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Mobile people, phones and photography: Somali visual practices in Nairobi's Eastleigh estate

  • Neil Carrier


The coming of the mobile phone camera has transformed photography. This article explores this transformation through a case study of photography in Eastleigh, a Nairobi estate that is home to many thousand Somalis, both Kenyan Somalis and refugees from Somalia. It is a trade hub for East Africa, a social and economic hub for the global Somali diaspora, and a place regarded as suspect in a country where Somalis have long been marginalized. This article examines Eastleigh as photographic subject and setting, comparing the ubiquity of mobile phone photography there with seldom-practised more traditional forms of photography that are often treated with suspicion in an estate subject to securitized government policy and negative press. It shows how mobile phone photography helps people in the estate communicate visually with the wider Somali diaspora through social media, and how it helps people sell their goods, using as a case study a particular archive of images sent through WhatsApp to the author by Mohaa, a friend of his and a trader in the estate. The article also adds a political dimension to recent anthropological theorizing on mobile photography, showing how, in Eastleigh, Somalis have used photography and social media to take control of the way in which the estate is represented visually, and to demand from the state better services and better treatment.

L'avènement de l'appareil photo sur les téléphones portables a transformé la photographie. Cet article explore cette transformation à travers une étude de cas de la photographie dans un quartier de Nairobi, Eastleigh, où vivent des milliers de réfugiés somaliens et de Kenyans d'origine somalienne. Eastleigh est une plaque tournante du commerce en Afrique de l'Est, un pôle social et économique pour la diaspora somalienne mondiale, et un lieu jugé suspect dans un pays où les Somaliens sont depuis longtemps marginalisés. Cet article examine Eastleigh comme sujet et cadre photographiques, en comparant l'ubiquité de la photographie sur téléphone portable à des formes de photographie plus traditionnelles rarement pratiquées qui sont souvent traitées avec suspicion dans un quartier visé par des politiques de sécurisation nationale et une couverture de presse négative. Il montre comment la photographie sur téléphone portable aide les habitants du quartier à communiquer avec la diaspora somalienne à travers les médias sociaux, ainsi qu’à vendre leurs marchandises, en utilisant comme étude de cas des archives d'images transmises à l'auteur sur WhatsApp par l'un de ses amis, Mohaa, commerçant du quartier. L'article ajoute également une dimension politique à la théorisation anthropologique récente de la photographie mobile en montrant comment, à Eastleigh, les Somaliens ont utilisé la photographie et les médias sociaux pour contrôler la manière de représenter visuellement le quartier, et pour exiger de l’État que le quartier soit mieux servi et mieux traité.



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