I’ve been re-posting film photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago, and this is the final image in this series. I have hundreds more colour slides from Kenya but I doubt that I will get around to scanning or re-photographing them now. So here is the final image – and its my reflection in the enormous light on the front of one of the steam locomotives stored in Nairobi’s railway yards – my late cousin was a steam railway fanatic, and so I and a lady friend wangled our way into the railway yards and had a delightfully Health And Safety-free day clambering all over these metal monsters.
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A selfie – taken in an age before selfies were ever called that – in the railway yards at Nairobi, Kenya; probably 1979..
Kenya has a great history of steam railways, because the British colonial authorities decided to open up the interior of the country, and Uganda too, by building a railway from the Indian Ocean coast at Mombasa, up through Kenya to Nairobi, and thence westwards to Kampala, in Uganda. And many will have heard of the Man-Eaters of Tsavo, two lions who took to dragging off and devouring railway workers, as the line pushed its way inland across Tsavo’s arid bush country, in 1898.
My cousin has had a passion for steam railways all his life so that, when I mentioned that the marshalling yards in Nairobi held large numbers of old steam engines, he urged me to photograph them. As often happened in Kenya, knowing someone did the trick, open access to the railway yards was agreed, and my girlfriend and I spent a baking day clambering about over the old engines and other derelict ironwork there.
And, as opposed to the nanny state that cossets and suffocates me today, Kenya had (and no doubt still has) a refreshing absence of Health & Safety regulations – everyone was simply expected to use their common sense – so that the two of us were left free to scramble over whatever derelict ironwork structures we could find, with not a thought for our safety – wonderful! Oh, irresponsible, yes, but what a breath of fresh air! My Kenyan years have certainly affected many of my attitudes to life in general, for which I am very grateful.
Anyway, I climbed these hulks with my girlfriend, which makes her sound rather like a grappling hook I suppose, but that’s unintended, tho I have to admit that she was instrumental in getting my already portly person up and over some of the steeper bits. She was a farmer’s daughter, used to manhandling livestock.
And so what does the picture show? Well, its a reflection in one of the large lamps that were mounted on the front of the steam engines, to help the driver see large animals – anything up to the size of hippo, elephants and giraffe – on the tracks at night. Bare armed and bronzed(!), I’m wearing a safari shirt along with Photographic Hat, and levelling my wonderful OM-1 at my reflection. Another big engine looms behind me, and either side of that there are nicely converging buildings and railway tracks, all baking in the glare of the equatorial midday.
Photographic Hat was an accessory I’d originally used in Arabia, where it had been severely scorched and bleached to not far off white. Its crown had given up the ghost and disintegrated, so I crudely sewed a patch of old blue denim in its place. I was of course wearing a rag on my head, but the endearing thing about it, as can be seen in this photo, was that its floppy brim came down over the gaps between my face, my glasses and the OM-1’s viewfinder, to provide shade which was extremely useful in overhead glare like this.
And what was an OM-1??? It was a truly revolutionary 35mm camera, small, easy to carry, and a masterpiece of Minimalist design – and it was supported by a veritable horde of similarly small, and excellent, lenses – Zuiko lenses! In an old military gasmask bag, I could carry an OM-1, and three diminutive lenses – 28mm, 50mm, and 75mm-150mm – and these were my basic photographic kit in Kenya, they went everywhere with me.
And I suppose that it says something about my visual tastes, that the vast majority of my Kenyan photographs were taken at either 28mm or 150mm – I was always working at the boundaries of what I had. Now I’m luckier, with 12mm-400mm to hand – but this would have been of little use in Kenya, as it would have been far too heavy and bulky to easily carry around, especially when on foot
Technique: OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide film rated at 64 ISO.
THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES
I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago. You can find more context here . Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.