Through the Lens
A look at modern Ethiopia, as viewed by Addis Ababa–based photographers.
Beneath the scramble of skyscrapers and the shadows of Mount Entoto lies a burgeoning collective of contemporary Ethiopian photographers — documenting the growth and tumult of a modernizing nation as well as the natural beauty it encompasses. Here, we introduce five of the leading independent voices and their artistic visions.
Aida Muluneh is at the very heart of photographic growth in Addis Ababa. Desiring to focus the world’s attention on Ethiopian and African photographers, Aida founded and directs the biennial Addis Foto Fest. She is also one of the most talented and ranged photographers in Addis herself, working in documentary and conceptual forms. As an educator, she regularly mentors students through the DESTA for Africa Foundation.
In all of her efforts, Aida celebrates the talents of her community while seeking a pathway forward for the photography market in Africa, recognizing that she has to “continually push the envelope in showing my country through a different approach than what the Western media is used to.”
Though born and raised in the United States, Zacharias is of Ethiopian descent and currently living in Addis — giving him a unique vantage for viewing the history and transformation of the country. Zach also feels that his joint heritage allows him to clearly see existing stereotypes and actively work against them.
Classically trained in photography at Columbia College Chicago, Zach brings the quietness amid a busy country into focus. Often shooting in medium format film and capturing the in-between elements of daily life, he creates simple, balanced compositions that invite the viewer to slow down and digest each scene.
A self-taught photographer, Meklit Mersha focuses her work on the medium’s conceptual opportunities. As an African, she is inspired by Mother Nature, as well as witnessing and recording Africa’s progressive growth. She hopes that her work can be influential in representing the new opportunities that abound in Ethiopia.
Currently, Meklit’s work centers on editorial photography for a local magazine called AfroDesign, featuring fashion, art and culture throughout Addis.
Viewing Ethiopia as a country under construction, Mulugeta wants to tell the stories of the hands that are laying the figurative and often literal foundations for the modernizing nation.
A true photojournalist, Mulugeta embarked several years ago on a project titled “Addis Transformation,” documenting the workers and projects changing the city. He hopes that his work will contribute to the transformation, helping to break misconceptions and reflect the culture and potential of Ethiopia.
“I am always drawn toward the beauty and story that’s hidden in culture,” says Yonas Tadesse, one of the younger contemporary photographers in Ethiopia. With a great appetite for the art, Yonas hopes to take on a range of future projects — from documentary and fashion photography to creating a cultural publication.
He sees being an Ethiopian as an advantage for both his life and work. “There are stories everywhere, there are so many messages to spread,” he says. “If we have great eyes, if we are willing to see, there is so much beauty in the smallest details of Africa.”
Yonas currently works through the self-funded studio Lomi Image. He received his photographic training from the DESTA for Africa Foundation, founded by Aida Muluneh, and he hopes to carry on the traditions of his mentors.