#Africa365 Sept 2012

Published On:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Author:

African Lens

The dominant representation of Africa today is one of war, poverty, disease and everything that can go wrong with humanity. It is famously referred to as the "forgotten continent". African Lens is designed as a platform to document and present a visual Africa in an unbiased way . It is also a medium to showcase different aspects of our every day lives and serve as an advocate to compelling stories that need to be told.

Introduction

Now we live in a world without Life magazine, but with too many pictures. What form of photojournalist will emerge from these conditions? Who can make images for the digital world that will show us something we can't see without them? - Mary Panzer via @WSJ - Magnum Irrelevant?

In this age of ubiquitous photography, the challenge for any digital storyteller is to find an answer to Mary Panzer's question - the ability to provide a deeper contextual message than what is superficially portrayed by the mass pool of photos available on any subject matter. I posed this question on twitter and almost immediately, by chance, happened across another tweet which seemed to answer Mary's question. 

It was about a wonderful story of a War veteran and a timeline of events from before to after his deployment. The series of 22 pictures - aptly called "A Love Story In 22 Pictures" - powerfully encapsulated the social requirements and emotional impact of war - sacrifice, love, pain, commitment, friendship, hope etc all with a seemingly ordinary set of pictures.  The powerful nature of the photo story superseded any discussion about the quality of the pictures themselves. (Original story from Tim Dodd - "Have you seen my friend Taylor walk?" ). Tim Dodd, in a bid to tell the story of his friend, just took us to another level and got us to have an inner discussion with ourselves about the human condition.

When confronting the issue of Africa's image in western consciousness, we are required to dig deeper within the morass of pictures to find nuggets that perhaps, tell stories that otherwise are not readily apparent in what we see everyday. This is no easy task.  It depends, in part, on the storyteller. Who is taking these pictures? Is it a tourist who has a totally different filtered view of local events?  Is it a professional photojournalist on assignment who perhaps, is tasked to find a particular storyline to tell (because it sells ?) or is it someone (tourist, photojournalists or anyone ) who approaches the subject matter from a purely unbiased and unfiltered perspective ?  

Much debate has been done lately about the merits of Instagram as a valid photojournalistic tool. Purists say its filters adds a degrading visual edit to the original. However in Africa, Instagram may turn out to be an invaluable storytelling tool. It provides an increased opportunity to cover local stories from different perspectives. The spontaneous and potentially unstaged visual snapshots are sometimes a reflection of the true nature of events.  Instagram also reduces the cost of producing stories - we don't need expensive gear or even commissioned projects to cover any event. Finally, the instant availability to a world wide audience is priceless. Now Africans can tell their own stories on a global stage instantly and at no cost at all. That is the promise of Instagram and similar tools.

It has its downsides too. In a bid to find the type of pictures Mary Panzer alludes to above, the profusion of pictures makes curation a tedious and time consuming process. The message can get lost pretty fast. More importantly, the issue of finding an unbiased photographer is almost an impossible task - in a sense, we all see things through the lens of our own experiences and mindset. Even people who have a strong local appreciation of any event can and do frame stories as they see it.

Finally, it is interesting to note that simply compiling a set of pictures, culled from different locations into a single gallery ( like I am doing here ), has its limitations. Each picture is completely without contextual support. For instance, a picture tagged with the location "Accra" cannot be taken as a global representation of what Accra looks like. There are no other pictures to provide context in this case. Each stands on its own. I have therefore endeavored to find pictures that convey some important aspect of the African experience, even when viewed alone. I am hoping that I can regularly curate a set of pictures to find interesting nuggets in the mass of Instagram pictures available. 

Victor Acquah - September 2012.

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