A Window Into Ghana; Through Pictures

The best part of Google reader is the little share button that sits at the end of each post. It has been the single best way to access posts, blogs, and news stories that I would have not found on my own. One such example is photographer Nana Kofi Acquah who shares his photography and thoughts on his blog "A Window to Ghana and Africa."

I do not remember who shared his one of his posts, but it struck me and lead to an instant add to my RSS. Over the past few months I have followed along as Nana Kofi posted from his recent pictures from women at work, to weddings, to a day at the beach. Here were images of life that did not focus on specific class or group of people within Ghana. I was drawn further and further in.

Fortunately, Nana Kofi has agreed to talk a bit about his work. Selfishly, I wanted to learn more, but I am even happier to be able to share this with you.

A View From The Cave: Your style combines lively photography with reflection-based writing. Often times you couple your images with larger thoughts or poems that may not always be directly related to what is seen in the image. What draws you to this style of art?

Nana Kofi: Let me start off by saying thanks for the interview. My true passion is storytelling. I've pursued the form across diverse media, with Writing and Photography being the two that give me the least resistance. I used to work as a writer even before I discovered the camera.

AVFTC: In considering the connections between your writing and your photography, how do the two inform each other. Does a written idea of yours then reflect later in a photograph, or vice versa? Or are they formed an entirely different way.

NK: Thought is the one thing that always precedes both my writing and my photography. I write far less than I photograph but sometimes, the two do come together or one triggers the other. It is all very fluid.

AVFTC: Images that come out of 'Africa,' and I use quotes because it is often portrayed as an amalgam, look very different than yours. You show color through personal style, architecture, and nature. An example of this is seen in one of your most recent photographs with a young boy, arms outstretched, wearing bring yellow against an even more vibrant yellow wall. What attracts you to these images? Why do you think that they are often not seen by a Western or global north audience?

NK: I guess these kinds of images are often not seen because they are not considered newsworthy, shocking or provocative enough. I wish I could say my whole point of photographing the ordinary, mundane, everyday life in Africa, is to show the West but that is far from the truth. I document them for myself. There's a part of me that thinks like a historian. I'm not interested in good or bad, right or wrong. I'm only interested in what is. Part of our handicap as a people, is the fact that there isn't enough adequate records of our ordinary, daily lives in the past. What this creates, is a situation where the only meeting points in discourse are slavery, colonialism, coupe d'etats and football. What we forget is that, these do not represent the totality of our existence. What happened in the other three hundred plus days in each given year?

How can the complexity of life seen in your photographs be better shared with a global audience? Seeing people smile and do bike tricks does fit into the aid narrative at the present moment. If you have thought about it, how do you see that changing?

NK: That's a question I've never asked myself; and probably may not be able to answer. I don't buy into the ideology of forcing strong, positive-centred images from Africa on the world. The passion must be to first develop properly as a continent. Democracy must be truly functional in the member states that claim to be democratic. The tribal politics and nepotism must end. The system where employers pretend to pay workers well and workers pretend to put in their best must end. As much as I want to be a photographer who presents Africa positively, I also know a white-washed tomb is still a tomb. In other words, if my photos are positive it's because they truly are. If they fit into some kind of agenda, great! let's use them. If they don't, I still will keep shooting.

Your subject matter is diverse, but I think it brings together an idea of how you see life in your home country. What strikes me most is that your photographic eye wants to share all of the pieces of how life exists in Ghana. You even say in your blog, "a window to Ghana and Africa." How do you feel that your photography creates this window?

NK: I think the diversity you see in my photographs, stems partly from the fact that Ghana itself is a very multi-cultural society. There are so many hues to the traditions and customs based on the tribe, their history, how westernized they've become, what values they hold dear etc. There's still so much I don't know about this country and her people. What most people don't realize is, sometimes, I'm no better informed than the tourist. I call my blog a window to Ghana and Africa because, it is one place where you'd see what the BBCs and CNNs won't show you. I imagine myself to be the little boy who leaves the window ajar so his friends, who don't have television in their homes, can peep without his parents knowing.

What has influenced your style and desire to share your photographs?

NK: There used to be a time when anytime we saw nice photos on the billboards of Accra, we assumed a Western photographer came and took it. That was what inspired me to create my first blog. I couldn't just let someone else take credit for my hard work. Now, the question I'm most often asked is: "Are you really from Ghana?", "Did you study photography abroad?" I will know we've had a breakthrough when those kinds of questions are no longer asked or assumed.

AVFTC: What are your personal aspirations for your photography?

NK: I want my photographs on the walls of the best galleries and museums in the world but even more importantly, I want people of African descent to see them and be inspired. I want them to know it's not all bad where they come from. Ultimately, I want to be remembered as the photographer who was true to his vision and didn't succumb to the trendy and political.