Mathare is a three square miles slum on the east end of Nairobi, in which 600,000 people try to live. Photographer Filippo Romano has travelled six times to the outskirts of Kenya’s capital over the course of two years in order to document the social complexity of slum life.
A young boy does an acrobatic jump over garbage in the dumpsite of north Mathare.
“I started travelling to the Mathare Slum in 2011 to work with the NGO Live In Slums. They were building a school in the poorest section of the slum. My role was to photograph the school’s construction.”
A typical housing complex in the Huruma area of Mathare.
Filippo Romano had the chance to visit many slums in his long career, among which those in Haiti right after the Earthquake and the Bamburral slum of São Paulo, but in Kenya the situation seemed to be much more complex due to the fact that the government is too paralyzed by its own corruption.
A changaa worker is testing the boiling of the liquor in an illegal brewery. Changaa literally means “kill me quick” and is the illegal liquor produced in the slums of Nairobi.
Observing Mathare’s complexity and documenting its urban architecture, this is the aim of the italian photographer. In his reportage, he goes deep inside the slum’ social organisation, he gets close to people without simulating intimacy and observes the ghetto as a spectacular city, not just as a marginalized area of Nairobi. ” It’s not just a poor environment, but a complex environment, a parallel city, where many people live with less than a dollar a day.”
Benta and Elisabeth they are having their daily Ugali.
Filippo describes himself as a slow photographer, he doesn’t like the immediate intimacy of the traditional photojournalist. “I think that a documentary needs a sort of incubation period where you get familiar to people and over time, for example, when they start to call you by name.”
Two kids dancing the traditional rumba in Mathare north area during a new years eve party.
The slum is a hidden city, the invisible part of official Nairobi. Like a lung on a body you don’t see it from the outside, but it’s necessary to make the body survive. In this sense, then, Mathare is important for Nairobi. It is composed by a working class ready to work in the surrounding factories or to serve the rich families who live in the Western part of the city.
A street scene shows typical daily life in Mathare.
“The people in Mathare struggle to make a living. Most can’t even make one dollar per day. There are many types of jobs done by the people of the slum. The women are hardest workers, they are the ones who feed and take care of the family while also trying to make an income for their houses. Many women here have two or three jobs, working as housewives for richer families in the mornings and in the afternoon they start their second job as food sellers, tailors or cooks. Among the men, any kind of artisanal job is done in the ghetto from blacksmith to coffin makers. Whether legal or illegal, the ground zero of the slum economy is the street seller.”