September 16, 2021
3 Min. Read

Capturing the soul of Zanzibar

With his striking looks Robin Batista, 45, could easily pass for a model himself - but he’s actually the man BEHIND the camera. Since almost 20 years.

One of the most established Zanzibari and Stone Town professional photographers, Robin Batista has covered almost all facets of his trade – from romantic wedding to fashion shooting, from unique drone and video packages for private clients to postcards’ to calendar production, from high-gloss coffee table books to media and blog posts. 

Has his view of Zanzibar not been exhausted over the years? The 45-year-old photo artist, trained at the Indian CMYK academy, laughs: ”Newcomers might see more, but I see things, people don’t see.” One of his photos shows a woman in a colourful kanga dress carrying firewood along the beach of Jambiani – almost statuesque in her natural elegance. Or the impoverished orchestra of corrugated iron rooftops forming the picturesque entity called Stone Town, hundreds of years old and, like Havana in Cuba, deteriorated to a crumbling existence since Zanzibar became part of socialist Tanzania in 1964.  “I still find it very beautiful here”, says Batista, “this island is a paradise for a photographer.”

Born and grown here as a son of a Goan immigrant tailor, and therewith part of the last remains of the catholic Goan community in Zanzibar and Tanzania, he finds his motifs in the treasures of island life: the weathered alleys of historic Stone Town, the once glorious Arab palaces, the turquoise sea, the white beaches and – over and over again - in the calm passage of traditional wooden dhows, sailing along the shore of Stone Town.

Batista is best in XXL: 1,50 by 0,80 metre measures one of his ngawala fishing boat scenes with a high-contrast beach and African houses in the background – appearing almost like a painting and not a photo. His monochrome and colour photos, often enlarged and framed as wall hangings popular with tourists and residents alike, take a different outlook: the Stone Town roof panorama, for instance, developed in sepia and printed on canvas perfectly captures the bygone charm of the historic quarter still home to more than 10.000 inhabitants.  His art prints range from $50 to $300.

Still a bachelor, Robin Batista has photographed “500 weddings in the last 15 years” and witnessed Zanzibar becoming an attractive honeymoon destination. But ”although weddings are very enjoyable, intimate moments' ' that's not where his heart is: “A lot of famous photographers have passed through Zanzibar; I want to keep their artistic tradition alive”, he says. Recently he curated a successful exhibition at the Old Dispensary featuring Goan and Portuguese photographers such as the Coutinho Bros, A.C. Gomes and Pereira de Lord who arrived in Zanzibar as early as the 1890’s. In the pipeline is a new project about Zanzibar’s famous carved wooden doors.

Located on busy Gizenga Street opposite Istiqama mosque, his shop with a simple signpost “Robin Batista Zanzibar'' has grown into a full-fledged photo gallery over the years. An organic soap shop to the right, a baraza stone bench with local fruit sellers to the left, slender Robin Batista is very much part of local life himself, his studio covering the ground floor of a 19th century family home: “It’s very costly and time consuming to look after an old Stone Town building”, he says. “For instance the mangrove poles holding the ceilings have to be replaced every so often.” But Batista would not want to live anywhere else: “It’s the uniqueness of Stone Town to host inhabitants from all walks of life. When locals are moving out and only boutique hotels are moving in – that’s the end of Stone Town as we know it”, he says. (AT)


Robin Batista Zanzibar

155 Gizenga Street, Stone Town

Tel. +255 777 575 664


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