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.