Michael Tsegaye

Future Memories

Photography, in Michael Tsegaye’s work, functions as a double agent; a tool to work with and a medium to look at, a vocabulary to tell a story and an imprint of reality. His images, in their duality, contain a friction between two forces that could be described as a look from within and a gaze from afar, thus creating a contact zone with a constantly mutating Ethiopian reality, enchanting, of compositional and analytical precision and contrast. Beauty, sadness, awareness and spirituality are almost physical and tangible, and flow into each other, weaving the texture of his images.

Michael Tsegaye, on the occasion of FUTURE MEMORIES conference, gave the audience an insight to his work and artistic line of thought, namely the on-going series “Future Memories” (2006-). This series, which preceded the conference, already unfolds the range and scope of the discourse at stake, about memory culture, public space, loss and urban transformation. The editorial board is particularly grateful to present an image of that series online.

Portraits of recent changes to neighbourhoods in Addis Ababa: a shifting cityscape (2011/2012)

David Gonzalez writes:

Change is the one constant in Michael Tsegaye’s photographs. Over the last 16 years, he has been making pictures of rural and urban Ethiopia as his homeland transforms itself. He captures sweeping panoramas, of markets springing up along newly built roads, or small details, like the cracked images on gravestones being moved to make way for development, or the rapidly disappearing communities in Addis Ababa that have been gentrified with new high-rises.

The latter forms the core of “Future Memories,” a series he started in 2006, when some architect friends gave him a heads-up on old neighbourhoods about to be steamrollered.

“I know the city is going to be different in 10 years. It’s going to be a memory for me, these pictures. You know the saying, ‘You don’t know what you have until it’s gone’? That was in my mind when I took these pictures. I tried to work with that.” […]

Working in black-and-white, which lends Tsegaye’s images a somewhat melancholic, dream-like tone, he has been chronicling how old communities are being replaced by new constructions. He walks about photographing places he has known well since childhood. Where once communal kitchens and small businesses sustained scores of families, antiseptic new buildings have begun to emerge.

“Everybody now has their own kitchen, bathroom and living room. But in the old neighbourhoods they shared everything. This creates another dynamic between people. The new buildings are for those who can afford them in the downtown area. Those who cannot move to the new areas. And all these details will be lost when they move to the outskirts of the city. For me, it’s like walking with someone who doesn’t know the country and showing him what I have experienced. It’s music, it’s books, the education I got from its history. That’s what I want to put into the photos.”

In: “The Changing of Ethiopia: in Photos“, New York Times Lens Blog: Web. 12.5.2014. http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/12/changing-ethiopia-in-photos/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

Michael Tsegaye, born in 1975, lives and works in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He received his diploma in painting from Addis Ababa University's School of Fine Arts and Design in 2002, but soon gave up painting after he developed an allergy to oil paint. He subsequently found his real passion in photography and has made of it not only a profession, but a way of expressing a very particular voice. Much of his work presents a glimpse of life in todays Ethiopia. Michael Tsegaye has regularly worked for international publications such as Der Spiegel, Jeune Afrique, and enorm, as well as the press agencies Bloomberg and Reuters. Besides his professional work for a number of international NGO’s, he is a well-known artist who focuses on social documentary and art photography. He exhibits all over the world.

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