Category Archives: This is Africa

The strength of the Sahawari women

It might be the refugee crisis across Europe that’s making headlines, but it’s the people of Western Sahara who have been experiencing a refugee crisis for over 40 years. Last November was the 40th anniversary of Morocco’s invasion of Western Sahara, which forced thousands of refugees into the Algerian desert. They are still there today, living in refugee camps, dependent on international aid. Over there, it’s the Saharawari women who play a fundamental role in their own, matriarchal, society.


During the war against Marocco (1975-1991), they were been forced to run away in the most hostile part of Sahara desert: the Hammada. Without any kind of help from men, who were been engaged in the battles too many kilometres from there, Saharawi women were been able to grow up the refugees camps, where a part of the Saharawi population is still leaving (about 250.000 persons) to the logistic point of view, through the construction of tends, houses, schools, hospitals as well as political, social and cultural.

Petralla 1

In fact nowadays,most of them exercise important institutional assignments and everyone of them take part at the conventions between women who then are often determinants in many government decisions. They wish their population could return in the territory from where they were forced to go away and where their relatives are still leaving under occupation; they are also divided from a 2400 km wall, full of mines, built by Morocco, just to deny the possibility to the Saharawi people to return to their own country.


Italian photographer Raffaele Petralla went to visit these women, being a social documentary photographer with a passion for music. When, coincidentally, he was visiting Western Sahara, he heard about a band wanting to perform at one of the refugee camps. “I needed to help them; they were famous musicians”, Petralla says. “They just didn’t have instruments, so we managed to bring them into the country. We wanted to bring them to a place where they could play their new instruments and photograph them performing.” First Petralla therefore had to visit the Saharawi women and ask their permission. Once granted, he started photographing and interviewing the women first. “That’s the base of this series. These women are as important to the event as the musicians.”


Petralla really wanted to talk to these women privately, without their husbands being around. It’s the matriarchal society that otherwise would make it very hard for them to speak their minds. It was their history that interested Petralla in particular, including all the tragedies these women have encountered on the way to the refugee camp. “They build their first tent using their dresses”, Petralla explains. “But it was also their future that really interested me. Though all these women shared a remarkable history, they all looked ahead. You could see it in their eyes; full of willpower and persistence.”


It’s quite remarkable that Petralla got to shoot this series, because the Saharawis are an indigenous African people hardly known in the West. Unsurprisingly this was one of the aspects that attracted the photographer in this subject. Of course he needed a fixer, in his case a good Saharawi friend who worked for the band. They grew closer as time progressed, gaining more trust from the women at the same time. Going from one refugee camp to another refugee camp he got to meet more and more women, all agreeing on the band to perform at their camp as well. “And everywhere we had to drink tea first, making the visits longer and longer. First the strong one, then a sweet one and finally an even sweeter one. It became a ritual hours on end.”

Yet it took even more time to get all the women to relax and have their pictures taken. Petralla definitely didn’t want to just walk in and start shooting; gaining their trust and having them feel comfortable were the most important tasks. Only then would he take out his camera and capture the women in their daily routine. Putting the story together afterwards took him some time, next to the two months it took Petralla to shoot the series, but he admits that it has been more then worth it. “I’ve decided to also include some landscape images to break up the portrait series. Too many portraits can destroy each other, therefore you need to separate them with a photograph of another subject. This part of the process, which took another month, was hard for me, but in the end I’m very happy with the result.”



Raffaele Petralla is a documentary photographer based in Rome. He graduated at Scuola Romana di Fotografia in 2007. His focus is on reporting social, environmental and anthropological issues. He also works like a social worker and educator in emergency reception centres for unaccompanied immigrant minors since 2012. His works are exhibited in many art galleries and photo festivals like Greenwich Heritage Centre and Royal Albert Hall in London, Photoshow in Birmimgam,Banbury Museum & Art Gallery in Oxford, Belfast Photo Festival, Fotoleggendo in Rome. Some of his photographic and video projects have received awards including: Cineteca di Bologna, Visioni doc 2014 1st prize and special mention, Nettuno Tracce Cinematografiche Film Fest 2013 1st prize, honorable mentions on IPA 2014, MIFA 2014 third prize and honorable mention, International Print Exhibition157 2014. He collaborates with media and magazines such as CNN photos, Internazionale, La Repubblica, La Repubblica inchieste, National Geographic, Left Avvenimenti, La nuova Ecologia. From 2015 Petralla is a Member for Prospekt Agency and Ulixes Pictures Collective and working on a documentary photo project in Republic of Mari-El, Russia, about the last pagan population of Europe.

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Fashionable Niger

You might have heard about the Paris or Milan Fashion Week, but did you know there was an International Festival of African Fashion in Niger? Spanish photographer Héctor Mediavilla went there and explored what fashion means for people in one of the least developed countries in the world.

“Can fashion be a vector for development in a very poor country?” Héctor Mediavilla, a visual storyteller from Barcelona who focusses his work addresses issues relating to the construction of identity in unique human groups asked himself when he embarked on a journey to the International Festival of African Fashion (FIMA) in Niger. He currently spends much of his time devoted to projects with moving images and had the same idea for this project. Mediavilla, who has been a documentary photographer for over 15 years, wants to denounce injustices, which hopefully eventually will shift the understanding of human conditions.

Model Mercy Ashie takes a selfie just after having her hair done for the catwalk.

Organiser and fashion designer Sidahmed Alphadi Seidnaly, known as the ‘Magician of the Desert’, born in Timbuktu, Mali (1957), at least believed so when he founded the festival back in 1998. The Nigerien organised the first edition in Agadez, in the open air of the Sahara Desert. He wanted to bring together African designers and handicraft makers with their international counterparts to promote African cultures, encourage investment, and promote economic and social development. For these efforts he was designated UNESCO’s ‘Artist for Peace’ earlier this year, being recognized for his ‘commitment to culture and development at the service of peace and human dignity, for his contribution to the promotion of tolerance and for his dedication to the ideals of the organization’. In his capacity as UNESCO Artist for Peace, Alphadi, who also runs his own foundation to empower women and children in the Sahara region, will work to transform the FIMA into an itinerant event so that the next editions may take place in other African countries, notably Mali and Ivory Coast. He also intends to develop the festival’s educational function.

A model awaits at the entrance of the "Centre Aere de la BCEAO", where the FIMA is taking place. Due to the danger of a terrorist atack special security measures are being taken to avoid any problems. The growing islamization of the country also makes this kind of international event more difficult to be accepted from an important part of the population.

The 9th and last edition of one of the most important cultural events in Niger unfortunately had to take place in a secure area in the country’s capital, Niamey, because of recent terrorist activity. After this edition in 2013 it unfortunately hasn’t been possible to organise the bi-yearly festival because of the terrorist threat, but perhaps FIMA will be back next year. Mediavilla definitely hopes so, because although he didn’t come back with an answer to the question, he did return with enough images to show it might be a possibility. He portrayed two sisters for example, then 17-year old Miriam and 15-year old Nadia, who both share the same dream: to become a top model.

Eli Kuame, a fashion designer from Ivory Coast, helps one of the few light skinned models to put one of his dresses.

Living in Niger, which ranked last in the United Nations’ Human Development Index for the past few years, their possibilities to have a career in modelling are limited and the FIMA is the only platform in their country to start and take their first steps into the modelling world. “They come from a middle class African family”, Mediavilla explains, “modelling could just be a hobby for them, but Miriam is taking it serious ever since she was a little girl. She actually begins to suffer from anorexia due to the image she has of top models. Nadia on the other hand, was never too interested in modelling, but due to the interest she awakened in the local industry and the people around her, she is taking the possibility of a career in modelling more seriously.”

Miriam and Nadia with their mother in the living room. They came back from church.

Nadia thinks over during a downtime of the FIMA fashion festival.

Before Mediavilla got interested in FIMA, he set his eyes on the S.A.P.E: the Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant People in Brazzaville. “At the start of the 20th century when the French arrived in the Congo, the myth of Parisian elegance was born among the youth of the Bakongo ethnic group, who were working for the colonisers. At that time, many considered white men to be superior, due to their sophistication and elegance. In 1922, Grenard André Matsoua was the first Congolese man ever to come back from Paris dressed as a genuine Frenchman. His arrival caused great admiration among his fellow countrymen; he became known as the first Grand Sapeur”, he explains. Supported by the respect and admiration of their community, today’s Sapeurs consider themselves artists. They add a touch of glamour to their humble environment through their refined manners and impeccable dressing styles. Each of them is unique, each possessing a particular and individualised repertoire of gestures.” They all share the same dream: to go to Paris and return to Brazzaville as the ambassadors of supreme elegance.

Miriam and Nadia are two teenagers from a middle-class African family who want to become top models. They love technology, especially being connected by FaceBook with their friends.

Though Mediavilla didn’t have the opportunity to go back to Niger, he does still stay in touch with the two sisters. Just like he does with Ahoua, who was 23-years old when he met her and started modelling when she was 19. It was her second time at the FIMA and she actually makes a living modelling at different other African fashion festivals as well. Next to that she works in a disco. With Niger facing growing Islamisation in recent years, if Ahoua goes out she has to cover her hair. Wearing a miniskirt in the street is forbidden, which makes that she has to live a double life. One of oppression during the daytime and one of freedom at night. Alphadi found this out the hard way: in 2000 for example, his flagship workshop and boutique was shattered by some fundamentalists for making dresses that expose women’s body parts in several places. Afterwards, in 2011 just a day before his FIMA event was to kick-start, his workshops in Niamey were set on fire.

Nadia, 15, helps her older sister Miriam, 17, to put her bra.

Nadia plays with her tablet.

With that the fashion festival was caught in the same struggle; on the one hand organising an event that made people from all over the world come to Niger and thus get to know this ‘forgotten’ country, but on the other not adhering to the strict Islamic rules imposed by insurgents. Just when Alphadi wants the world to realise that ‘Africa is not just poverty, fighting and disease – Africa is also art and design’, he isn’t able to show that anymore. The fact that FIMA offered a unique platform to local designers and models and that their motto is ‘Creativity for Peace and Development in Africa’, doesn’t matter to the ones that say it’s against their law. Perhaps the recent elections can bring change in the future and create a safe space for FIMA to relive it’s festival.

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Portraits to last a lifetime

African photography is on the rise. Following decades of photographic misrepresentation by observers from outside the continent, African photographers are now showing the world what they see through their lens. This is Africa spotlights them in a series of interviews.

When South African photographer Alexia Webster visited Sudan in 2006, a specific situation opened her eyes. While on assignment for a big international media company she wanted to make a story about hiphop in the capital city of Khartoum, but her editors didn’t think it would fit into the image their audience has of the country as war torn and impoverished. On her next assignment, in a refugee camp in Kenya, a refugee came up to her and asked when he was going to see the images she shot. “I had to be honest and tell him, probably never. I knew that the photos would never get back to him.” The man became upset, telling her that he had been in the camp for over 15 years and didn’t have any images of himself or his family. “Foreign photographers had been coming in and out of the camp all the time taking photographs without sharing them”, Webster explains. “He was justifiably frustrated.” From this experience the idea for the ‘Street Studio Project’ was born. The project creates outdoor family portrait studios in public spaces and invites anyone to come have their portrait taken. Webster has a portable printer on site and prints the photographs for free for people to take home with them. She wanted to return these images, ‘treasures’, to the people she photographed.


“In the context of a refugee camp it can really mean a lot to have your photograph taken with your loved ones and to get to keep a copy”, Webster explains. About halfway through her photographic career she got frustrated with how her photography was reflecting her continent. She wanted to make a change herself and this project hopefully is the first step. “Especially in places where life is so disrupted, a family portrait can have such a big resonance and importance.” Creating open air studios in refugee camps proved difficult at times, but in the end it was always worth the effort. Webster started out in Woodstock, Cape Town with her first Street Studio. “People were lining up non stop for the two days I was out there.” After five other locations in her home country she managed to get funding and take the project abroad. Alexia has managed to bring her outdoor studio to Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


For Webster, who studied photography in New York and did a course at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, it’s not so much about what her audience thinks about her photography, but her subjects. “The intention is different; it is not for others to get a better understanding, but quite simply to provide family portraits.”

With documentary photography Webster sees the potential to transform peoples opinion about her subjects and the world around them. “I do believe that the more positive images we put in the media, the more optimistically people will look at the world and the more potential there is to transform things. Negativity feeds negativity and we don’t need more of that in the African continent.”

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Sharing African stories

African photography is on the rise. Following decades of photographic misrepresentation by observers from outside the continent, African photographers are now showing the world what they see through their lens. This is Africa spotlights them in a series of interviews.

For the most part photography started as a love hate relationship”, Sam Vox admits. The Tanzanian photographer didn’t have an easy start in the passion that now means the world to him. But that all turned around after he left school and could do his own thing. “People motivate me to go out and photograph, I enjoy storytelling; people have so much to share. I’m curious about people’s lives, cultures, traditions, languages and food. It’s the means of life.”


For Vox it all kicked off in 2007 when he was doing my BA in Professional Communications in Malaysia. “Being far away from home and alone for the first time in a foreign country was an overwhelming experience”, he says. “One thing was for certain, and to most people’s surprise, I disliked my photography class which was compulsory during my foundation year. The class was very technical and consisted of lessons spent indoors most of the time. For that reason I never used my camera after class. Sadly, I have to confess it would just end up on my bottom shelf.”

By the end of his first year Vox had saved up enough money to join friends on a road trip to the outskirts of Malaysia. He took my camera with him; “the best decision I ever made.” At the beginning of his adventures the passion was reignited. “I documented our road trip along the way and took photos of people we met along our travels. I was attached to my camera for the full period of two weeks. For me my camera was so much more, it became my tool to connect with strangers, make new friends and share stories.” After graduating in 2012 and moving back to Tanzania, Vox never left his camera behind anymore.


“I don’t go out targeting specific people, for me everyone has something to share”, Vox explains. Joining the Everyday Africa project made that even more encouraging, and well worth the time. I don’t necessarily have an aim or try to educate my audience, but I’ve noticed that my photographs and stories have changed many people’s views on Tanzania and Africa in general.” For Vox his photography is a channel which enables him to share parts of Africa’s heart and her people. Ultimately his aim is to show the ordinary everyday life in an African country, by sharing stories of people, places and their different cultures and traditions.


Yet he certainly doesn’t go out with the intention or pursuit of finding images that would change the worlds view on Africa or Tanzania in particular. “I go out to connect with people and share their stories. That is what is most important to me, and most likely what could set my photography aside from other photographers out there. I have the advantage of connecting well with the people I photograph, especially in Tanzania.” Vox think they are more likely to share with him than a foreigner, mainly because he doesn’t treat them as my ‘subjects’ rather than a new friend he’s made. “As mentioned before, personally it is the focus of having that connection which is is important and I feel like I can reach out to people that can be easily ignored, it could be a coffee seller on the streets or taxi driver. If I had a task, it would be to show a little fraction of a person’s daily life.”


Though his work revolves around people and places, Vox tries not to limit himself when it comes to photography. “I experiment with different styles and enjoy the whole process of learning new things as it is a never ending journey of learning and growing. At the moment my strong hold would be portraiture, I like the whole process of engaging with the person and trying to reflect that into my images. I also experiment a lot with fine art photography and double exposures, it keeps my creativity flowing and sparks more ideas.” Quite aware of all the struggles people face in their everyday life, he still likes meeting the ones that are actually trying to make a change, either for themselves or the community. “There is so much to learn from the continent, the different languages, cultures and traditions. Africa is growing rapidly and an outsider may not be able to see it as we do. I think once the deeper meaning behind storytelling is met by more viewers, a greater respect and interest will arise for it.”

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Modern reflection of Africa

Too many times media only report about Africa in a negative way. To illustrate that, an overdose of heart breaking images can be found in any image bank. But start searching for a positive picture and you’ll have to try hard. Agility Africa noticed the same thing and in response launched a photo competition to reflect modern Africa.

With the competition, Agility, one of the world’s leading providers of integrated logistics, wants to highlight the success of emerging African countries and reflect their increasing progress. Seeking to show the often unreported side of Africa they called for photographers to capture their country booming with tech-savvy, youthful consumers, fast-paced urbanization and enormous long-term economic prospects.


Geoffrey White, CEO of Agility Africa, explains it as follows: “What we wanted to achieve by holding this photo competition is to create more media publicity for successes on the African market. In many countries and big cities in Africa they have first world infrastructure, modern skyscrapers and advanced technologies, but you don’t see that in the mainstream media. Therefore we decided that this side of the continent could use a bit more PR and with that needed images that showed this. Highlight this dynamic market filled with opportunities.”


Next to showing the real development of the continent in three categories (cities, industry and technology), Agility also hopes this photo competition engages amateur and professional photographers to present a modern, fast-changing view of Africa. “There are some world class images of Africa, but most of what is being picked up by the media passes by on this”, says White, who speaks and write frequently on African infrastructure and development, amongst other subjects. “There is a wow-factor to many cities and even I, after all my visits, still have it because you don’t believe that you’re in Africa when you see all these technologies. That’s because nobody showed them to you before and we want to change that. Change the view people have of the African continent.”


He admits that it of course also will benefit Agility as a company doing business there that this perception changes, but the competition is meant to be a positive for all parties involved. “And hoping that the photographers participating in the competitions show this, is will of course also be a great opportunity for them. The main thing is to change the misperceptions people have of Africa though, because they miss out on opportunities.” People shouldn’t close there eyes for the issues that are still present on the continent according to White, but in his opinion more good news should be shown. The media isn’t balanced when it comes to reporting on most African subjects. Therefore we will put the images on a website with the intention to create a bigger library showing the successes of business in Africa.”


The selection of the images and winners is made by a professional jury, consisting of Sneha Shah, managing director of Sub-Saharan African for Thomson Reuters, Bronwyn Nielsen, group executive director of the Africa Business News Group which includes CNBC Africa and Forbes Africa and last but not least artist and profesor Ablade Glover, who is the founder and director of the internationally renowned Artist Alliance Gallery in Ghana. “I’m personally not involved”, White says. “But I’m sure I will enjoy looking at the great images.”


The winning images of the city of Luanda in Angola, wheat fields in Kenya, and a child holding a cell phone were selected from more than 700 photographs submitted by photographers from 33 countries in the categories of industry, technology and cities. A cash prize of US$2,000 was awarded for each competition category to Carlos Aguiar from Angola (cities), Ahmed A Osman from Kenya (industry) and Mohsen Taha from Uganda (technology). Taha received an additional Grand Prize of US$2,000 for his photo of a boy holding a mobile phone as the overall competition winner.

“I’m proud to be a part of a competition that helps to promote the economic development happening right now in Africa,” said Taha, the grand prize winner. “This competition has allowed photographers to show the various aspects of Africa and how we have grown and developed into something different, and better. Six years ago, I couldn’t afford a mobile phone. Today in Uganda, everyone from rural to urban areas can afford one. These advancements are significant.”

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“I’m an African storyteller”

African photography is on the rise. Following decades of photographic misrepresentation by observers from outside the continent, African photographers are now showing the world what they see through their lens. This is Africa spotlights them in a series of interviews.

For the past two decades French – Malagasy photographer Guillaume Bonn reported on conflict and social issues in Darfur, Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, and Mauritania mainly for The New York Times and other media like Time, Newsweek and The Guardian. He was one of the first journalists to cover the Darfur crisis from within Sudan, bringing world-wide attention to the crisis. Together with a journalist Bonn also uncovered the sexual abuses committed on children by UN peace-keepers in Congo. No wonder the International Center of Photography in New York graduate received several prizes and awards, amongst which a grant from the Pulitzer center in 2014.


“My first adventure started at the age of six in the Danakil desert and has been going on ever since”, Bonn says. “I’m a storyteller who wants to tell a story that hasn’t been told yet, or one that in his opinion should be told differently.” Though based in Nairobi, where he grew up, Bonn spends most time in Paris nowadays. Yet he is an international citizen, East Africa being the place he lived most and South Africa a country very well known to him. Very few countries in Africa have secrets for him.” Usually working together with writers send from Europe or the United States, he tries to teach him something about the continent. Tries to make them see beyond the preconceived ideas and cliches that most have of the African continent “I want to make them understand and realize that the situation is not that simple.”


A lot of what Bonn does these days is spent on personal work, trying to tell stories that have not been told using all the experience he has acquired over the years. “It bores me to death when other photographers, usually foreigners, come to the continent and do a story that has already been done not knowing it has been done before and without doing their research first. They might want to use the time they have on the continent to bring something fresh and offer a different view, but most of the time they’re in and out.”


Instagram is a whole different story for Bonn, describing it as a “window to where I am”.. Everyday Africa is an organization I’m very glad to BE workING with, because it’s great exposure and also because they publish some beautiful and interesting work on it.” For Bonn, having fun in doing photography is very important. Staying creative is of the essence. “Being present online is very crucial these days, but they also say that the more followers you have the more important you are,  I really don’t think that really means anything. Look at all the accounts that are followed by millions just posting pictures of pizzas or sexy women without clothes on; at the end of the day it should be about quality. Even if it’s just for Instagram. I’m not ready yet to post my in-depth stories that take a lot of time to produce and finance until someone figures out how we photographers can earn a living from that.

Le Mal d’Afrique

Bonn is the author of three photographic books, including his first monograph ‘Le Mal d’Afrique, a journey into old and new Africa’, which was exhibited at the Nairobi National Museum and from which some photographs are now part of the permanent collection of the museum. He edited and also photographed with twelve other photographers for the book ‘Nairobi’; an exploration of a city published in 2009.

Vanity Fair

As a contributor to Vanity Fair magazine since 2002, from whom he has been covering a range of stories, from the conflict in North Uganda, with the late Christopher Hitchens, and the murder of conservationist Joan Root near Lake Naivasha, with Mark Seal, to the haute couture shows in Paris or being the only invited photographer at the wedding of the son of the Maharaja of Jodhpur.

His last story is the now famous ‘Agony & Ivory’ on the African Elephants and the ivory trade, which brought needed attention worldwide to the genocide elephants are facing on the African continent. Bonn is currently working on two books. His next body of work ‘Mosquito Coast, travels from Maputo to Mogadishu will be published by Hatje Cantz in November next year and launched at Paris Photo.

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M. is for Mozambique

For many non-Portuguese speaking people the history of Mozambique is unknown. Overshadowed in the media by the situation in their neighboring South Africa, their independence in 1975 after almost a decade of war was not widely reported. Two Dutch photographers however, took special interest in the country. One before and one after this major event. Now the latter published a photography book combining both mens work.

LFM cover

“I visited Mozambique three times. The first time was in 1997, when I was a graduate student in South Africa, in Pretoria”, photographer Ben Krewinkel says. “I came back again in 2000 and two years ago, when I spend almost a month traveling around together with an old college friend of mine who spoke Portuguese. We went practically without any structure and orchestration, just to see how after forty years of independence the country looked. To visualize that I linked my pictures of modern day Mozambique to those made by photojournalist Frits Eisenloeffel (1944-2001), which he made right before the countries independence in 1975.” With ‘Looking for M.’ he bridged and merged an era in which the country was at the start of a new phase of independency, reflecting on the Mozambique’s hopeful future while at the same time looking back at it’s troubled past.



Krewinkel choose a nimble approach to ‘Looking for M.’ Although he’s been engaged for a long time in Mozambique, and it is a serious matter, he wanted to make this book project feel effortless: to travel around and see what happens. The result is a small book in an illustrated sleeve with a pitch-black silhouette of a young black woman on the cover. It’s a schoolgirl from Mozambique. “My initial idea was to use this picture for the front cover, but the photograph turned out blurry. Only later the same picture came out to be quite usable. I adored it. While I was shooting this girl she distracted by a number of other college girls she was gathering with. She seems very quiet, but also a bit tense. When I found out that the picture was actually appropriate for the front cover, it symbolizes, although in a somewhat clichéd expression, the new Mozambique”, Krewinkel explains.



So where does the ‘M.’ in the title exactly stand for? Krewinkel explains it as standing for his return to the Mozambique that he encountered in 1997 and didn’t been record at the time. But in the meantime he learned a lot more about the country, so perhaps the ‘M.’ partly mirrors the ‘memories’ that he has. “For that ‘M.’, you can fill in a lot of things”, he admits. And that at the same time resembles the content of this photography book. The images are diverse and range from street scenes, portraits of ordinary Mozambicans  and some architecture shot by Krewinkel to images of marching soldiers, fleeing Portuguese and posing generals captured by Eisenloeffel. All of this combined with cutouts of newspapers writing about the upcoming independence make the selection of images more than a simple comparison between the differences of ‘then’ and ‘now’.



The idea for this book came to Krewinkel when he was investigating the archive of Frits Eisenloeffel back in 2005. He saw his photographs of Mozambique and felt he had to pick up that story, to close the loop. “It was then, in search of the Mozambique that I had encountered myself, the Mozambique that Eisenloeffel has seen with his own eyes, and that I had never documented.” Eisenloeffel studied political science at the University of Amsterdam and became interested in the struggle for independence in African countries back in the seventies. During his studies he ran into radicalized Portuguese deserters in Paris and wrote journalistic pieces about Portugal, leading him to Mozambique. “He worked as a journalist and his photographs were originally intended to illustrate his articles about the political situation in the country. In the context of ‘Looking for M.’ I gave his pictures a different meaning, because I linked his journalistic images to my documentary photographs. The cultural historical context is changing and with it, perhaps, the interpretation of images in the documentary mode.”



The idea to combine his own images with those of Eisenloeffel only came after he was already done shooting and are actually a tribute to his work. It was Eisenloeffel he went to Mozambique in the first place, hence the chronological order of which the images are shown in the book. A good example of this are the wall murals they both photographed, yet forty years apart. They are a vital part of public life in Mozambique and of the history of the country. Usually they depict propagandistic stories of the revolution. “But nowadays the people pass them by as if they weren’t there and nobody seems necessarily interested in the history of the revolutionary struggle”, says Krewinkel. “Especially the young people have other things on their mind, which is visible in the streets, with people not taking notice to then at all. When Eisenloeffel visited Mozambique these murals meant the future, when I was there they rather seemed to represent the past.”


‘Looking for M.’ was published earlier this year and will be shown at LagosPhoto from October 24 till November 27.

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Breaking the cycle of negative stereotypical images

African photography is on the rise. Following decades of photographic misrepresentation by observers from outside the continent, African photographers are now showing the world what they see through their lenses. This is Africa spotlights them in a series of interviews. 

It is lucky that South African photographer Barry Christianson got bored on vacation when he was younger, otherwise he might never have picked up a camera. From the moment he did, back in 1998, and spent all his pocket money on buying and processing film, he was hooked. “I was just sixteen back then, but I knew right away I wanted to keep on doing photography”, he said. “But because film and processing is expensive I needed to get a part time job, next to studying, to keep on shooting. Luckily I had the chance to buy a digital camera in 2011, which gave me the opportunity to shoot as much as I wanted.” Though he doesn’t yet work as a professional photographer and his work is not being published or shown in galleries, he plans to do so in the future and is currently part of the ‘Everyday Africa’ network, which provides his photography with a wide reach via the social media platform for images of daily life on the continent.

barry-135508 barry-170022

No conscious effort

Christianson, who has always lived in Cape Town, is now working as a web developer, which helps fund his photography. While walking the streets of his hometown he likes to capture intimate moments quietly; moments that otherwise would go unnoticed. He tries to reveal something unrecognized with his photographs of the deeply familiar.

“On the one hand I rarely make a conscious effort to go out and photograph. I enjoy photographing situations I just encounter, in environments I’m familiar with. So if it’s foggy outside, I will take a stroll and make some photographs. Other times it’s basically just what catches my eye in an everyday moment. By doing this I try to have people look at familiar situations differently I suppose, but that doesn’t happen on purpose.”




According to Christianson, it’s very easy to live in Cape Town or look at pictures of Cape Town and actually never get a proper sense of the city. He tries to show his images of everyday people using the city for their own needs. Not only does he upload them to his own Instagram, but he also runs a separate channel to show this view of Cape Town.  “I avoid perpetuating stereotypes that get perpetuated all too often. I have become aware of how certain images get burned into our imagination. And so when we see those images while photographing we reproduce them unconsciously, and we in turn perpetuate that cycle of bad stereotypical images. I try to show images that people from Cape Town will recognise as being from here, not the kind of marketing that is aimed at overseas visitors.”


Mitchells Plain

Growing up in the coloured township of Mitchells Plain, Christianson recently saw a bunch of images made by an overseas visitor in a predominantly coloured area. For the first time he felt what it was like to be objectified as a so-called coloured person. “I found the experience really interesting. Cape Town is a very racially segregated city. During Apartheid you had white, coloured and black areas with no mixing. Since the end of Apartheid the restrictions were lifted but the economic barriers remain as the economy is still divided in terms of race. So you still get predominantly coloured, black and white areas.” Back in 2013 he photographed the Marikana protest and afterwards decided he wanted to see the site Capetonians – consisting of two remaining shacks and a tent – for himself. He didn’t want the people to look like victims, but Christianson had the intention to show their sadness and trepidation, caused by the Anti-Land Invasion Unit that illegally demolished their dwellings. “You can see the outline of Table Mountain, the city’s claim to fame, in many of the photos. In this case it is a reminder that the City of Cape Town’s slogan ‘This city works or you’ does not apply to all residents. As a photographer I can only try to portray a truer narrative.”

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Nigerian Photography at the Photographic Museum of Humanity

Recently the Photographic Museum of Humanity opened a new online exhibition: Nigerian Photography, featuring the work of Lakin Ogunbawo, Ima Mfon, Uche Okpa-Iroha and Jenevieve Aken. The show is curated in collaboration with Azu Nwagbogu, founder and director of the African Artists’ Foundation and LagosPhoto Festival. We spoke with the man he worked with: Alejandro Kirchuk, senior curator at the PH Museum.

The Photographic Museum of Humanity is the first online Museum dedicated solely to the coverage of contemporary photography. Launched in January 2013, every month the museum presents a new exhibition in collaboration with a world renowned curator, guided by project founder Giuseppe Oliverio.

“Photography poses a paradox. It’s relatively easy to do, but to contextualize photography and to make it relevant needs knowledge, and a lot of it. This is the challenge with photography in Nigeria and on the continent. The Nigerian photography community is thriving in unique ways because it’s driven mostly by commercial interests, but this could also lead to more avenues of exploration”, says Azu Nwagbogu about Nigerian photography.

Ima Mfon.

How did you come up with the idea to do an exhibition on Nigerian photography?

“A year and a half ago we came up with the idea of creating monthly cycles in the museum dedicated to photography from individual countries, with the objective of presenting to our public a selection of the most interesting photography that has been produced over the last few years. In this respect, Nigeria was one of the countries we were very interested in exploring.”

What did the PH Museum do in the past with photography from the African continent, and is there a special interest in that area?

“This is our first monthly exhibition about an African country. We were looking forward very much to this, especially because we knew that in the last decade there has been an explosion of African photographers working at a high level. Moreover, there is a stereotype with Africa (with the continent in general) and we wanted to confront this with the real view of local photographers, which happens to be very different from our preconceived idea.”

Ima Mfon

For this exhibition you’ve worked together with guest curator Azu Nwagbogu. How did you get into touch with him?

“For these cycles to be successful in terms of attracting the most interesting photographic works produced in each country, we always get in touch with a local curator and work in collaboration with them. We give them the freedom to choose what they consider to be the most interesting work. Regarding our choice of Azu, we have been impressed by the quality of the LagosPhoto festival and its interesting program; that’s how we discovered him, and we knew he was the best choice to help us curate a cycle about Nigerian Photography.”

What were you after regarding the photography on this exhibition and did you get what you were looking for?

“Yes, we got what we were looking for. We wanted to be surprised by each work selected by Azu, and each project hits you in a different way; either because it has visual power or because it has a strong original idea. As I pointed out before, we wanted to confront the stereotype that one can make about Nigerian photography, and it’s great that the result is so particular.”

Lakin Ogunbanwo.

Is there a goal with showing these photographs?

“Each gallery has its own goal – each photographer has been working with a particular idea and I think each one has a strong voice. Browsing the galleries you will find different topics concerned with Nigerian culture, from the role of women in society to the idea of Nigerian identity. I think you will have a variety of reactions when viewing the galleries and we like that. It’s an interesting experience.”

The photography at this exhibition, which “offers an insight into the work of a group of emerging Nigerian photographers interested in exploring identity, relationships, and cultural representation in modern society”, is very different; does that define Nigerian photography?

“We try to present in these cycles a variety on themes and styles, together with coherence in the way the works speak to each other. And I think this is what happens with the Nigerian Photography exhibition: you jump from theme to theme in a beautiful way.”

The museum’s website says, “We believe photography is a powerful medium of expression, a creative way to depict life.” In what way does that reflect in this exhibition?

“I think that quote is clearly represented in this exhibition of Nigerian photography. I believe in photography today as the most relevant medium of communication, the most spoken language today is the visual one, and it’s very important that photographers always come up with creative ways of telling and expressing something. And this actually happens with the Nigerian Photography exhibition; each author has created a distinctive way of presenting their subjects, and we celebrate that.”

Lakin Ogunbanwo

Do you notice more activity from the African continent in regards to photography?

“We have witnessed an emergence of African photographers over the last decade, especially through photography festivals. Despite the very clear difference between Middle East African photographers and African photographers from the center of the continent, and also with South African photographers, we only know about African photographic culture in a general and superficial way. That’s why it’s really important to connect with local experts that allow us to learn the photographic landscape of a country in a more comprehensive way.”

What will the PH Museum do with African photography in the future?

“We will probably prepare another cycle in the near future about another African country, and hopefully we will be partnering with a photography festival.”

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Nabil Boutros: creating awareness with poetry

African photography is on the rise. Following decades of photographic misrepresentation by observers from outside the continent, African photographers are now showing the world what they see through their lens. This is Africa spotlights them in a series of interviews. 

When talking about the photography of Nabil Boutros there is a distinctive turning point to be noted, exactly ten years ago. Before 2005 the Egyptian photographer was trying to show good sides of a difficult present by being close to people, to their faith, to every day life and by trying to introduce some beauty or dreams. “But since, I am making and using pictures (even my own archives) to bring consciousness awareness of what is happening socially with a distance that I can call poetic, or may be philosophic. Hopefeully at least”, Nabil explains. “It’s clear to me that I cannot make the same pictures as before; my point of view have changed. Before, I was aware to show empathy with people, situations, beauty. But now I am more looking to find formal approaches of some ideas or ironic comments.”

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Nabil’s most recent works are not only conceptual: form and shape are also very important and make up an essential part of it; they have to pull sensations in the same direction. Conceiving a new project means for him conceiving the appropriate form. “I have my commitments with my projects, but no formal style, brand or trade mark which are mainly concerned by trade, buying and selling. My main concern is about Egypt and the Middle East, trying to raise problematics on a human level.”

Moine dentiste, Monastère Saint Paul du Désert - Mer Rouge- Egypte
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Dark and hazy

Having studied decorative arts in Cairo and painting in Paris, Nabil has a broad background. “At the time I was studying I was feeling very close to classic painting and drawing. I started making conceptual paintings with classical techniques with the help of photographs I was taking, but was not really satisfied. So I started making photos, trying to catch emotions, instants that were giving me immediate feeling of truth.” He was getting pleasure out of working in the lab and the craft side of black and white photography. Funny thing is that the photographer he is today has more to do with his first conceptual work as a painter than his first experiences of photography thirty years ago. “Since my beginnings, I didn’t like to show and describe everything. Dark and hazy pictures leaves enough space for the viewer to project himself, to dream in the picture. That’s why I never became a reporter in a journalistic definition. Newspaper and magazine photographs are showing easily understandable situations to illustrate subjects, which doesn’t interest me as photographer.”

He even went the opposite direction, trying to combine pictures beside each other to transcend resistance to a quick and consummative reading of the images. “Photographic techniques have changed and the relationship with images too. Meanwhile, continuing to resist consuming images, I slowly slipped to my recent conceptual works.”

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Witch hunt

Because Nabil is focusing on his own subjects, whatever is the success, or non success that it gets from audience, he is determined in his task: giving shape to thoughts and feelings and putting them on a public ground like little bricks. Trying to give an intimate image of Egypt, from inside, on different subjects for the Egyptian and foreign audience. Before he didn’t meet particular difficulties for shooting pictures, but since a year and half, it is even difficult to show up a camera. “There is a real witch hunt for any kind of recording, not only from authorities but also people who are sincerely convinced that any photographer or cameraman is working for with a foreign agenda to demolish the Egyptian state.”

The Egyptian photography scene was and still is very rich, according to Nabil, but was actually enhanced by two combined phenomenons: a digital revolution and street revolution. A young new generation learned very quickly what is reporting, making good images. That was really missing due to police surveillance for long years.

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