Documentary photographer Ambra Vernuccio reveals the story behind her photograph of Nairobi market life, titled We
Weeeee!!! (You!!!!!). The photo was taken earlier this year as part of Vernuccio’s photography series Nairobi: Face to Face.
I was walking in Umoja with my friend and came across these two women selling their wares on the streets. A combination of grocer and fishmonger, they had sweet potatoes, sukuma [green vegetables] and fish. In Kenya, most of these women, who might be referred to as the matriarchs of modern Africa, are the backbone of the family.
They were full of life and character. As I was about to take a photo, one stopped, pointed at me and screamed “weweeeee
e”; a term in Swahili commonly used to mean ‘you’, or in this instance, “you, what are you doing?” I approached them with my few words of Swahili and then they made clear why they were objecting me taking the photos.
It is difficult to try and explain the reactions that many people have in Kenya when a ‘mzungu’ or white person points a camera towards them. There is a general idea that westerners come to Africa to exploit people’s lives to make money and depict Africa as a place of poverty and misery through photography.
The fact that I was living in the neighbourhood and not on the Western side of Nairobi made it easier for me to interact with the local community. After a while, people started recognising me in the street, and I felt like I was accepted in their little community.
PROFILE: Ambra Vernuccio
Born: Rome, Italy, 1978
Studied: Architecture, Graphic Design and Illustration. “I believe that these subjects have also influenced my photography practic
e, especially in regards to colours and composition”.
High Point: “I am yet to achieve my highest point, as my biggest inspiration would be becoming the next Henri Cartier Bresson! However, this year has had its peaks as I have had my work accepted consecutively on different notable platforms such as Foto8 and the National Portrait Gallery.”
“Shoot, Shoot, Shoot! It is crucial for a photographer to practise constantly in order to improve the way your eyes see the real world – or surreal world.”
“Be curious. Spending time looking at other photographers’ work is not only inspiring, but also inevitably contagious.”
“Do not be afraid. Photography is a subjective art and not everybody will necessarily like your work, but do not let this affect you. Do not be afraid of experimenting and showing your point of view even if it is different from the usual archetype.”