if they saw me, i would live
Recognizing the value of being present in the moment, Leyla Jeyte’s images presented on BAND’s fence and building façade offer a glimpse into the lives of the people she encountered during her travels to Kisumu, Kenya. Connecting with her subjects allowed the Toronto-based photographer to witness, unhurried, the ways in which they move through their days.
As the strain and constrictions of living through the current global pandemic limit free movement, spontaneity, close interactions, and chance meetings, Jeyte’s outdoor exhibition if they saw me, i would live speaks to the privilege of having time to stand still and take stock of all that we have. Here, the artist writes about her experiences in making this series:
The first time I travelled to the city of Kisumu in western Kenya was to conduct research work. I remember the ride from the airport to the hotel; I felt transfixed by everything I was seeing, and I remember the very strong and real desire to want to connect with it all. It had been a while since I felt this way, so before I had even finished my research I had decided to go back with a camera for the sole purpose of documenting what I saw and felt. I stayed for a few days, walking and riding about in a pickup truck with my contact, who was also my translator, just observing and documenting. I couldn’t get enough of the scenes, the details, and most of all the camaraderie I saw shared by the people. I also felt a sense of ease being there.
Although Kisumu is considered the third-largest city in Kenya, after Nairobi and Mombasa, being on its more rural side forced me to slow down and fall in line with the pace of the community. I found myself taking my time just to see what it felt like, and how it might change me. I allowed myself to be guided by curiosity as I approached different individuals in the middle of living their lives. These people were either working, resting, or just going through the motions of the day on their phones or patiently waiting for the next thing. Their “yes” to pause for a photograph meant more than I could understand at the time, but now I recognize how profound it was because it meant for a brief moment I was given permission to witness them as they were, and observe the more subtle, quiet dimensions of our humanity, without hurry.
if they saw me, i would live is about the places that capture our imagination, and that inspire. It’s also about making a bid for connection, in my case with strangers, and having it returned with kindness.
Curated by Claudia Pensa Bowen