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20 LIFESTYLE NAIROBI STAR Tuesday, 27 January 2009

A PHOTOGRAPHIC

BY LIONEL FAULL
AUTHOR: Nigel Pavitt
KENYA’S ment) that Pavitt was able

K
to focus on his boyhood
enya has pro- interest in photography.
vided the subject Pavitt has no plans for a
matter for a rich follow-up book with pho-
seam of magnifi- tographs of Kenya post-
cent photographs 1940 onwards, because,
down the years. Pictorial as he says, “You start with
studies celebrating our a World War, you then go
country’s wildlife or its into the Emergency, and
landscapes, its history or its that would be quite dif-
cultures grace the coffee ta- ficult to portray photo-
bles in many family homes, graphically in a balanced
both here and overseas. way.”
Nigel Pavitt is one of the Nearly all the photo-
better-known authors of graphs in A Country in
this genre. His latest book, the Making were taken by
Kenya: A Country in the amateurs, which belies the
Making 1880-1940, has impression one gets that
combined many subjects collection could have been
into a sweeping photo- produced by the world’s
graphic tribute to the finest photographers. “I
rapidity with which Kenya suppose, to a certain ex-
developed into a modern tent, I selected them with a
nation, starting with British photographer’s eye,” Pavitt
attempts to abolish slavery says.
at the coast in the mid- Pavitt expresses a great
1870s. deal of admiration for
A Country in the Mak- these early amateurs who
ing is an epic undertaking took their photographs un-
in which Pavitt and his der difficult circumstances:
assistant, Robin Schalch, “There were no facilities
spent two-and-a-half years and they were probably
searching both in public LEADERS: Sir Arthur Hardinge, Commissioner for East Africa, with Lenana, Laibon of the Maasai in Ngong in 1898. doing their own developing
museums and archives, and and printing. Count Teleki,
in private farmhouses and and the elements of time are interesting, but without aries, soldiers and farm- and say how terrible it was, on his journey to Lake Ru-
attics for what amounted destroy them.” some sort of a lead or cap- ers who laid the building it should never have been dolf [now Lake Turkana]
to a haul of 35 000 photo- Pavitt pre-selected tion, you could hardly use blocks of modern Kenya this way. But if you were with von Höhnel [in 1891],
graphs that visually docu- about 2,700 photographs the picture. It wasn’t just through sheer force of will looking at it 70 or 80 years took a lot of photographs
ment Kenya’s early colonial because, as he says, “we collecting and restoring. and hard work, a century ago, your view would be using glass plates, and I
history. didn’t know exactly what There are one or two pho- or so ago. different,” Pavitt says. think they all – bar one or
The book is striking in we were going to use”. He tographs I wanted to put “I think there were The book’s seeming pro- two – were ruined. Some
so many ways, not least was able to capture the im- in, but I drew a blank, and pretty remarkable achieve- British bias has not sat well through breakage by being
of all because within the ages without ever having to the best thing is then not to ments in a relatively short with some reviewers but, as strapped on the backs of
grand narrative of Kenya’s remove the originals from use that picture,” he says. space of time. There was a Pavitt argues, “One must donkeys who then rolled
modern development itself, peoples’ homes, thanks to Seventy-two percent of lot of experimenting. A lot remember who had the in the dust, some in loads
the individual photographs a high-resolution scan- the images in A Country of people lost money, as cameras and who took the that were discarded when
tell their own stories. A ner. Then he would use in the Making come from well as made money. Ag- photos … I tried to avoid porters died and others by
picture tells the story of a Photoshop, a computer family photo albums and riculture really improved taking sides on politics, on rain and heat. It must have
thousand words, so the cli- software programme, to are therefore previously hugely in 40 years. There settlement, on colonialism. been so sad to have taken
ché goes, and it is impossi- restore the images to their unpublished. Not only was a lot that happened. This book is not about a huge number of pictures
ble to describe the richness former glory. “There are all has Pavitt produced an I think it’s incredible how those subjects. And I’ve and come back with virtu-
of 720 photographs in just sorts of tricks that help you astonishing collection of quickly it did happen. said that right at the begin- ally nothing,” says Pavitt.
one review. To talk to the to bring a photograph back historic black-and-white Remember there was one ning of the book. I have Then comes a touching
author himself, however, to life. You can improve photographs, he has also World War in that time tried to capture [the era] as admission: “I used to take
sheds a different kind of clarity, hide the dust and performed a public service that set the country back,” far as I can, and that’s the black-and-white photo-
light on the book. scratches, and invert nega- by restoring thousands Pavitt says. best I can do. I’m pleased graphs myself and I gave
As Pavitt says, “The tives on the few photos more images and unearth- He does acknowledge, with it, and it seems most that up rather a long time
motivation was to keep for that were glass plates,” ing the stories behind them. however, that the colo- other people are pleased ago. Looking at this col-
posterity and future gen- Pavitt says. He then made a “Some people were nialists were not perfect: with it.” lection, I almost think it is
erations old photographs final selection of 720 imag- asking, ‘Why hasn’t this “Whether there was Unlike the earliest British worth going back to basics
that were rapidly disap- es, organised into decades, been done in the past?’ The sufficient progress in that arrivals in Kenya, Pavitt is and going back to black-
pearing. Some of the pho- which comprise the book. answer is it wasn’t possible period of time to improve a relative newcomer. He and-white again. Photog-
tographs were in appalling The other 75 percent of the in the past because one can education for Africans, was posted out here as a raphy is all about light, but
condition… Unfortunately images were restored, but only do it now with the maybe healthcare, I don’t National Service Officer black-and-white photog-
the younger generation remain unused. technology of computers know. Probably more with the King’s African raphy is even more about
is not necessarily terribly By the end of the project, and software programmes could have been done. Rifles (KAR) in 1955 and light than colour photog-
interested in the photo Pavitt had speed-read a to restore these pictures. “Quite honestly, I think stayed on with the Kenya raphy. There are some
albums of their fathers and great number of books, Some of them took two there was a lot positive Army post-independence. photographs in this book
grandfathers. There was made notes, and collected or three hours to restore,” and a lot negative [about He then went into the that I would have loved to
certainly one photograph two files of background Pavitt says. colonialism]. The more you wine and spirit trade, and have taken myself.”
album that we managed material for captions, much Pavitt, slaving away, with read, the more you think, ‘I became the Director of
to recover from a dustbin. of which he also never his scanner and his laptop don’t like the look of that.’ Kenya Wines and Liq-
As the older generation used. “The challenge was may be 21st Century in But then you are looking uors (KWAL). It was only *Kenya: A Country in
die off, often these family to try and put substance – some respects, but his ef- back on history with the towards the end of his the Making 1880-1940 is
albums are cast away or names, places, dates – to forts are reminiscent of the benefit of hindsight and it’s colourful career (in 1989 available in most book-
put in places where damp some of the pictures that original explorers, mission- always easy to look back when he took early retire- shops for Sh2,900.

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