Trading Places The Merchants of Nairobi

Steve Bloom

A unique and unforgettable portrait of an intriguing community: the small traders of Nairobi.

In Nairobi, slick advertising has made few inroads, and shopping malls and supermarkets remain a rarity. People buy their daily necessities locally, from small traders within their communities. Business owners paint their own billboards and signs, or call in friends who happen to be handy with a paintbrush. The results are delightfully quirky—an authentic form of popular street graphics that is endlessly fascinating.

“Beauty is your birthright” proclaims the Eclipse Hair Salon. The Enlightened Electricals store features paintings of bulbs, switches, sockets, and plugs. More than one shack hotel sports the name “Hotel Hilton,” while elsewhere “Joy Hotel” is scrawled in white paint across corrugated metal panels.

“Ghetto life is not easy” says the facade of the Abdalla Store. Indeed not: these are people for whom the threat of hunger is never far away, and money is a constant preoccupation. Yet in poignant and frank interviews with Steve Bloom, Kenyans display extraordinary generosity: their priorities are faith, family, love, community, and helping others.


Steve Bloom


Steve Bloom is a highly regarded natural-history photographer. He has published many titles with Thames & Hudson for both adults and children.