Mobile people, phones and photography: Somali visual practices in Nairobi's Eastleigh estate

Neil Carrier*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
393 Downloads (Pure)


The coming of the mobile phone camera has transformed photography. This article explores this transformation through a case study of photography in Eastleigh, a Nairobi estate that is home to many thousand Somalis, both Kenyan Somalis and refugees from Somalia. It is a trade hub for East Africa, a social and economic hub for the global Somali diaspora, and a place regarded as suspect in a country where Somalis have long been marginalized. This article examines Eastleigh as photographic subject and setting, comparing the ubiquity of mobile phone photography there with seldom-practised more traditional forms of photography that are often treated with suspicion in an estate subject to securitized government policy and negative press. It shows how mobile phone photography helps people in the estate communicate visually with the wider Somali diaspora through social media, and how it helps people sell their goods, using as a case study a particular archive of images sent through WhatsApp to the author by Mohaa, a friend of his and a trader in the estate. The article also adds a political dimension to recent anthropological theorizing on mobile photography, showing how, in Eastleigh, Somalis have used photography and social media to take control of the way in which the estate is represented visually, and to demand from the state better services and better treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-245
Number of pages21
Issue number2
Early online date14 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2019


  • Mobile phones
  • photography
  • Africa
  • Somali
  • anthropology


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