Wilfred Thesiger in Lamu island, Kenya

Somewhere between 1987-89 I took the picture on the left of Lamu fort (built between 1813 and 1821) . For Xmas 1990 I was given the book “Visions of Nomads” by Wilfred Thesiger and in it found the image on the right. I’m not precisely sure of the date for the Thesiger image – minus however long it takes for a coconut tree to double in height!

The Pike

Ever since listening to the poem “Pike” by Ted Hughes, I’ve been caught up by the metaphorical idea of a ‘Pike’, despite never actually seeing one in the real world.

A few years ago, I made a watercolour of frogs in a pond. Everyone liked it, even the hardest critics, my family… and of course, it was the most expensive, popular watercolour and sold quickly. We’re all sad it’s gone and can never look at it in the real again, we don’t even know who the buyer is due to the gallery’s conditions.

I’ve been trying to make paintings in the same watery ‘spirit’, but it’s a spontaneous style, and difficult to create.

On the weekend, while walking along a giant lily pond near Stackpole in Wales, Alistair spotted a young pike drifting about as though pretending to be a leaf among the reeds. We sat there watching as shoals of small innocent fish drifted in closer and closer. The pike minutely shifted, turning its body, then suddenly it flashed into the scattering shoal. Unsuccessful, this time, but was the highlight of my day!

Mombasa old port, 1997

Despite a “No photography” sign at the gates of the old port, I was granted permission to enter with my camera. I found labourers loading boxes onto a destitute looking motorised dhow and a khaki clad customs officer lording over the scene with his bendy stick. I flagged down a fisherman with his dugout to take me out for a better angle and I found myself amongst a sorry selection of rusty ships.

Lamu, 1987

“At high tide, when the seawater level is almost as high as that of the drains, rats are forced through the drains. Little boys enjoy catching them and showing them to little old ladies from Chicago. After such displays of doubtful goodwill, it’s highly unlikely that the ladies will make another visit to Lamu. Attempts have been made to eliminate the rats, many of which are larger than the Lamu cats. The last real effort was made in the 1950s. In 1959 the district commissioner proudly reported that 949 rats were caught, but a little later he laments, ‘Again the courage and stamina of the Lamu cats failed them and it is believed that rats actually eat cats here.’ – Lamu district annual report, Kenya 1959” ~ excerpt from ‘Cargoes of the East’ Esmond Bradley Martin.

How to make a living in paradise

Tony created the perfect situation. He became the ‘yachties’ marine SSB radio connection within the western Indian Ocean, guiding boats into the protected Kilifi creek. Care was required for yachts to pass beneath the newly built 21m high bridge but once through Tony provided anchorage and facilities below his house.

About coast

I was born in Kenya in 1968 and spent many of my school holidays with my grandparents at their house at Kilifi creek on the coast of Kenya. At 16 I purchased a second-hand Nikon camera and took my first photographs. With no internet or digital, photography was slow and considered – I was careful with each shot so as not to waste film. From my base in Kilifi I visited Lamu, Mombasa and Watamu and in each place took pictures.

My grandparents have since passed away and I recently returned to Kilifi after a 20 year hiatus to see huge and unrestrained development. The rate and pace of change in all respects is unprecedented. Today, we are swallowed up by media of all kinds. Photos are both snapped and discarded by the millions. It’s hard to settle apon anything for long or to enjoy photography as much. But my images from this period feel untouched and I don’t mind reviving them here; adding snapshots and wondering how I can fill in some of those lost stories and fragments never caught on camera.