in photography, while folklore is another. What do you think attracts you to these subjects and feeling?
18. I really enjoy your “Leisure” series. Can you talk a little bit about it and how it started?
It started with single images and now the series is developing very slowly as I’m very picky to what images to add. They are all unclear in their own way and there is a certain atmosphere binding the series. The subjects are ‘relaxing’ almost by coincidence.
I can say that these images are core to what I want to do with photography.
Behind a photo:
19. Pick a photo of yours that you remember capturing and share any memories you have attached to it.
The Final Question:
20. You have only 3 photos left on your last roll of film.
- In the first direction, you see a group of children wearing zoo animal masks
- In the second direction, you see a bachelorette party waiting at the bus stop
- In the third direction, you see a group of construction workers arguing
- And in the last direction, you see a political rally
The light is perfect at all 4 locations. What do you do?
Another big thank you to Julie for the interview, and for anyone who would like to see more of her work, check the links below!
After South Africa, I took a flight up to Ethiopia, starting in major city #48 Addis Ababa on the 100 City project. Being by far the country’s largest city, many visitors more interested in the rural, less traffic-filled side of the country don’t spend much time to get to know Addis Ababa. Beneath its chaotic and rapidly...
After South Africa, I took a flight up to Ethiopia, starting in major city #48 Addis Ababa on the 100 City project. Being by far the country’s largest city, many visitors more interested in the rural, less traffic-filled side of the country don’t spend much time to get to know Addis Ababa. Beneath its chaotic and rapidly growing urban sprawl of an exterior, I found a mix of history, tradition and interest meets big city life. The colorful old character of Piassa and the the largest open air market in all of Africa, Addis Merkato, were two areas alone that made it worth exploring with my camera.
So, here’s 33 photos that I was able to capture during my time in Addis Ababa…
33 Street Photography Photos from Addis Ababa
For more info on Addis Ababa, be sure to check out my first impressions from a street photographer’s perspective. And stay tuned for one of my City Street Photography Guides to Addis Ababa.
Have you photographed Addis Ababa before or do you plan on it someday? Let me know about it in the comments below!
And let me know which photos you like best too!
After finishing a couple major cities in South Africa, I took a flight to Addis Abba, major city #48 on the 100 City project. Ethiopia has become one of the more popular destinations for travelers to explore in Africa. For good reason too. It’s welcoming, safer in comparison to much of Africa, beautiful and full...
Ethiopia has become one of the more popular destinations for travelers to explore in Africa. For good reason too. It’s welcoming, safer in comparison to much of Africa, beautiful and full of unique interest and life. Addis Ababa tends to be included as nothing more than Ethiopia’s big city transit destination, though. While most come for the more rural side of Ethiopia, this chaotic, traffic-filled sprawl can be overlooked. Underneath that less pretty urban exterior is much more than first meets the eye, though. My project focuses on big cities and one of the many reasons for that focus is to see, and show, how much more major cities offer than their stereotypical first impressions. The truth is there is color and beauty to be found, and much more. And as Africa’s fourth-largest city and its diplomatic capital, it’s by far the country’s largest and most influential city. It’s a very complex city that mixes the urban atmosphere with Ethiopia’s rich traditions and history. With the largest and craziest open air market in all of Africa, you already have enough reason to bring your camera for some street photography, but that’s just the start if you really explore this active city.
So here are my first impressions of Addis Ababa, from my personal Street Photographer perspective…
7 First Impressions of Addis Ababa
(From a Street Photography Perspective)
1. The big Ethiopian city many skip
When most people travel to Ethiopia, they want to explore the country, which usually means skip the big city. At around 4 million people, Addis Ababa is easily the country’s largest city. Since my 100 City Project focuses on major cities, it was a must for me, but since it’ll likely be your gateway into Ethiopia, I can honestly recommend giving it some time too. I like exploring and finding more to the city than first glimpse and Addis rewards this. It is a big city and doesn’t have a lot of the appeal as the rest of Ethiopia on first impression, but the more you dig in, the more you discover. Best of all, you get the best mix of old Ethiopia meets modern metropolis in this rapidly growing city, which can be very interesting. Plus, due to the high altitude, it’s one of the few places without malaria risk in the country. It might not be for every visitor, but for most street photographers, it should be worth your time.
2. Love Piassa’s old character mixed with color, activity and great light
The Piassa neighborhood is probably my favorite area to explore for street photography in the city, especially towards the end of the day. It’s the old town of the city, yesterday’s economic heart of Addis Ababa. Today, it’s mostly shopping, budget hotels and restaurants, but it’s still filled with character from the past. For street photography, it has to be the most picturesque part of the city with colorful old buildings influenced by a variety of cultures. There’s the Italian Occupation’s influence, but you’ll also see Greek, Armenian, Indian and of course, Ethiopian in the mix of flavor here. Cinema Ethiopia is one of the run down landmarks you’ll find here, but all the streets contain similar character.
In addition to the interest and color, you’ll also find a ton of activity here. My favorite time is around 5pm when people are getting off work. The large bus station and streets of shared vans get chaotic around this time, while the street markets and businesses continue their activity. Combine that with the great light here at this time and the colorful, character filled backgrounds, and you have a spot made for street photography in Piassa.
3. Gigantic, Chaotic Addis Merkato
The Addis Merkato, normally shortened to Merkato, is the largest open air market in all of Africa, which should tell you something about its size. They estimate that over 13,000 people work here in over 7,000 different businesses. Honestly, all this doesn’t really help describe the sheer size felt when it exploring it, though. You could spend all day getting lost in its endless, crowded streets. There’s a mix of everything found here, especially produce and other locally grown products, along with specific items sometimes sectioned onto streets.
Other than size, I don’t know many markets that could match it for chaos, either. It’s crowded, dirty, and probably overwhelming for most, but that also makes it packed with interest. It’s not as pretty as most markets, but if you like action, you’ll find here in abundance. I do have to mention, though, recommending shooting here does come with caution. The Merkato is very known for its pick pockets and brings many warnings from the locals. You shouldn’t have to worry about personal safety too much, but not everyone is the friendliest, especially when it comes to photos. You have to bring some confidence and watch your pockets, but you can’t miss visiting Africa’s largest outside market if you’re in Addis, especially if you’re interested in street photography.
4. But be careful, especially around Merkato
While violent crime isn’t a big danger in Addis Ababa, petty crime can be, especially pick pocketing. I was warned by locals quite a bit about pick pocketing, especially around the Merkato, and my experience backed them up. During all of my travels, I’d never experienced pick pocketing, only heard and saw it, but Addis provided my first experiences (yes, multiple). Luckily, they were only attempts and I got away with my stuff, but both times it happened around the Merkato. Once, was a whole four-man routine where one person “accidentally” spits a piece of fruit on my shorts, followed by them all immediately helping clean it off with bottled water, a towel and plenty of overly friendly conversation to distract me, while one hand goes in the pocket to grab my phone. The strangeness of this should ring an alarm, but it does happen so fast that you have to realize it the second they start. The other attempt was a quick bump and grab in a crowd. Both times I was able to grab their wrist before they could pull my phone out of my pocket. So, I’d definitely try to keep your phone and valuables somewhere they can’t easily grab it.
Another thing about the Merkato is that it comes with warnings of harassment, which I did also experience. It’s not all friendly and you can run into some strange characters at its most chaotic so you just have to be confident and careful when you’re here shooting around the Merkato, especially on Saturday when it’s the most crowded.
5. They don’t love photos here
I was warned about Ethiopia many times by other photographers when it came to photo reactions. I was told how I’ll hear non-stop “no photos” walking here with a camera, especially in Addis Ababa. Well, they weren’t lying. “No photos, forbidden” was the most common thing I heard, just walking around. I’ve been to my fair share of places where unpaid public photography isn’t openly welcomed, but have learned how to deal with it without much trouble anymore. The same was true here, although, Addis Ababa is towards the top of the list for most hassle when it comes to photos, especially around the main markets. A couple of locals talked to me about it and explained that the city has become very suspicious of others, especially when it comes to cameras. I did notice some difference between areas within the city too, though, as Piassa and Bole seemed to give me the least hassle, while the areas around the market gave me the most.
I still made photos as I normally do. I just dealt with the no’s and hassle, which most of the time were just said without much seriousness, like it was just something to say. When someone did come at me, talking to them with a smile was usually good enough. At times, it can get frustrating, but it’s just something you have to be ok with if you really want to shoot freely in Addis Ababa (fortunately, the rest of the country isn’t to the same level).
6. Shared vans were my friend
They’re popular all over Ethiopia, but in Addis Ababa they run the streets. Nicknamed “Blue Donkeys,” these minibus/vans are like shared taxis working different routes and destinations within the city. They’re much, much cheaper than regular taxis, while being surprisingly efficient, fast and easy. You’ll see people grouped by the street all over the city, while vans continually slow down or stop, as a man hangs out the van yelling their destination direction. I don’t speak a lick of the language, but had no problem using them everyday to get back and forth to my hotel. At a cost of only 2-5 birr (10-25 cents), it’s impossible to beat.
Funny enough, most locals were very surprised to see a foreigner using them, though. I repeatedly got asked why I don’t take a taxi like other foreigners, while receiving surprised looks and smiles as I crammed into the van. They do pack them like sardines, but I don’t mind this, as long as it gets me where I need to go quickly enough. While a light rail is in the works, I really didn’t miss it with these blue donkeys working as well as they do in Addis Ababa.
7. Bole provides a different side of the city
For the more modern side of the city, and what many locals call the nicest part, you can explore Bole. This section of Addis Ababa goes from the airport, with the same name, all the way to Meskel Square. You can feel things changing fast here as construction keeps building it up. There’s no shortage of cafes, restaurants, shops and business buildings along its main street, along with plenty of pedestrians. It’s a prime spot for nightlife too. Addis Ababa has a strong Chinese influence now too, with China investing in property and businesses everywhere. You’ll see it all over the constructions sites and newer buildings. Bole is where a lot of the expats moving to work in those new business stay. I wouldn’t call Bole pretty or filled with character, it’s more of a concrete jungle, but it does provide life and a different, more modern atmosphere. This is where you can feel how much the city is changing. Some of the busier spots are near the Friendship Mall or by the many shared van stops along the main street, especially when people get off work.
As a whole, Ethiopia became one of my favorite country experiences for street photography and Addis Ababa was an interesting introduction. While other cities here were love at first walk for street photography, Addis Ababa did take more time and exploration to love. But that’s what I love about big cities, there’s almost always more than first meets the eye and Addis Ababa was a shining example. It brings that unique mix of chaotic urban life meets old traditions, and if you want to find the interest and colors that the rest of Ethiopia supplies, you can find it here too.
If any of you have been to Addis Ababa before, tell me about your experience and impressions of the city and country in the comments below! And stay tuned for more on Addis Ababa, including some of the best Street Photography shots I captured while there.
(from a street photographer’s perspective)
What: StreetFoto International Street Photography Festival Where: San Francisco at the Harvey Milk Photo Center When: June 4-10, 2018 (Contest Deadline: April 28th, 2018) We’re coming closer to StreetFoto San Francisco’s 3rd annual international street photography festival. While the big event takes places June 4th-10th, the deadline for entering their contests is only days away on April 28th. I was...
- What: StreetFoto International Street Photography Festival
- Where: San Francisco at the Harvey Milk Photo Center
- When: June 4-10, 2018 (Contest Deadline: April 28th, 2018)
We’re coming closer to StreetFoto San Francisco’s 3rd annual international street photography festival. While the big event takes places June 4th-10th, the deadline for entering their contests is only days away on April 28th. I was honored to be a finalist both of the previous years, but this year I’ll actually be judging that same Single Image category for the festival. I’ll also be making my first visit to the StreetFoto festival. In anticipation of this year’s edition, I’ll include details and links for this year’s festival, along with some previous winning photos and a few questions with photographer and festival organizer, Ken Walton (from last year’s festival interview).
StreetFoto 2018 Featured Guests and Judges:
Legendary New York street photographer Jeff Mermelstein will be headlining the festival this year as a special guest artist, speaker, judge, and workshop teacher. He doesn’t do something like this often, either, which makes it even more special. Full list of featured guests, speakers and judges are listed below.
- Jeff Mermelstein teaching workshop June 6-10
- Andy Kochanowski & TC Lin teaching 3-day Burn My Eye workshop June 3-5
- Full Frontal Flash Collective teaching workshop June 8-10
- Ibarionex Perello teaching workshop June 9-10
A few questions with StreetFoto organizer Ken Walton:
Since you’re the creator and organizer of StreetFoto San Francisco, tell us a little about yourself, including what attracted you to street photography.
I’m a single dad living in San Francisco. I left the video game industry a few years ago, had some time on my hands, and got obsessed with street photography after I watched the Vivian Maier documentary. I’d always had an artistic bent and an eye for design, and I felt like I found the perfect way to express it in photography. I’ve been at it non-stop since then.
Can you tell us the idea behind the festival and how creating an event like this started out?
After I fell in love with street photography I wanted to create something related to it that was bigger than just me. I didn’t want to just keep making and sharing my own photos, I wanted to build something more significant, and I decided a festival was a good way to foster community and contribute to the state of the art. My dream is for it to be come an enduring cultural institution.
You’ve traveled and shot photography in a variety of places, what makes San Francisco a unique and special place to shoot in compared to other cities you’ve been?
San Francisco has good light, urban density, and a variety of types of people interacting in many different environments. But a lot of other cities have these things, right? I think what makes this place special is the fact that there are more oddballs here than just about anywhere else. There’s a surprise, or a surprising person, around every corner. A look at Troy Holden’s photos illustrates this well.
If someone was planning on traveling to this festival, what advice or tips would you give them?
Book early. Hotels here are expensive, so shop around, consider sharing, and remember Airbnb (or a friend’s couch) as options. A good, inexpensive hotel near the festival is Metro Hotel. If you can’t find a room available there for your whole stay, call then, as they may be able to let you switch rooms mid-way through your trip. Also, have Uber and Lyft installed on your phone, as they are good inexpensive alternatives to transit for getting around this city. Renting a car is probably not a good idea unless you’re planning to take long trips outside San Francisco.
And it’s free!
*Unless explicitly noted, all the events, exhibitions, photowalks, lectures, slideshows, and openings at StreetFoto are free, and do not require registration. We are able to put on this event due to the generosity of our sponsors, and all of those who enter the International Street Photography Awards.
For more info, click the links below, and don’t forget to enter your photos by April 28th, 2018.
Enter Contests (Deadline: April 28th, 2018)
More Photos from Past StreetFoto Winners:
Or if you prefer use one of our linkware images? Click here