Category Archives: This is Africa

Unstructured Image of South Africa

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. 

To be honest, Graeme Williams actually became a photo journalist by default. He was always more interested in doing his own documentary (long term) projects, but the situation in his home country of South Africa dragged him into a flow in which he suddenly found himself working for Reuters. That was back in 1989 and after having spend a year in London, the Cape Town born photographer was covering South Africa’s transition to ANC rule. “The plan was to go to Joburg for two years, but I’m here for over two decades already”, Graeme says. He moved there because it’s the place to be when things are happening in South Africa and you can be sure that if they happen there, they will spread across the nation. “Of course in that time it was also the place for great political change and a turning point for South Africa as a whole.” He admits that Cape town is a beautiful place to live, but for a photographer Johannesburg is much more interesting.

Johannesburg. From the series A city refracted. 2013. Johannesburg. From the series A city refracted. 2013. Johannesburg. From the series A city refracted. As the grass grows 08

A city refracted

Everyday was a nice challenge back in those days and the work he did during that period is not housed in the permanent collections of The Smithsonian, The South African National Gallery, The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and Cape Town University amongst others. “In 2013 I was awarded the POPCAP Prize for Contemporary African Photography as well as the Ernest Cole Book award for the series, ‘A city refracted’.” The fact that photographic assignments have taken Graeme to fifty countries and that he has been published in major publications worldwide like National Geographic Magazine, Time, Newsweek and The New York Times Magazine, didn’t change his passion for South Africa though. Nowadays he finally has time to work on his own projects, to show a side of his country he wants to shine light on.

As the grass grows 09

Soweto 2006. From the series, The Edge of Town
 Graeme Williams13


“Where in the nineties it was about hard news, I now focus on aspects of society in an abstract way. I try to move away from what is happening at the moment and show more of a global view that evokes a feeling with the viewer.” It’s not a direct story Graeme is after, rather than it step back and look for a visually aesthetic way of portraying aspects that interest him. Take the series ‘A city refracted’ mentioned earlier for example. Instead of focussing on a single situation that occurred in the inner city of Joburg, he tried to capture his own feeling on being an outsider in a neighborhood that is less then ten minutes drive away from his home. Capturing the increasing social polarization isn’t something that can be done in a single shot; Graeme actually had to change his viewpoint from that of a local to that of a foreigner. “The images are unstructured and the content of the frame is at times seemingly random”, he explains. “Many of the images are blurred by movement or have a limited field of focus. The images therefore take on a dreamlike appearance resonant with the sense of disorientation tourists might experience when finding themselves surrounded by a foreign culture.”
Glen Cowie, 2005. South Africa. From the series: The Edge of Town.

Graeme Williams20
 Hanover. 2006. South Africa. From the series: The Edge of Town.

Born Frees

Reason for this way of working is the visual overload that makes us numb to feel emotions, according to Graeme. “There is too much information available. Therefore it’s losing it’s impact because of the intensity.” His own projects aren’t linear, but evolve around something bigger than a single subject. For another series ‘As the grass grows’, he focuses on young South Africans, who were born after the end of apartheid in a democratic South Africa. Therefore this group of young voters have been nicknamed ‘Born Frees’. “Paradoxically, the country’s unemployment rate has increased steadily over the past two decades providing little hope of employment for many millions of young South Africans, despite being born free. I wanted to give people a look into the lives of this group, to understand and learn.”

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Conveying experience, emotion and sensation

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. 

Born to Congolese parents in Liège, Belgium, it’s no surprise that Léonard Pongo feels a connection with the country of his origin. He has long wanted to work in the DRC, but in fact had never visited before he started his first documentary project ‘The Uncanny,’ back in 2011. “I wanted much more to see, live and understand the country than give a specific opinion about it. More than trying to convince people of seeing Congo in a certain way, I wanted to complete my understanding of what life in the country was like.”

uncanny01 A car accident in the Golf neighbourhood in Lubumbashi - 2013 A young woman dances at the Lubumbashi golf open - 2013


Pongo doesn’t see himself as a journalist and though he considers himself a documentary photographer, he is critical towards the use of photography to convey specific or complex ideas. “Photography is a very flawed medium which seldom delivers any obvious truth or translates any clear reality without the use of additional tools. The camera transforms reality, it is both limited and incomplete in what it can show to convey a complex reality. It works better to create abstract containers than informative objects.” His Congo project ‘The Uncanny’ is heavily influenced by his subjective experience and personal relationship to the country and the people. As such, he gives more credit to emotional truthfulness in this work than to informative value. “I therefore see it more as a biased and partial view of life in the country than a social analysis of the country. My work related more to using photography to convey experience, emotion and sensation, than to deliver ‘truth’.”


The Uncanny

Pongo’s long term project required a lot of energy and time, and he wanted to develop his own visual language to tell stories that are relevant to his experience in the DRC. The documentary project was conducted in the provinces of Kinshasa, Bas-Congo, Bandundu, Kasaï and Katanga after the political elections of Autumn 2011. Léonard photographed family members, political personalities, religious leaders and local TV presenters in order to document the events that give rhythm to the lives of the country‘s inhabitants. By doing so he tried to understand Congolese society and recover part of his own identity.

“This story tries to show the collateral impact of the war instead of the direct hits. My need to see my country from a different point of view than the so often depicted crises, combined with the openness of people to share their most intimate moments with me and my willingness to be accepted as part of their lives, allowed me to depict my country intimately and subjectively, not trying to deliver a truth, but striving to understand people‘s realities and to reconstruct my own.”

 A fanillly poses during a familly reunion in the suburds of Lubumbashi - 2013


During his work in Congo, Léonard Pongo didn’t try to follow a political agenda. His work is not an attempt at settling scores or reclaiming anything. “I believe people will define themselves for, rather than against, fashions, or values, and I think the Congolese art scene has enough to say on its own, without the need to justify it against history. I think artists can convey more powerful works when they don’t try to justify them through a discourse of guilt or shame.” Befittingly, Pongo’s work is the result of many interactions in chosen places where he has been able to work. It’s not manufactured to serve a specific claim or to support a specific image of Congo.

“What transpires from the series is a certain energy of strangeness, a feeling of being observed as much as observing, and a certain tension. Conflicts have been very definitive parts of creating connection with people and that also transpire in the series.

This work does not rely on a clear narration but rather a loose discovery of a world filled with various characters who shared their lives with me.

A woman poses at the Kananga Hospital - 2011
 Disco Ntemba, a club of the Gombe neighbourhood (Kinshasa) - 2011


Pongo, who now lives in Brussels, thinks his photography is greatly influenced by western values and western tastes. He believes that bringing different values together produces conflict, but this conflict also generates content. “In that sense, my conflict has more to do with the fact that I am shared between identities that I cannot really bring together. I don’t define my identity as ‘African’ or anything else, but the mixing together of elements is what drives me. In the future I definitely want to do more projects in Congo, however, digging deeper and continuing to live through and digest more of its reality.

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The rich photography of Egypt

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.

“My photography is always evolving. In the past few years my work has been increasingly introspective”, Laura El-Tantawy says. “It’s about timing and the journey I happen to be on in my life at the moment. Generally my work explores social and environmental issues that have some attachment to my own background. I think this will always be the backdrop in my work”, the Egyptian photographer says. Although born in the United Kingdom, she identifies more with her Egyptian heritage and focusses her work accordingly.

image1 image2


“I almost never photograph what I’m actually looking at. I read, talk to people on the street and feel so when I’m in any given situation, I am usually photographing the amalgamation of these things. It’s an approach that sides with the idea that photography is not objective. I don’t believe in neutrality in pictures”, Laura explains. Her starting point is to inform herself; she cannot relate information if she doesn’t understand it. “In going out on the street and exploring places I would not have been to if not for my camera and meeting people I would not have otherwise come upon, I am expanding my own horizons. This is the starting point. Ultimately I hope when people see the pictures they will relate, understand or even better, change their perception.”



Laura thinks there has to be a larger goal than something within herself. She has a personal conflict though because she is skeptical about photography’s power to change perception or get people to take action. “There are some historical instances where pictures did that, but it is rare. This makes me look at photography, and my work particularly, from a narrower point of view.” In that perspective it’s also good that she doesn’t live in Egypt full-time, she says. “I can look at things from a distant eye and I find that this gives me clarity and a fresh perspective. I always work on my own long-term projects.”



“My ideas are inspired by the news, the vibe I am feeling on the streets or something someone said. The starting point is the idea itself and it has to be something that I believe is relevant, visual and I have something to say about. If I see pictures in my head, then I know this is going to be something I can do. Egypt and the African continent are full of life. They are also full of hardship and years of terrible corruption and injustices. This overlap of beauty and hardship is in itself inspiring for me.” She takes her country as it is; disliking the difficulties of everything in Egypt because it’s unnecessary, but again, the fact that she does not live there full-time gives her an advantage over people who live there all the time and have to deal with these daily stresses. “Photographically speaking, Egypt is much richer for me than most other places.”



She has a good explanation for the limitations of photography in her home country, a multitude of reasons: “A lot of it is cultural. We are conservative people by nature and I don’t mean religious, I mean character wise. We are used to protecting ourselves because we grew up in a society where there were always people telling us what to do. We follow rules, follow conventional educational and career paths. So we are taught to conform and all these factors make us a closed up people. This of course is changing, slowly. I also feel as a people we have not moved beyond the perception of photography as something that is done in the studio. So seeing the camera out on the street is a fairly new phenomenon.”


Long way

According to Laura the photograph scene in Egypt is growing. It is geared more towards photojournalism, but the fact it is growing is very positive. “I think it has a very long way to go. You have to educate people that photography is worthy of respect. You can just look at the front pages of any local newspaper and you see how poorly pictures are treated. We are still very much a culture of spoken words.”

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Creating familiarity with portraits

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.

“My aim as a photographer is to use my portrayals to re-image the African continent by show showcasing the continent in a more positive light, laying more emphasis on the positive. I focus on our African identity in all it’s diversity and the aesthetics of been African in the 21st century.” Nigerian photographer Jumoke Sanwo knows what she wants to show her audience. As a graduate of English Studies from the Obafemi Awolowo University in her home country Jumoke also knows how to communicate this to the outside, a power that she uses with great success. Her work has been exhibited far and wide, from New York, Brussels and Dubai to Lagos, Sudan, Addis Ababa, Benin, Chad and Ghana. “My work addresses aesthetic concerns as well as concerns on identity, which fosters the discourse on re-imaging the African continent”, she explains. “I will continue to push the envelope with my unique take on the lifestyle of Africans with projects that celebrate the rich cultural diversity within the continent.”

FishermenoftheCongo_2013_jumokesanwo-2 FishermenoftheCongo_2013_jumokesanwo-3


Jumoke wants to address social issues that in her opinion ‘ravage the continent’ with her imagery. Her view on the continent is what sets her apart, she believes, and her images are proof of that. “My portraits are quite intimate in a way that you are able to have a glimpse into the soul of my subjects.  I never shoot a subject until that window is open. The feel to my images is that of familiarity. For you the viewer has got to get the feeling to know the subject just by simply looking at the image.” What motivates her is the simple fact that she thinks these stories need to be told. Told by Africans. By doing so she wants to shed more light on her and her fellow Africans lifestyle. “For too long we’ve been subjected to objectification, almost to a point of spectacle. I feel that in the midst of all that are people living their day by day lives, doing normal things. They’re just surviving and going on; that’s what I want to show through my lens. African as a whole is a fascinating place for photographers, but most outsiders just come here to search for pictorials that illustrate the ideas they already have. I therefore focus on sharing stories without an agenda, unbiased. The focus is on my subject, not on me as a photographer. I simply witness the persons’ story and capture it.”




Black & White Project

Though Jumoke started off as a writer, she realized along the lines that words where not sufficient enough to express her artistic flair. Photography turned out to be the perfect tool as an extension to her views. She became a member of The X-perspective, Black Female Photographers Association, American Photography Association and Invisible Borders Trans-African Photography group to share her experiences with others and a broader audience. Like many other photographers in those association she wants to contribute to the discourse to consciously document stories that challenge the existing notions about a subject. “Last year I came up with an idea called the ‘Black and White Project’, to be presented in two parts. The first was the ‘Retrospective’ project to create an archival image bank. I believe we have a wealth of photographic history in private collections currently. The idea is to create a central body to digitally archive these images. The second part of the project is called the ‘Perspective’ and the idea is to consciously document ongoing occurrences pertaining to our lifestyle in the current day. I am still at the stage of fine-tuning the idea, but hope to be able to carry it out some day.”




In order to give a truthful image of her home country Nigeria she uses her native knowledge of the environment. Interacting with the space in a way that reveals a sensibility and understanding she tries to capture the story from the perspective of an interpreter, simply to share the stories from her subject’s perspective. It’s not always easy to do some in a city like Lagos, she admits. “It’s very challenging to survive as an artist here with the lack of an enabling environment for anything artistic. We see the future in ways how we can generate innovative ideas that can sharpen growth and development, but the government doesn’t understand this and therefore doesn’t support it. There is a rise in popularity of photography in Nigeria, but more in a commercial aspect. I don’t think we need more magazine type portrayals though, because this doesn’t add real value to the art of photography. Unfortunately the artistic practice is not lucrative enough for investments or support here.”

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Capturing the change

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. 

She believes in the reality of existence and want to capture that story. Seeking to explore the world and herself, document everything around her. That is what Ghanaian photographer Teresa Meka does. “The changing times, the joys, the pain, the highs and lows”, she explains, “I capture it all. I’m a detail-oriented person driven by the philosophy that photography, thus the photographer, is a tool of change, a tool to inform and question.” For her photography is a way of showing people the little things that we ignore everyday, the beauty that’s all around us, including the issues that affect us. “It’s an agent of change and discovery, it helps change stereotype about the continent and its people one image at a time. I seek to document my relationship with the society and how that evolves with time.”



Teresa’s love story for photography began with her uncle’s camera at the age of ten. “He lived abroad and every time her came over he let me use his camera”, she says. It fascinated her, but didn’t imagine herself a photographer. After high school however it was clear for her: she needed to do something with a camera. “I got a job at a small photo studio in Accra and there I got to work with cameras every day. Meeting so many photographers also inspired me. Eventually my uncle paid me a course in South Africa about the fundamentals of photography and from there I just started photographing everything I saw.” Apart from that basic training, Teresa is completely self taught. To earn a living she does commercial photography: weddings, funerals and the like. But it’s her personal projects in which she can show the Africa through her own eyes.



“Time is going so fast – everything is constantly changing”, Teresa says. “There is always something happening and I feel the urge to document that. I see it as a preservation of memory. Therefore I consider myself as a documentary photographer; I want to draw attention to aspects of life that people missed out on.” Teresa admits that she is always capturing her journey, especially because there is always a part of her in the image. With that she also shows that she is part of the society she lives in; part of the bigger picture. “Before I went out with any specific idea though, now I work more and more within a concept. I have goal with what I’m photographing now and that requires some research. It’s a constant learning curve for me.” She sees that photography is becoming more and more popular in Ghana, especially on the commercial side, but rather looks to Nigeria or South Africa for inspiration. “The art photography scene is much bigger there. There are a lot of photographers from other countries that inspire me, that’s why I participated in the Invisible Borders project as well.”



While photographing with the goal to educate her audience, Teresa also learns a lesson herself. Whether it be cultural, economical or political aspects, she always discovers something new that changes her opinion or view. “During the ‘Bed’ series for example, I learned that in Sudan beds are part of the furniture. They’re not just used for sleeping like in Ghana, but to sit, eat and chill on. It’s those aspects that can change your view and what I try to show.” She does admit that what she photographs is just what she sees, a very subjective vision. Yet it’s what she sees through her lens and not what sells, tells a story already told or keeps stereotypes alive. Her work is what she can relate to, without an agenda. “Ghana is not like this or like that, Ghana is what I see”, Teresa explains. “I don’t have a quest per se, but do want to let my audience into my world. It’s what they do with it afterwards that matters, but that’s all up to them.”

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A place of dreams, hope and resilience

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.

Having recently worked in Kenya -his home country-, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Angola, Burundi, Congo (Brazzaville) and South Africa, it’s fair to say that photographer Felix Masi  is a good example of a professional that knows what’s going on in his continent. He is an award winning independent photojournalist who has seen the challenges and big changes of his country and continent; a child born in poverty who faced his fears and decided to point his camera towards them. “I’m confronting the social ills that has been the face of this continent only known for it’s tragedies”, Felix explains. Through my photography I try to divert from what in commonly known in foreign eyes as the 3Ds: death, disease and despair.  Africa is so different than that.”



Felix understands that telling an unbiased and truthful story is by no means easy, but he accepts that challenge gratefully. “Most of the stories about our continent have been told by foreigners; first journalists flying in for a news story and nowadays more and more by tourists who have no idea or understanding of Africa and it’s country’s they transit through while on vacation. The problem is that they all have a blog, social media and smartphone for instant updates – which is fine – but the problem is that their stories are not a true representation of reality and are mostly one sided. Yet they get send into the world and judged by others who know even less.”


Big steps

His international experience has enabled Felix to stand up and walk tall and tell the African tale from a personal point of view, as he holds his motherland close to my heart. Many countries have a fast growing economy and are booming, a subject he likes to capture and emphasize. “Countries like Kenya and Nigeria are ahead when it comes to technological advances and Nairobi and Lagos count as hubs for international photography. We’re making big steps forward, but also still have a long way to go. That’s why it’s important to photograph a ‘New Africa’ and instead of going to the slums in those cities focus on the banking, IT and other progressive businesses. Positive stories, though it’s easier to sell a negative images. That is the part which needs to change and what I’m fighting for with my photography.”



The African story can perfectly be told by Africans themselves according to Felix. Those who have lived to see the change of their continent and would wish to see the same on every screen, in every paper and every magazine. “It’s time we told our own tale, but I have to admit that photographing in some African countries isn’t easy. In Angela or the DRC for example – where I currently live – it can be a painstakingly exercise. People are paranoid for cameras because of memories from old regimes; think you portray the wrong thing and want to harm them. That’s one of the reasons it’s also hard to show the change and hope in photography there. And then I’m not even talking about areas of north-east Africa where rebels are in power and it’s practically impossible to photograph without risking your life. However, those untold stories are just as important and can give a balanced view of the continent.




Felix recently was surprised when an NGO asked him to shoot a positive series about his home country, but it’s the way forward he says. “All these success stories are due to modern technology which has ignited the (mostly) young and old in living the African dream and confronting the cliches painted by foreign media.” Having taken thousands of images and traveling all over the world throughout his freelance career Felix sees the African continent as a cradle of hope for humankind. “The awakening continent where all it’s people, of all shapes and sizes will rise up and be respected wherever they go because they are united and carry the pride of being the success story of the soil”, he says. “I’m a strong believer in the growth of our continent and I’m not turning back. I want to be part of this success story. Through my lens I have seen and captured amazing dreams, hope and resilience. Africa is making huge leaps forward, so if you thought Africa was a poor place: think again.”

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South Africa through personal experiences

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.

“It can be considered that as a South African growing up within a changing political and social environment these transitional facets are influential. Upbringing, tradition, religion and family can all play a role in ones own identity and conscience when exploring various societal dynamics through photography”, Ilan Godfrey says. The photographer from Johannesburg is born is 1980 and lives in Cape Town at the moment, but most of his photographic series still evolve around his hometown. His focus is mainly on subjects transpired out of personal experiences and life events, like ‘Louis Botha Avenue’ and ‘Living With Crime’.

Living With Crime Living With Crime

Cross section

“It was on initiation of these projects that social, economical, geographical and historical themes began to surface”, he explains. “They bring to the fore various elements that engage with South Africa on multiple levels and that shift in relation to the narratives I am compiling. With most of my personal work I strive to reveal a more contemplative and honest explorations of life within the seams.” Ilan strives to focus on a cross section of South Africa, all classes, races, religions and cultures. “So I am ultimately bringing together all South Africans through new avenues of story telling where possible.”

Living With Crime

Living With Crime

‘Living With Crime’

The untold stories that don’t make the headlines, those deserve supplementary exploration and expansion according to Ilan. Drawing together various layers that reveal the good and the bad sides of South Africa. “My brush strokes are broad and tangential incorporating characteristics of our changing society in one-way or another.” His first series, ‘Living With Crime’, reflects back to the decade of the 1980s; one of the most violent periods in South African history. “This period was characterized by the extensive use of force by the South African state and those opposing. By the 1990s, the term ‘culture of violence’ was frequently used to describe the conflict that shrouded South African society. The nature of this violence bled into all parts of public life, undermining the ethical, and social fabric of society.

“What the images in this series represent are various communities in South Africa that have been affected by crime, who have survived a horrible ordeal or have had to live with the loss of a loved one due to crime. And through my work they will have the opportunity to express their feelings of sadness and anger as they struggle to come to terms with the psychological and emotional impact of their loss and that much in their current structural situation remains unchanged for instance the architectural environment they live in, with the constant threat of recurring crime.”

Louis Botha Avenue Louis Botha Avenue

‘Louis Botha Avenue’

After this series Ilan was concerned with photographing Louis Botha Avenue, a major street in Johannesburg. Botha however believed in maintaining black traditions and in totally segregating black and white, except where black people were needed as workers. “In post-apartheid South Africa, divisions and historical facets are transforming within a new urban democracy. The council announced its intention to replace apartheid street names with names that reflect the country’s democracy, freedom and cultural diversity. This series can be seen as a time-line of change that represents the reconstruction of what is old into what is new. Reflected are the subtle and extreme changes that diversify and alienate me in a place I once knew and now try to understand. ‘Louis Botha Avenue’ reveals a chapter in my life as a youth but also a microcosm of Johannesburg as a city of extremes.”

Louis Botha Avenue

The mine

More recently Ilan focussed on South Africa’s demand for gold, diamonds, coal and platinum, that for more than a century has gone from strength to strength, often shifting in accordance with the political economy and the availability of foreign markets. Mineral exploitation by means of cheap and disposable labour has brought national economic growth, making the mining industry the largest industrial sector in South Africa. “The mine”, irrespective of the particular minerals extracted Ilan explains, “is central to understanding societal change across the country and evidently comparable to mining concerns around the world. This enabled me to channel my conception of ‘the mine’ into visual representations that gave agency to these forgotten communities. The countless stories of personal suffering are brought to the surface and the legacy of ‘the mine’ is revealed.”

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A second reading

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.

“Prejudices motivate me”, says Joana Choumali. The photographer from Ivory Coast wants to change opinions of people who have a wrong view on the African continent in general and her home country in specific. “I cannot force a person to change his or her views, but I can take it to reflect, interact, draw conclusions by herself. I like the answers to my photographs to come from a person who sees my work. Living and working in the capital Abidjan, where she also studied at an art school and before worked as art director for an advertising agency, she is now fully focussed on photography. “It allows me to express myself, talk about my country, my generation and my continent ‘from the inside’. I often speak about identity because it is a subject close to my heart; it often comes to my mind.”



Joana gets her inspiration from conversations, the news and life in general – the past, present and future. She likes to have a ‘second reading’ of what is happening around her. “How an event affects those around me, how to translate that into my work, ask questions, seek answers” she explains. Her latest photographic series ‘The Last Generation’ for example shows portraits of the ‘last generation’ of scarified people in Abidjan. The series questions identity in a contemporary Africa torn between its past and present. “In the Kô language of Burkina Faso the word Hââbré means both writing and scarification. Scarification is the practice of performing a superficial incision on human skin. This practice is disappearing due to pressure from religious and state authorities, changing urban practices and the introduction of clothing within tribes. Nowadays only the older people have scarifications. While conducting my research, the majority of images I could find were from the beginning of the 20th century, and only a few contemporary images. I also had trouble finding scarified people to photograph because of their rarity.”



This series of portraits leads us to question the link between past and present, and how self-image shifts depending on environment. The sometimes conflicting opinions of our witnesses illustrate the complexity of African identity today in a contemporary Africa torn between its past and its future. This ‘last generation’ of people bearing the imprint of the past on their faces went from being the norm and having a high social value to being somewhat ‘excluded’. “They are the last witnesses of an Africa of a bygone era”, Joana says. It’s a prime example of her work being imbued with sensitivity and emotion.

The series might have been about immigrants from Burkina Faso, but there is certainly a link with Ivory Coast. “They lived in Abidjan for so long that they consider themselves as Abidjanese. But these scarifications kept telling them that they are from another place, another time.  My point was really to collect of the testimony of these persons who have left their village and who are settled in this city to work. Ivory Coast is a country of immigration, yet several people told me that they had been the target of bullying, mocking the fact of their scarring. These people had to integrate as they can to the Ivorian society and more specifically Abidjan which is recognized as being one of the largest African metropolises.”




Even if the subject is delicate and can create discomfort around her , it does not stop Joana to keep on shooting. She works in Ivory coast as well as abroad and doesn’t questions herself about the location. “If I feel the need, I work wherever I can. I have no preference, it just depends on my subject.” She explains that more and more young Ivorians are interested in photography and the market therefore becomes more busy. “I think the first reason is a desire of expression, of recognition through this form of art. Next to that the internet allows young African photographers to access more information on photography and art in general. This definitely opens possibilities, but the access to professional equipment is still limited. Hopefully this will change in the future, to help more upcoming talent reach the audience they deserve.”

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Creating conversations

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.

What do you do when you actually want to draw, but are not very good at it? You become a photographer. At least that’s what Ghanaian Michael Newlove-Mensah did. It felt like photography came natural to him, because he was fascinated about speaking without words since a young age. Keeping an open mind while working is very important to him, because he’s ‘always looking to help bring understanding to issues’. “I aim to tell a story from both sides, so all parties van appreciate it. Experiences and backgrounds normally dictate how we see things and react to them, but I try to look further, not influencing the stories but capturing them as they are.”

Portal life

Happy pains


When shooting people in their natural setting, Michael just snaps – everything has to happen spontaneous. According to the photographer we see a bit of ourselves in every frame, because they act like a mirror. “In this I try to capture the essence of the action. As long as it informs, educates and/or changes perceptions, I’m happy. Even better though is when the image actually confronts you and makes you think. In my perception every person is unique and I want to show that even though everybody shares certain similarities each person has their own tasks and their own ways of handling things. Yet we’re all affected by everything that happens around us; it’s that synergy that makes live so unique and interesting for me to capture.”


Hope, kindness and culture

Michael never suffers of a lack of stories to tell since there is always enough going on in Ghana. “The stories are always there”, he says, “I just tell the ones I’m drawn to for whatever reason.” He wants to present his country as it is; ‘a country of beauty, warmth and love’. “Filled with people full of hope, kindness and a very rich and diverse culture.” He does understand however that they also have their bad days and faults just like any other society. But according to Michael these aspects bring forth their strength. “You will know this if you have ever interacted with a Ghanaian”, he laughs. His agenda only beholds portraying Ghana as he sees it, hoping for an effect, a reaction or a conversation at best. In the future he hopes to show his work around the world, being able to draw parallels with stories from all these different parts of the globe. “Hopefully leading to conversations that can heal and create understanding.”


Friendly waters

High speed

Capturing so many different aspects of society requires Michael to be able to quickly adapt to any setting. He never knows where the story might take him. The most important thing for him is the story and like said before, there is no short supply of that. “We are in a very interesting time where information flows constantly at high speed and as photographers we have to jump in to that. For years a negative perception has been created of life in Africa and with all the technology that has become available over the past years we are able to change that perception. Things are getting clearer now and our photographs are the missing frames to a better view. The Ghanaians are here now, with our cameras.”


Dusty Silence


With that it also helps that the photography scene in Ghana is constantly improving according to Michael. Not only the photographers skill set and technical know-how, but also the understanding of more accomplished photographers by taking workshops and looking at others work. “We are fortunate to be home to some of the most legendary photographers with international exposure, like James Banor and Chris Hesse. They motivated a new generation of photographers like Nii Obodai who again hold the doors to upcoming artists like myself.” He sees the same happening in other African countries with people like Emeka Okereke. “All in all, there is a positively conscious movement that produce photographs that represent Africa in it’s own light and glory and it’s done by African photographic talents. That’s a very good thing.”

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The different side of Brazzaville

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.

Before his dad wanted to give Baudouin Mouanda his Zenit camera, he first had to show good results in school. Apparently he did, because now the Congolese photographer is not only capturing the reality and hidden worlds of his society, but is also part of the photography collective Generation Elili. “We work to promote Congolese photography internationally”, Baudoin explains. “Our situation is not only difficult because of what is happening in our country, but also as photographers self as well. We need to support each other, hence the start of this collective.” Since 2003 they meet every last Friday of the month to discuss photography and show each other their work. Next to that they blog and organize photo walk through Brazzaville to introduce people in the street to their work. “We want to tell a broad audience what we do and show them a different side of their city. Last year we also organized a meeting with photographers from other African countries like Mali, Niger and Tunisia to get to know each other and exchange ideas. Now it’s actually time to organize an international photography event in Congo-Brazzaville.”

Baudouin MOUANDA- 07

Baudouin MOUANDA- 04


Baudoin, who won the Young Talent Award at Encounters of Africa Photography in Bamako in 2009, focusses mainly on political and social subjects with his photographers and has the strong urge to educate others. Not only other photographers, but also members of his local community and even an international audience. “I want others to understand the world we (Congolese) live in, including the problems we struggle with. But I do want to do this through good imagery. That’s the reason I don’t just go out and shoot on the street usually, but plan my shoots with models to express the feelings and situations I experience in daily life.” His first motivation however, is a person one: if an image isn’t good or interesting enough for him, Baudouin automatically considers it not good enough for his audience. “Yet when I’m content with it, I afterwards don’t care what others think about it. At least it’s good enough for me.”

Baudouin MOUANDA- 01

Baudouin_Mouanda_1 HIP HOP ET SOCIETE

Representing Brazzaville

According to Baudouin, who was also featured in Al Jazeera’s Artscape: The New African Photography other photographers sketch a wrong image of Africa as only being poor and war torn. With this he doesn’t only refer to foreign correspondents, but also his fellow countrymen. “It’s what sells and even though we need money to survive, it’s not the way I want to showcase my country. Together with the other photographer of Generation Elili we therefore try to represent Brazzaville differently. Suffering is everywhere – not only in Africa. Our task is to show the real image of our lives, knowing that we are here every day and know all the ins-and-outs. We – the Congolese – are the only ones who can show the audience a balanced picture.” Luckily Baudouin thinks that photography in Brazzaville is developing and growing. There is more room for their work and people are more interested in what they have to show. “We also go to schools to show our photography and open their eyes. A lot of young photographers have come up for the years and now flourish.”

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