Back to Nairobi


Nairobi Kodak

August 17, 2009


Earlier this week I was on a shoot in Nairobi and passed a hand-painted sign with the Kodak logo and I had someone take a picture on my Blackberry to send to a friend of mine at Kodak. The image that he took is pictured here.

After I took the picture, and started shooting, two policemen came up and informed me that I had violated Kenyan law by photographing some buildings (the one with the Kodak sign) without permission. They said they were sent there to arrest me and take me to the police station. Having been put in jail twice in Pakistan some years ago and knowing how unpleasant that can be, I wasn’t looking forward to repeating that experience. The odd thing was that in the group I was traveling with, there was a policeman, a Kenyan friend, and my Italian assistant. The officers kept insisting that I accompany them to the police station. They had a pair of handcuffs which they made quite visible.

Eventually, a Kenyan friend I was traveling with asked if he could go in my place because I was in the middle of shooting. They allowed him to take my place, so he left with the policemen and sorted the situation out. After this incident, I was told that the police there often try to extort money from travelers using many different pretexts.

I have worked in dozens of countries with a lot less freedom than Kenya, and never had such a thing happen with the exception of the time I was photographing a dress shop on the street in Beirut in 1982 which had a Syrian secret police office on the second floor. One of the Syrians, an officer I suppose, pointed his revolver at my driver’s head and ordered us upstairs. Fortunately, I had some accreditation papers from several of the militias. We were searched, they took my film (which of course I had the presence of mind to give them some unexposed rolls) and we were let go.

I have vivid memories of my first trip to Kenya in 1972. I traveled from Cairo overland to Aswan through Lake Nasser on a ferryboat to Wadi Halfi. From there I caught a train to Khartoum and then took a riverboat to Juba in southern Sudan. Then I hitched a ride on a truck to Kampala, and caught a bus to Nairobi. Later I went from Nairobi to Lake Victoria and then returned through Tanzania and the Serengeti back to Arusha. Kenya is one of the most beautiful countries on earth with its Rift Valley, Mount Kilimanjaro on the border with Tanzania, numerous game preserves, national parks, and beautiful beaches.


Young boy in Nairobi shop, August 15, 2009

15 Responses to “Back to Nairobi”

  1. David Young Says:

    I did the same trip in the same year, an unforgettable experience.


  2. uhhhhhhh Says:

    cool police story love pics

  3. Steve,
    Again another very interesting story of your work/life experience. It seems to come in handy to have local connections. My stepsons are adopted from Ethiopia. My husband and I want to take a family trip in a couple years. What is your take on photographing in Ethiopia?

    I hate the feeling of missing a great picture (a sunken feeling in my stomach), but as a woman value my safety more.

    Kind regards,

  4. You seem to have had some interesting experiences while perusing your photography, which, by the way, is really something. Very vivid, and the emotions of the people you photographed is so open, on the surface.

  5. great story steve… would love to hear more from the same expedition…

  6. Hi Steve,
    thank you for blogging and for sharing your photos and experiences!

    Do you ask the people that you are taking photos of if its ok to picture them?
    Do they not want to have their names published?


  7. Yajnavalkya Says:

    Namaste Steve,
    First of all let me express my deep respect to you…
    I wonder which scanner do you use for your slides? I have CoolScan 5000ed and I find it to have very thin focus (e.g. landscapes which I take with maximum depth of field come out to be basically blurred, while same photos scanned in labs are as I captured, i.e. with greater DOF). Are you familiar with Nikon scanners and are they good for you?

    Thank you very much,

  8. that was nice of the kenyan person to take your place of arrest and sort it out. i could imagine, jail there or anywhere is not a nice place.

  9. This past May i spent three weeks in Tanzania on a study/photo tour with my school and it was the most AMAZING experience… so far. We managed to walk into Kenya one day for about an hour =). I love the Serengeti and the Rift Valley, and Kilimanjaro is something I am desperate to see again. I made some good friends there too. I remember those Barber shops vividly though.. I thought they were pretty awesome.

  10. Namit K Says:

    Hello Steve,

    It was a nice narration of your experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have been following your blog through RSS now and like it very much. I liked the visual theme of your blog earlier. It does not reflect you:)

    Cheers and Love

  11. thesheikh Says:

    Hello Steve !!

    I am really in awe seeing your photos !! Actually, even I have gotten myself into some serious photography. I really wish if you could check out my flickr link and give me unbiased feedback. I work in India … And extremely passionate about joining NatGeo/ Discovery as a photographer.

    Here is the link:

    Your photos are an inspiration !!


  12. Interesting story, and I must agree, rather unsettling. I wonder if they would do that regardless if you were a male or female “tourist.”

    Love the images of the two kids.

  13. […] Steve McCurry in Hot Water (Briefly) in Kenya By Tina Hay Photographer Steve McCurry ’74 was in Kenya a few days ago, and almost got hauled off to jail for taking a picture of a Kodak sign on a building. You can read the tale on his blog. […]

  14. WOW! Those are some scary experiences, you’re life is such an adventure. I love reading your blog, although I wish I could view the photos a bit larger:)

  15. Well Mr. Mc Curry, I love this Blog, and I really like to understand how difficult is make your beautiful pictures. Your life and your experience is my dream.:)

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