Photographer Paul Samuels - Lampost Creative Agency
Africa is rising up the creative-talent industry. Now, more than ever, African photography is cutting across the art and fashion spectrum, blending together subtle details of lustrewith the gritty, harsh realities of the continent’s struggle. In this article, we throw a spotlight on the new wave of African photography and how it continues to make a global impact on the world.
When stepping foot into Africa from a foreign location, the first things you notice are the Art, Culture and enormous opportunities that come with the continent. Africa is rich of resources; so rich that there is a ridiculous abundance of creatives; people who push the status quo and force new grounds of innovation.
New wave African photographers are one of such creatives. They constantly lend a solid voice to Africa, creating texture-rich photos that represent the exceptional values that the continent holds. But what is the inspiration behind these image-makers; what is their end game, and more importantly, how do they present such an elegant, yet kaleidoscopicportrait of the African continent?
The Beginnings of African Photography
Photographer : @thelexash
When we talk about photography, we imagine Western imperialism. Long before cameras were a commercial thing, these devices were used for ceremonial duties; as a tool to objectify royalty amongst peasants. However, in the mid-19thcentury, Europeans introduced photography to Africa, capturing native people without permission and using such images to preach ‘white dominance’.
For a time, Africans could not understand cameras or even have access to them. But all that changed in the 20th century when the African Independence Movement was launched. Now, more than ever, there was a need for native people to wrestle control of lands and their image back from their foreign oppressors. The fight for independence led to a determination to mark down history; to capture the advancement of the contemporary African life. Through this intervention, great ideas were raised, creative voices were heard; and down the line, African photography was born.
Today, photography has grown to become Africa’s most popular art form.
View from Africa | Modern Photography Timeline
Africa seems to have hit a sweet spot within the spectrum of photography. With the use of a colonial tool, the camera, many photographers over the years such as Seydou Keita, Sanle Sory, Malick Sidibe, James Banor and many others contributed visually to the topic of independence. Regularly mentioned as forerunners of the concept of African photography, these people created distinctive images. By combining black-and-white photos with beautifully staged portraits, Africa created a unique documenting style. These works are legendary and before independence, showed the capability of the African continent in art and photography.
The more accessible this medium of expression became in the modernised communities of Africa, photographers in the continent used their skills to capture historic moments of West and Central Africa. Down South, in the apartheid era of South Africa, photographers like David Goldblatt and Ernest Cole captured the harsh realities of the country at the time. Their black-and-white images brought exuberance to the struggle of black people suffering from apartheid.
As the independence movement became successful, and slowly transitioned to postcolonial state of affairs, photography became a bit more expressive. Images now could shed a new light on the postcolonial developments of the African continent. Photographers, at the time, could now turn their lens to a cultural perspective; effectively combining light, contrast, shadows, angles and textures within their images.
Contemporary African Photography was Born
Newly experiencing postcolonial freedom, Africa struggled with its sense of identity. From the mid-60s onwards, photography in Africa fought to tell a story far different from what the mass-media portrayed. Degrading images of the continent were casting a bad light on African citizens, and a few photographers were motivated to change that narrative.
This period saw a shift in the mindsets of African photographers. For the first time, they could push past the boundaries of the medium, tweaking their visual prowess and imagination into becoming breathtaking works of art. Drawing inspiration from The Harlem-based Kamoinge Collective, prominent in the 1970s, the photography of the black man’s everyday life was shrouded in beauty, complexity, poetry and timeliness.
The decades that followed, supported the globalisation of the photo industry and the rapid rise of urbanisation in Africa. Photographers could now perceive things from an artistic perspective. Not long after, when technological and digital advancements became popular, the easy exchange of artistic pieces, across the world, led to the birth of contemporary African photography.
The Beauty of Modern African Photography
In colonial times, African photos were only deemed excellent, if they were organised around the themes of history, representation identity and landscape. That is, these photos had to show the conditions of an African community. Today, the rules are different. Although these frameworks are still largely inherent in African photography today, the conceptual limits have been erased. What we have now is an explosion of creative photography in Africa.
Today, contemporary photography is breaking new barriers. Founded on a socially inclined documenting style, African photography is now merging the concepts of architecture, collage, drawing, technology and craft in such ways that we have never seen before. In today’s world, it now seems short-sighted to judge contemporary African photography solely on traditional or fashion, as it utilises a multi-layered creativity that Africans have been known to possess from time.
In fact, the world is fast clinging on to this new wave of African photographic talent. The UN General Assembly was the first to take the initiative, after declaring (2015-2024) the International Decade for People of African Descent. If you look closer at this timeline, you will have discovered a plethora of visual explorations conceptualising ancestry, cultural heritage, and spirituality which is a common theme of contemporary African photography.
Now, more than ever, there is a spotlight on talented African photographers. Many festivals such as Les Rencontres de Bamako (Mali), Addis Foto Fest (Ethiopia), LagosPhoto(Nigeria), and renowned initiatives such as the Cap Prize and the Market Photo Workshop are exposing the wealth of photography talents in Africa.
The Future of African Contemporary Photography
Compared to industries like manufacturing, banking and oil, African markets have yet to fully invest in creative industries like art and photography. Is this is a case for concern? Yes, because contemporary photographers are tossed into the wild, forced to battle challenges of limited budgets and cheap clients. African photographers now have to build stronger portfolio of work and have engaging social media platforms to reach the international space.
That being said, this presents a unique opportunity for African photographers. For them to survive a choky industry, they have to diversify their income. This means, more creativity and diversity, as many photographers in the continent now merge fashion, art and décor with their works. What seemedlike a challenge is slowly contributing to the future of African photography.
Without a doubt, we will only see more and more insanely imaginative works of contemporary African photographyfrom here on out.
Written by Nigerian writer Godwin O.