The Magazine of Ethiopian Airlines

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

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.”

For the collaborative show “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory revisited by contemporary African artists” curated by Simon Njami, Aida created a personal depiction of the inferno in a series of seven photographs.

Reflecting on her images’ representations of loneliness and other difficult emotions, Aida offers, “The inferno is not down below; it is here, ever-present, next to us, in our memories and in our minds.”


Zacharias Abubeker

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.

Focusing his work on the contrasts between historic and modern-day Ethiopia, Zacharias seeks to find the calm in the midst of change. The newly constructed light rail track stands not far from the Menagesha forest on the city’s outskirts, but these images make the experiences feel worlds apart.

“I am often looking to go between these two worlds: the contemporary happenings around Addis, given all the new growth and structure, as well as finding the remaining traditional practices still in place throughout the country,” says Zacharias. “By including both, I can make a portrait of what is happening now in Ethiopia.”


Meklit Mersha

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.

For her series “The Black Queen” — exhibited at the Addis Foto Fest — Meklit pursued the concept of “natural fashion,” exploring both the contrasts and closeness of man and nature. “The image as a whole is created to reflect beauty and confidence, using nature’s inspirational designs,” she says.


Mulugeta Ayene

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.

The streets and shells of Addis are changing on a daily basis, from major government infrastructure projects to simply new businesses replacing old. Mulugeta celebrates this progression of Addis, capturing daily records of the evolving environment.

“I want to take pictures to preserve moments and changes that are occurring, not only in Ethiopia but across Africa as a whole,” Mulugeta says. “The generation to come after us will need to know what this generation went through to secure a better future. It will be an eternal reference to this point in our history.”

Yonas Tadesse

“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. 

Ethiopian Orthodox priests parade during the annual Meskel celebration. Silhouetted against the sky, the shapes of the ornate crosses form an inspiring composition.

“The crosses not only have religious meaning, but how proudly they are held up high represents the nation holding on proudly to its beliefs and its culture,” Yonas says. “It symbolizes how faith, culture and pride are all woven together to form beautiful Ethiopia.”