Photo Essay: the Streets of Modern Ethiopia

Modern Ethiopia on 35mm Film

Ethiopia is not a country usually at the top of most people’s must-visit list. Sadly, it still conjures up images of the 1980s famine. But Ethiopia is a rapidly changing and unique country. As international investment helps it develop, the country is slowly becoming known for the famous structures of Axum and Lalibela, as well as Lucy – or Dinknesh – the world’s oldest human skeleton.

When I travelled through Ethiopia no day was ever the same as the last. I saw volcanic lakes and Hippos wallowing in Lake Awassa, went on a road trip through the famous rift valley and visited Shashamane, homeland of Rastafarianism.

The following is a selection of 35mm film photographs I shot across Ethiopia. My aim was not to promote the iconic sights of Ethiopia, but to give you a feel for the amazing people that make this country such a unique place to visit.

Bole Dildie or Bole Bridge acts as one of the main transport hubs to access the city. Most of the city’s populace are transported through blue and white mini-buses called Line Taxis. Although the new monorail has made it easier to navigate the city, most people still rely on the classic line taxi.

This is one district of the much larger Addis Ababa; I shot this photograph from a university building, and to me this sums up Addis Ababa in one photograph. The famous monument in the centre of the roundabout pays homage to and bears the royal crest of the previous emperor Hailie Selassie, Jah Rasta Far I, whilst people gather to jump on line taxis to make their way across the city in the midst of the commonly seen UN jeep.

No matter how late you are in Ethiopia there is always time for coffee. Coffee originated in Ethiopia back in the 15th century, and today the coffee ceremony is still part of Ethiopian culture. Cut grass is thrown on the floor, incense and frankincense is burnt and coffee is roasted and cooked over a charcoal fire. Here my friend Neway and I stopped to take five on our way to work for a coffee, complete with ceremony, despite already being 20 minutes late!

On the outskirts of Debre Zeit I shot this photograph of a man taking firewood back to his traditional round house. Although the cities of Ethiopia, like Addis, Harar and Hawassa are rapidly changing, much of the rural population still farm and live by traditional methods.

I could not resist capturing this very Ethiopian scene. Independent businesses are continuously growing as education rates and personal wealth rise. Religion still remains at the forefront of society, which can not only be seen by the name of this shop (with a recognisable logo) but also by the main Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the background.

No matter how many streets I walked through across Ethiopia, I was always met with a different sight. On this occasion it was a goat herder walking his stock through the back streets of Bole Bulbula, suburban Addis Ababa. After speaking to the herder, he said he was taking the goats to the next town where he could get a better price for them.

Driving in Ethiopia can be a fun experience, but may test your patience. One of my favourite pastimes was traffic watching. Certain junctions of the city guaranteed mayhem around lunchtime. These big jams usually consist of a lot of beeping horns and a bit of shouting but would sometimes end up with small bumps and smashed headlights.

I spent a lot of time working and volunteering in orphanages during my time in Ethiopia and it was here I met some of the most resilient and outgoing people on the whole trip. In this non-government funded facility children spend their free time playing on a roundabout, unaware of their uncertain futures.

Despite being said to have 13 months of sunshine, at least two of those I spent there were very rainy. One monsoon hits Ethiopia every year and although it can cause flooding and make travelling by road difficult, the rainy season brought the best thunder and lightning storms I have ever seen. The majority of the country is several thousand feet above sea level, so I was physically closer to the storms as lightning jumped around the clouds.

Female street cleaners parade through the streets of Addis during World Environment Day on a parade to raise awareness about littering and recycling.

It doesn’t matter which street you turn down in Ethiopia. At any time of day, you will always be in for a surprise.

Check out these top travel experiences


Big Cat Wildlife Research

from £1264

14 - 84 days


Assist in the conservation efforts of the Naboisho Conservancy in Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve by monitoring wildlife and conducting important...

Noah Ark Wildlife Sanctuary

from £765

14 - 70 days


Worked hands on caring for wildlife in need and carrying out wildlife conservation activities at this world renowned animals sanctuary...

Music Education in Tanzania

from £300

4 - 12 days


With guitars, drums, and keyboards, we believe that music is a powerful tool helping to generate a community spirit, while...

African Big 5 Wildlife Conservation

from £1264

14 - 84 days

South Africa

As a volunteer in the Greater Kruger area in South Africa, you will experience Africa's amazing wildlife through research drives...

Coach and Play Sport in Ghana

from £250

7 - 84 days


Experience sport at all levels on this unique experience in West Africa and take your understanding of sport to new...

Social Work Internship in Cape Town

from £660

14 - 168 days

South Africa

Cape Town is a fantastic destination for an international internship - a vibrant and bustling city with business, medical and...

Environmental Internship in Dinokeng Game Reserve

from £670

14 - 84 days

South Africa

If you're passionate about ecology, conservation, animal behaviour and solutions to address the conflict between wildlife and humans, this internship...

Madagascar Lemur & Conservation

from £895

14 - 70 days


Help to protect the endangered habitats of unique Madagascan species including lemurs working alongside international research staff in a beautiful...

Football Coaching in Ghana

from £1

7 days


As a volunteer football coach in Ghana, you will work at Cantonments Football Club in Accra. It is fully funded...

Island Conservation Expedition

from £1145

14 days


Contribute to terrestrial conservation efforts and experience in the unspoilt island paradise of the Seychelles!


Best of East Africa

from £2176

Find the best of East Africa on this Intrepid adventure as you traverse across Kenya and into Tanzania. Discover the...

Botswana & Victoria Falls Adventure

from £1349

This Classic trip showcases some of the best that Africa has to offer. Journey from Namibia, across Botswana and on...

Kruger, Swazi & Beach

from £120

Prepare for a trip of epic proportions. This week-long safari includes breathtakingly tranquil views and a variety of territories where...

Walk the Camino de Santiago

from £749

If you’re looking to take on your own pilgrimage – along a route filled with beautiful countryside and rustic villages...

Garden Route Adventure

from £850

Travel to South Africa and Lesotho and explore the exquisite Garden Route on a tour from Durban to Cape Town...

Explore Kruger & Victoria Falls

from £1817

Enjoy a nine-day highlights tour of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Go on safari in the Greater Kruger area, spotting and...

Cape Town to the Serengeti

from £2932

Marvel at the world's highest sand dunes, float through the Okavango in a dugout "mokoro" canoe, and meet the San...

Spain & Portugal Real Food Adventure

from £3495

Explore the sights, sounds and tastes of northern Spain and Portugal on this food-led adventure. Immerse yourself in culture, history...

Spain, Portugal & Morocco

from £2275

Travel to Spain, Portugal and Morocco on a journey from Madrid to Marrakech, taking the long route for maximum adventure....

Game Parks & Gorillas

from £1300

Few animals have sparked the imagination of man as much as the gorilla. Treat yourself to your very own African...

Find more inspiring travel photography

[contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact form 1"]