“I was apprehensive at first about doing a photography project in Tanzania,” explains the photographer Lucy Pullicino. “Coming from a place of white privilege and being an outsider to the community” the photographer consciously questioned her position on the project before embarking on the beautiful series titled The Bikers of Esso Road; documenting motorcycle-taxis in Arusha.
Having studied French at university, Lucy developed an interest in the sociological perspective of photography. She came across the street photography pioneer Henri Cartier-Bresson which resultantly led to a social exploration of her own upbringing through photography. Lucy’s father grew up in Tanzania and “has wanted to go back to visit for a long time”, she tells It’s Nice That.
Without planning the project, Lucy and her family travelled to Tanzania late last year. Once she arrived, she saw how “the motorcycle taxis (known as Boda Bodas) were everywhere,” she recalls. “I loved the bikes colourful decorations and how these decorations were personal to each driver.” All kinds of adornments interested the photographer: “inspirational quotes, national flags, designer branding and religious symbols.” She goes on to say, “The designs showcased each driver’s personality and pride in their vehicles.”
While on the family trip, Lucy became good friends with a student called Fidelis. “We talked a lot about photography and I asked if he wanted to help me with the project” says Lucy. For three weeks, the pair wondered the city. Guided by Fidelis through Arusha’s winding back streets, he shared his native knowledge of the city with Lucy, translating conversations and teaching her how to fairly judge a situation.
Lucy tells us how she “did not want to engage in a photographic practice that exploits or overlooks the photographer’s positionality in relation to its portrayed subjects.” But after discussing this with Fidelis, she eventually assessed that the photographs would focus on “individual expression rather than exoticising a non-Western ritual.”
In one image, we see the motorcycle taxi driver Amadi with a distinctive headlight cover with “Power of God” emblazoned in bold gothic type. “He told me that he wants to show his beliefs while looking smart and stylish,” says Lucy. Comparatively, the photographer’s favourite moment came on one of her last days in Arusha. At the top of a “rocky dirt road” called Esso Street, Lucy started talking to a group of motorcycle taxi drivers about her project. As the conversation unfolded, another driver Hamisi pulled up as “he recognised [Lucy] immediately” after having his portrait photographed several days earlier. “He helped explain my project to the other drivers and soon I was being called in every direction for a photograph,” she says. “More and more drivers beckoned me over, posing and pointing to certain details on their bikes. Suddenly having this big group of people around, showing off to the camera was a lot of fun to capture”.
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