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.

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