I’m in Korogocho, one of Nairobi’s largest shanty towns. Here, in poverty and extreme disrepair, live 180,000 people.
Korogocho is divided into villages. They stretch out, one after the next, the borders between them indiscernible. But every ethnic group knows which one it belongs to.
I make my way past dwellings made out of mud, metal sheeting and branches. A woman stands with her arms folded, leaning against a corrugated metal wall. She’s at the entrance to an alleyway that runs between rows of shacks. There’s metal sheeting everywhere – old metal, dented metal, rusted metal.
The woman is staring into space. It looks like she’s daydreaming. She’s like a pillar of salt, lost in her thoughts.
She reminds me of a royal palace guard, standing immobile with their thoughts miles away from the “here and now”. But there’s nothing royal about Korogocho.
I decide to photograph her. I set up the shot with the woman to the right, the alleyway to the left, and the focus on her.
Whilst I prepare to take the picture, I expect the woman to move, however slightly. I expect her gaze to shift. But she doesn’t. Not even a shuffle.
I’m about to take the shot when a child enters the frame.
I switch my focus from the woman to the child. As soon as he sees me, he stops, and looks straight into the lens. He poses. His serious but timid gaze bores into me.
I take the shot.
The child stays in the alleyway. I realise he wasn’t posing. He’s holding his trousers up, so they don’t fall down. They’re too large for him. Then he’s gone, and it’s like he had never been there at all. There’s silence. The woman – perhaps his mother – certainly isn’t going to tell me their story.