Photojournalist Brendan Bannon and writer Mike Pflanz are undertaking an innovative project that has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about real time journalism. Their mission? To explore the rapidly evolving African city of Nairobi, documenting the people they meet and the places they see, and then sharing the images and narratives with college students across the nation on a daily basis. Keep up to date with Brendan and Mike’s day-to-day acitivities by heading to: DailyDispatches.org.
Accurately presenting Africa has long been a challenge for Western news outlets. As there is anywhere else in the world, there is suffering. But in Africa’s case, that suffering tends to blot out everything else, at least through the limited window we have on it half a world away. The continent’s diversity of geography and politics combined with the finite space of newspapers and television can’t help but tilt our perceptions.
While it would be irresponsible not to cover its myriad stories of drought, starvation and political malfeasance, they are told at the expense of views of normal, non-miserable everyday life. Nairobi-based photographer Brendan Bannon, who has shot for the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor and more, puts it simply: “When you’re talking about Africa, you’re talking about crises.”
Bannon’s camera took him to Nairobi, Kenya, for the first time in 2005 as part of a project to teach photography basics to children orphaned by AIDS. Exploring on his own, however, he found rich photographic subjects, and over the next few years he built up a solid stable of Western news outlets that needed a dependable shooter on the ground. Five years in, however, a slight unease began to tug at him. “A lot of the work I’d been asked to do was covering drought, famine, HIV, refugee camps and so on. It’s really important work and the world needs to hear about it, but it’s also a very narrow band of what Africa is. While covering these stories on assignment, I often found surprising and interesting topics around me, such as how the continent is embracing telecommunications and electronics or the resourcefulness with which people survive their challenge-filled daily lives. But those weren’t stories I could sell.”
So he found a way to cover them without selling them. Bannon and Mike Pflanz, a writer who has worked the chaos beat throughout Africa and shares Bannon’s desire to show a more balanced view, came up with a novel way to frame and disseminate their work, one that combines journalism, fine art and education.
The result was Daily Dispatches: Nairobi, a project that aims to document normal, non-crisis life in Kenya’s capital. Each day in April, Bannon and Pflanz will send one to three panels to universities in the U.S., where they will be made into large gallery-quality prints and hung for students to see. Each panel will feature photos by Bannon and words by Pflanz. For Pflanz, the most exciting thing is “having the freedom to report from bits of Nairobi where no newspaper is interested in sending me. When I call editors, they want to hear about pirates in Somalia or civil war in Ivory Coast, but if I tell them about a mobile-phone money transfer system that’s changing the way people do business or that most of the middle class are driving around in shockingly fancy cars, they don’t know what to do with it.
The Nairobi train station. Photo: Brendan Bannon