Girma Berta showcases his unique perspective on street life in Addis-Abeba

Art Kelen
3 min readNov 25, 2020


Born in 1990, Girma Berta is a self-taught photographer whose work synthetises street photography with fine art. He is a self-taught photographer who shoots his images on an iPhone. His vibrant, painterly work documents his hometown, Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. The artist has been working as a graphic designer for some time while painting on the side, and both those mediums have seeped into his photographic work.

In Berta’s Moving Shadows series I and II, he highlights people as they go about their daily lives. We see cut-out individuals, isolated stylishly on a bold and colourful background. It makes truly unique artworks which exemplify the contrasting colours and personalities on the streets of his home town.

The colors are very important in his work. These warm colours reflect his city, the fashion, the culture, the feel. “I love contrasting colours”, he explains.

“It expresses the contrasting life I see throughout my photography”.


Although Girma’s images regularly show figures at work, carrying baskets and pushing carts, they are never portrayed as victims. If poverty is depicted, it is not made emotional, but rather a fact of life, alongside the children who run and play. His work is authentic, showcasing life as it is.

His motivation is to capture “the beautiful, the ugly and all that is in between”. He wants to document the subject just like they are. “By isolating my figures”, the photographer explains, “it becomes just about them without any distraction”. The bright tones behind the subjects accentuate them; the yellows, blues and greens pop, drawing our gaze.


Also Berta is acutely aware of the cultural aversion Ethiopians have to photography. Photography is often perceived as being exploitive and only recently began re-emerging as a popular fine art and advertising medium. But for Berta, “a picture not viewed isn’t a picture but a lifeless thing.”

The images are minimalistic. The use of a phone to create his artworks is symbolic of the current digital revolution underway across Africa. He is representative of a younger generation now stepping into a digital art world. Instagram was the first place the artist felt comfortable enough to publicly share his photographic experiments and is also where he has received his big break.


Berta’s work has been featured in publications such as The Guardian, Okay Africa, Design Indaba, The Huffington Post, Instagram, NPR and Art Africa Magazine. He was selected to participate in the New York Times Portfolio Review 2017, and shortlisted as a finalist for the CAP Prize 2017.

His works have been exhibited at La Gacilly Photo Festival (2017), Nataal / Red Hook Labs NY (2017), Cape Town Art Fair (2017), PhotoVille NY (2016, 2015), Look Festival (2016), 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair London (2016), Also Known as Africa Art Fair Paris (2016) and Bamako Photo Fest (2015). Berta is the recipient of the Getty Images Instagram Award 2016.