2017 was year #3 of my 100 city project, and my busiest year yet with 26 new major cities. It was the first time I was constantly on the road year round without any break. So, with all those new cities explored and captured, which ones stood out more than others?
To give you a sneak peek of some of what’s coming this year on Shooter Files, I’ll go over some highlight cities that stood in 2017, including my top 5 for street photography of the year. Will any of these cities knock their way into my annually updated 10 favorite cities for street photography list? We’ll see next week, but for now let’s start with the past year’s city highlights.
Starting with a focus on street photography…
Top 5 Cities of 2017 for Street Photography
(in no particular order)
1. Cairo, Egypt
It doesn’t get much bigger or historic than this ancient city turned chaotic metropolis. At 22 million people, this urban sprawl next to the pyramids is filled with activity and a variety of life around every corner. It had been on my list for a while, but it ended up surpassing all expectations. While its sheer size and buzzing streets might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I quickly fell for Cairo’s one of a kind atmosphere. Personally, I like big cities because of the variety of life and interest to explore, but it needs to set itself apart from the rest. And Cairo definitely does that.
It feels ancient, while also feeling gigantic, with a wide mix of character that is hard to beat. The history, the crumbling character, the chaos, the unique neighborhoods and the signature golden brown hue all come together to make one of my favorite cities of the year for street photography. Yes, it’s not the cleanest, quietest city, and there are touts and hassle to endure, but it’s more than worth it in Cairo. It’s a city I could definitely spend a lot more time in for street photography, while also being a city that would provide endless substance and variety.
2. Almaty, Kazakhstan
Almaty is probably the city on the list that will surprise the most readers, but that’s because it’s also the most unfamiliar to most. Almaty has a lot going for it and that unfamiliarity only helps its charm. It’s in Central Asia, off the beaten path for most travelers, but its an easy introduction to the region.
One of the first things you’ll notice in Almaty is the beautiful backdrop of mountains that line the city. Along with those mountains comes plenty of nature in an urban setting. Not many cities this size provide so much nature with parks, tree-lined streets, mountains, rivers, natural pathways, and more mixed in. While this really makes it an enjoyable and unique atmosphere for street photography, it’s not the only thing that sets it apart.
Sitting between Russia and China, you have a strong blend of their influences in Kazakstan. This is seen in the character and atmosphere of the place, and people. One thing that Almaty brings more than much of the Central Asia region, though, is a strong European vibe mixed in too. This blend mixed with its fair share of quirks adds to Almaty’s unique interest and provides one of the more memorable cities I visited for street photography this year.
3. Kolkata, India
Kolkata is the one city on this list that I’d been to before. Years ago, it had been the first city I’d visited in India and held a special memory for me. So, I had to come back to include it in the project. It might not be as popular as many other Indian cities among general travelers, but Kolkata is well-known among photographers. For good reason.
It’s a big Indian city made for walking and photography. India’s other large cities are more spread out, but Kolkata feels like you can walk everywhere, making it a great experience for street photography. The former capital of British India is also a city that mixes the old world with the new in a chaotic combination that only India could do so well. There’s a distinctive charm here that stands out, even in India. The colonial-era architecture contrasting with urban slums, it’s also gained a reputation as the most friendly of India’s metropolises. From the famous Howrah Bridge and flower market to the street markets and street food, Kolkata is made for bringing your camera and exploring away.
4. Port-au-prince, Haiti
Port-au-prince was one of my last stops of the year and ended up being one of my favorites. It’s not an easy place to come photograph and it’s not exactly set up for visitors, but if you’re adventurous, the experience and life here is more than worth it. The city comes with plenty of warnings and at first look, they might seem warranted, but don’t judge a book by its cover here. No matter what I hear, I like to jump in and see for myself, and that’s what I did here. Taking the back of “tap-tap” trucks as transportation, I explored most parts of the city on foot and had some of the more memorable experiences of the year.
Alex Webb once said there’s a dynamic of horror and beauty that Haiti uniquely possesses and I think that’s a good description. With burning trash, crumbling buildings and chaos filling the streets, it might look scary at first, but there’s a beauty within all that rubble. The colors, the culture, the vibrance and the people make it a special place that I can’t compare to anywhere else, other than maybe parts of Africa. By the end of my time in Port-au-prince, I was freely walking solo throughout the city and loving every moment of it.
Of course, I know Ethiopia is a country and not a city, but it stands out more than any other place of the year. Since I can’t single out one city from it, I’m going with the whole country for #5.
In Ethiopia, I covered Addis Ababa, Harar and Dire Dawa, with each bringing their own unique character along with a shared Ethiopian atmosphere. At around 4 million people, Addis Ababa is the big city of the bunch. Here, you get a taste of urban metropolis mixed with Ethiopian flavor. Piassa brings some colorful old world charm, while Addis Mercado is the largest open air market in Africa. While most come for the more rural side of Ethiopia, this chaotic, traffic-filled sprawl can be overlooked. Underneath that less pretty urban exterior is much more than first meets the eye, though, especially for street photography. Harar, on the other hand, should appeal to a wider variety of photographers. I’ve been to a few walled cities and this is easily my favorite. The atmosphere, the people, the colors, the light and everything about it made it a great experience for street photography. Dire Dawa was my last stop on a recommendation by photographer Yves Vernin and it became my favorite surprise of the year. Although, it is the country’s second largest city, you won’t find much info on it, but you will find unique character and atmosphere. Along with the most colorful street I’ve walked, there’s an interesting blend of influences in Dire Dawa that provide a different feeling than the rest of Ethiopia. I only wish I had more time there.
Honorable Mention: Johannesburg (Soweto), South Africa
While I really enjoyed the city of Johannesburg, much more than I was told I would by everyone, it still has too many risks and dangers to put it in my top recommendations for street photography. At least, as a recommendation to others. The center is full of no-go zones and while I did go to those zones with my camera, it was an experience in parts, to put it nicely. Saying that, there is a lot of character and interest if you like taking risks, like me.
Johannesburg’s township of Soweto, though, stands out too much for me to not include it as an honorable mention. The largest township in South Africa doesn’t come with the best safety reputation, either, especially among locals, but in reality, as the city center becomes more dangerous, Soweto isn’t as dangerous as it once was. There’s still definite risks, but spending a lot of time here, I felt a warmth from the Soweto community that I didn’t feel anywhere else all year. Most people are extremely friendly and walking the streets here takes you to a different place, full of life and an older, close-knit feeling. People love to start conversations and many were even looking out for my safety more than I was. Without a doubt, it’s a top 5 memory from the year and if you get the chance, I’d highly recommend spending a night or more here to experience it.
Other Memorable Cities from 2017
The above selections are focused on street photography, which includes the whole experience of shooting there, in addition to the photography. Cities like Medellin, Colombia and Cape Town, South Africa stand out in my memory too, though, but more for just being generally great places to visit. Cape Town for its beauty and Medellin for its all around vibe and enjoyment.
Dhaka, Bangladesh wins for the most welcoming experience ever, thanks to all the wonderful photographers there. And while I rarely let myself have too much fun on the road, outside of photography, shooting the Carnival in Barranquilla, Colombia was the most fun I had all year.
Riga, Latvia is another city that quickly comes to mind for its special character and Mexico City was a great major city to finish off the year, but truthfully, I find something memorable in every city I go, especially as a street photographer.
All of these cities, and more, from 2017 will bring posts, photography and guides in 2018 on the blog so stay tuned for that. And if you have a chance to visit any of them before I post guides, feel free to message me for some recommendations (you can always find an updated list of cities here).
Now, it’s time for 2018 and another full year of major cities to photograph for the project. 66 major cities down, 34 to go…