In Guillaume Bonn’s remarkable photographic essay “Silent Lives,” the relationships between members of Kenya’s white, Asian, and affluent black communities and their black servants are vividly and disquietingly examined.
As Bonn writes, “For a large number of Kenyans, employment as domestic servants underline the seismic disparities in a country where over fifty percent of the population live on less than a dollar a day while others reside in stately homes and colonial estates.” Bonn knows all about such awkward social dichotomies, for he is a product of them—he is a white African, whose great-grandfather took part in the French military conquest of Madagascar in 1884-86 and then settled there. Bonn’s grandfather was born in Africa, as was his father, and so was he. Bonn grew up mostly in Kenya.
For a long time, Bonn said, he thought about doing a project on nannies. “I often wondered, all these years, what had happened to all the ones my parents had hired to take care of me when I was a kid. I realized that I knew nothing about them, and I barely remembered their names, where they came from and what their personal stories were.
…the employers and employees in this series [exist] in uneasily close proximity to one another, intimately bound but forever distant.
Click-through for a slideshow of Guillaume’s photos, and more from Jon Lee Anderson on this social dichotomy in Kenya: http://nyr.kr/ZdPlhH