When one of photographer Ryan O’Toole Collett’s friends decided to travel back to his birth place of Nairobi, Kenya, Ryan and his group of mates decided to join him. It was Ryan’s first spontaneous photography project — no formal structure envisioned, just the open intention to capture this important moment in time.
“My normal way of working is to spend some time in a new place before starting to take pictures; to let ideas develop,” Ryan explains. “Being part of this tight-knit group who were on the move meant I had to hit the ground running, and I didn’t want to shape the trip around the project, but rather allow the work to tell the story of our journey. To do this, I began to take portraits of the people we met along the journey that would make up a contemporary image of the Kenya that we were experiencing.”
Ryan was struck by the frenetic energy of Nairobi; the constant buzz of traffic and the friction between how different sections of the city lived. “It felt like looking at a cross section of time: you have a brand new Mercedes pulling into a luxury apartment building, and nearby are a group of kids walking some goats along the road, and playing with the stick and wheel,” he remembers.
Given the nature of the trip, Ryan wanted to focus less on the practice of taking photographs, and key into a new process, one where instinct took priority and the necessity to contextualise the minutia was left aside. “I wanted to remember the people that we met along our way. I wanted to try and represent these people, from a broad mix of backgrounds, as they were in the moment that we were with them."
“With some people you just have a natural connection; in these cases I would take a picture of them that captured the moment, as well as giving them a Polaroid picture of themselves that they could keep. This did justice to the sense that this was a shared moment, and meant that we both had a memory and connection to it.” This polaroid exchange was born out of a desire to share and give back, but also offered a means of communicating with and respecting those whose picture he took.
“Often, the subjects in travel photographs are used for the gratification of the photographer in a way that the subjects don’t get to share in. I wanted to try and temper this by giving photos in exchange for taking my own,” Ryan tells us. “I find the lack of compassion that many people have for what they photograph disappointing,” he adds. "Using the Polaroids was only a small thing, but it was a way to try and develop a more interactive and sharing process.”