JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by The Eriskay Connection (here). Softcover (19.7 × 28 cm), 64 pages, with 36 black and white and color reproductions. Photographs by Kristof Titeca, Badru Katumba, and Zahara Abdul. Includes essays by Kristof Titeca and Yusuf Serumkuma. In an edition of 600 copies. Design by Rob van Hoesel. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: Nasser Road in Kampala is known as the heart of Uganda’s printing industry, where almost anything from political campaign t-shirts and fake identity cards to counterfeit money can be printed. A new book titled Nasser Road / Political Posters in Uganda examines this print culture, focusing on the road’s most successful and visible product, its posters. The photobook was edited by Kristof Titeca, a professor at the Institute of Development Policy at Antwerp University whose academic interest “lies at the intersection of political science, development – and area – studies, and relies heavily on field research.” The book was shortlisted for the 2023 Paris Photo – Aperture First Photobook Award as well as the Rencontres d’Arles Book award.
Nasser Road is a slim softcover book with a strong vertical orientation, with its title placed at the very top in two columns. A photograph of a man at work in a print room appears in the background. The book is printed using the same cardstock as the actual Nasser Road posters, glossy on one side and uncoated on the other. As a result, the poster reproductions in the book are printed on the glossy side and the essay that runs through the book on the uncoated side. The middle section includes photographs by Titeca and the Ugandan photographers Badru Katumba and Zahara Abdul, and is printed full bleed on a lighter paper.
Titeca has been collecting the posters made in Uganda’s Silicon Valley for almost twenty years, starting when he first came to Uganda as a PhD student working in two towns on the border with the democratic Republic of Congo. In that area, the posters form striking elements in the surrounding visual landscape; they are sold by street vendors, and displayed in restaurants, barber shops, and even people’s living rooms. Beginning in 2019, Titeca started looking for posters designed on Nasser Road, to better understand the industry and its ecosystem. Nasser Road / Political Posters in Uganda not only presents a rich selection of his spectacular collection of posters, but also offers an in-depth analysis of the meanings and various contexts in which they are generated.
Titeca is particularly interested in posters focused on politics, that comment on both national and international events. Using uncredited images from the Internet, these posters often portray politicians and well-known personalities as superheroes. Figures like Kim Jong Un, Osama bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein are photoshopped onto the bodies of RoboCop, Rambo, or Darth Vader, along with other added elements and typography. The posters show world villains as heroes fighting Western imperialism, and occasionally they also appear as superheroes in local political struggles. Their overarching theme is the common man fighting against larger powers.
The very first poster in the book, printed full spread, has a heading at the very top reading “Death has no escape” in all caps, and is divided into three sections dedicated to Hussein, bin Laden, and Gaddafi, with each section constructed as a collage of various elements. The 2013 monthly calendar appears at the very bottom. As an object, it is visually rich and striking, but also humorous.
The middle section of the book provides insights into the life and energy of Nasser Road itself. A full bleed photograph shows a man on the street walking around with a stack of posters. A couple of images take us inside a design studio, where the walls are covered with various signs and posters, and people work at the desks, their faces concealed. One shot captures a room with a stack of posters, while a man displays one reading “FREE UGANDA”.
Close to the end of the book, another poster takes up yet another full spread. “THE WORLD’S SUPER POWERS” reads the header in all caps in yellow font placed against a red background dotted with stars. The design is broken down into ten sections, one per country, and each section includes a collection of images, featuring leaders and military personnel, and providing brief statistics on its population and military arsenal.
Titeca also underscores how the culture of Nasser Road and the posters have to be understood within the country’s economic and political context, particularly the limited opportunities of its citizens. Getting a job with fake documents can be seen as an act of survival, or even resistance and bravery. In his essay, Titeca also points out that the posters are an essential part of the print industry, and can be seen as “an expression of dissent, combatting a political and social system deemed highly unfair.” They also use humor and fables to “reject hegemonic narratives, contest ordinary-settled territories and propose alternative histories and futures.”
Nasser Road is exciting in both its content and presentation. The photobook is a deep dive into the layers that underlie a complex social phenomenon, its archive of bright posters providing an entry point into a range of cultural issues. It’s also an engaging example of extending the definitional boundaries of the photobook to include printed photographic ephemera, where photography and collage come together in imagery made and circulated for a specific kind of communication.
Collector’s POV: Since this is a catalog study of archival material, we will forego our usual discussion of gallery representation relationships and secondary market histories.