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Return of photography in CBD in the age of smartphones

Xn Iraki
 A photographer in the streets of Nairobi photographs a client on Sunday afternoon.[Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Nairobi's central business district (CBD) streets are inundated with photographers, mostly young men on a Sunday afternoon. They spot expensive cameras and “small umbrellas to control lighting." They locate sites with iconic buildings in the background. 

What’s reviving photography in the age of smartphones?

There are two possible explanations. One is the relaxation of city by-laws to allow photography. Entrepreneurs quickly noted. I hope other sectors have taken a cue on how regulations can unlock new entrepreneurial activities and create jobs.

We need something to compete with bodabodas. Why was photography not allowed? How can we be crying for tourists but prohibit them from taking photos?  

One major handicap in catalysing economic growth is that innovators are usually ahead of the government and its laws and regulations. Think of it, lots of buildings have big sign boards, “No photography or video recording allowed.” But the photos of the same buildings are available online or on Google Earth.

The other reason could be economic. Not everyone has a smartphone to take photos. And smartphones may not take the same quality photos.

In addition, visiting CBD, with Uhuru Park closed could be an inexpensive way to spend a weekend away from often crowded estates. Will these weekend crowds disperse when the economy improves and Kenyans afford alternative entertainment?

Nostalgia could be reviving photography. Remember when the village photographer roamed the village taking photos all alone? Without mobile phones, you had to “physically” look for him.

Booking him when there was an occasion was standard. You then waited for a week for the photo processing and hoped the photos did not get overexposed (kuchomeka).

There is something magical about posing for a photograph with friends or against an iconic building, more so if visiting the city from the county or rural areas.

The myth and mystic of Nairobi is unlikely to die despite devolution. Can we make more money through movies and documentaries?

The revival of photography is perplexing to me. Does it mean that Joseph Schumpeter’s gale of creative destruction can be stopped or reversed? One of the selling points of new phones is more advanced cameras.

That should sound like a death kneel for amateur photographers. Not in Kenya. Does this revival indicate our exceptionalism or our failure to catch up with the most recent technology?

Does the revival of photography mimic the return of traditional watches despite the wave of digitisation and all the clocks everywhere?

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