Ethiopia sees rapid change – so what can we learn form a collection of pictures of every-day Addis Ababa citizens during the 1940s to the 1980s? Anna-Theresa Bachmann discusses this with Wongel Abebe, who recently launched ‘Vintage Addis
zenith: Under the leadership of the freshly elected prime minister Abiy Ahmed, it appears that a new chapter of Ethiopian history is currently being written. Why was it important for you to publish a photo collection which draws attention to the country's past?
Abebe: When we started working on this book two and a half years ago, we were still living under the state of emergency. It is a pure coincident that ' Vintage Addis Ababa ' came out at this hopeful time. Right now, young Ethiopians find themselves in a huge identity crisis. Especially in urban areas like Addis Ababa. Growing up on social media, you are a global citizen as well as Ethiopian; you are Addis Ababian but you are also African. It can be confusing: Who am I? What are my values and what is my culture? If you do not know where you come from, you do not know where you are going. For me personally, putting together the book has been a quiet a journey.
In what sense?
I had many misconceptions about the past. Growing up I did not realize that there was sometimes a contradiction between narratives. In school we learn about the dark past such as the Red Terror, about famous people, the ruling class. My grandparents on the other hand told me about what normal life was like. I was never able to connect these stories. What makes 'Vintage Addis Ababa' powerful is that history becomes relatable: Through every day-citizens we learn valuable lessons about life, about priorities and relationships. Just because most of the pictures are in black and white, we tend to think that life back then was very different from ours. But for the people, it was colourful, too.
Was is difficult to convince people to share their private collections with you?
Sometimes, they would be critical at first. But when we explained the project, they were on board. Most of them came to the book launch event in November 2018. It was a very moving moment to see them all together. They felt valued because elderly people often think that the young generation does not want to listen.