Tag: photography

Lagos brought to life on Instagram

Nigerian photographer Andrew Esiebo, a recent convert to social media, uses pictures to tell the story of Africa’s largest metropolis and beyond.

“I was sceptical at the beginning,” says Esiebo of Instagram. “From what I’d seen about social media, it was all about pictures of parties and holidays rather than a way to tell a story.”

When Esiebo did give the photo-sharing service a go, two of his most popular photos came to include a shot that captures Lagos’s party spirit and another of a child asleep on a beach in Freetown. With an Instagram account brimming with photos that reflect the everyday colourful chaos of Africa’s largest metropolis, Esiebo is one of a crop of rising stars whose mobile-shot photos are helping to revolutionise the way outsiders and local people see Africa.

Child sleeping on beach.
A child takes a nap on a beach in Lagos. (Instagram/Andrew Esiebo)

“Instagram has been quite remarkable in the impact it’s had, especially in the northern hemisphere where people have little idea of everyday life here,” says the 36-year-old Lagosian, whose previous projects range from a series documenting West Africa’s barbershops to a local neighbourhood team of grandmothers in South Africa when the country hosted the 2010 World Cup.

In a continent where mobile phone usage is exploding, Esiebo isn’t the only one who has realised the potential of Instagram. Along with 17 others, he is part of the Everyday Africa project, a collective of photographers who have taken on the “common media portrayal of the African continent as a place consumed by war, poverty, and disease”.

“One of the biggest pluses [of mobile phone photography] is it makes you much more invisible and therefore much more intimate,” says Esiebo. “From a technical point of view it’s more limiting, but the idea of using Instagram for storytelling just makes a lot of sense.”

Appetite has even come from those already familiar with the tapestry of Nigeria. “There are some images I’ve posted that weren’t meant for a Nigerian audience that sometimes got the biggest response [there],” he says.

Nigerian lifestyle.
Esiebo captures different elements of life in Nigeria’s most populous city. (Instagram/Andrew Esiebo)

Esiebo becoming a photographer was remarkable in itself. Nigeria has a vibrant arts scene, but artists work in challenging conditions. Recently a show featuring Esiebo’s work in northern Nigeria’s main city of Kano had to be scrapped after a series of bomb attacks by Islamists Boko Haram.

But it is the daily grind that drags most artists down. Well-maintained galleries are few and far between, and most exhibitions depend on word of mouth for attracting visitors. “Infrastructure is a major problem. There’s no funding, no support networks for indigenous photographers,” Esiebo notes. “Much more attention was paid to westerners, who would document our story and then bring it back to us.”

While working at the French Research Institute in Ibadan, Esiebo was “lucky to have access to photography books”. Then in 2006, he met the celebrated Nigerian photographer George Osodi.

“That was a turning point. It gave me the confidence, that if he could tell our story as a Nigerian, then I could too,” he said. “The best thing about being a photographer is having a chance to tell your own story.”

Eisebo relishes the chance to tell the Nigerian story from a local perspective. (Instagram/Andrew Esiebo)
Eisebo relishes the chance to tell the Nigerian story from a local perspective. (Instagram/Andrew Esiebo)

Challenges of copyright and distribution are magnified in Nigeria, as evidenced from bootlegged videos, CDs and books openly sold in every city. And though mobile photography has other limits, believes it’s only going to grow bigger. “It’s just an alternative way to reach out to people. For me, pictures are not just about quality, it’s about the story behind them.”

Monica Mark for the Guardian Africa Network.

The barbershops of West Africa

Andrew Esiebo is a Nigerian photographer whose photo essay, Pride, is an exploration of barbers and their shops across seven West African countries. He captures the spaces in which barbers operate and looks at the aesthetics of their shops.

Pride was recently featured in the New York Times’ online magazine Lens, and ten of his prints have been added to the permanent collection of the Musée du quai Branly in Paris.

Côte d'Ivoire.
Côte d’Ivoire. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

Esiebo chatted to Voices of Africa about the barbers, their shops and the hairstyles he shot.

How did the barbershop project come about?
The idea for Pride came about during a street photography project I was doing in Lagos. While photographing people on the street, I stumbled upon a barbershop and started talking to the owner. He said to me that while he might not be considered an important person in the society, he was proud to be the barber to one of Nigeria’s ex-presidents. That resonated with me and made me think about the role, and importance, of barbers in West African society. I thought about the idea for several years and in 2012, following an artistic award I received, I was able to develop the project. I travelled to several West African cities and looked at the relevance, and the role, of the barbershop in the city.

Liberia. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Liberia. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

What can you tell us about the role that the barber plays in West African societies?
Barbers help people to gain an identity. Some people have to have the right cut to project who they are. The way they look, through their hairstyle, influences the way they feel about themselves, the way people see them and address them.

Barbers are also influential because their shops are what I call “public intimate spaces”. People share their problems in conversation with the barber. The barbers learn a lot from this, and this knowledge is then shared with other customers.

So, barbershops are not only a place for cutting your hair but a space where people meet, where they come to relax and discuss issues; a space where relationships are built, business deals are sealed and where intimate subjects are often discussed.

Mali. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Mali. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

Which barbershops were most interesting to you?
The barbershops I found most interesting were those which displayed icons, religious images, pictures of hip-hop artists, posters of soccer teams and icons of global black culture. There was a shop in Mali where the guy had posters of [Osama] Bin Laden and [Muammar] Gaddafi next to pictures of President Obama. I found this contrasting use of icons interesting. The barber said that, on the one hand, Bin Laden and Gaddafi were his heroes while on the other hand Obama is a global symbol of black power. For a black African to be the president of the US is something to be proud of, he said. So he named his shop Barack Obama Coiffure. There were many others I found interesting too.

Hairstyles. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Hairstyles. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

Tell us about the hairstyles.
Many of the hairstyles offered by barbers were similar, inspired by football stars or hip-hop icons in America. While the hairstyles themselves overlapped, their functions differed, depending on the country.

In Senegal or Mali, which are restrictive Islamic societies, a hairstyle can be a way of making a social statement, while in Liberia or Côte d’Ivoire, that same hairstyle can be a way to get attention from the ladies.

There was one particularly eclectic one from Senegal, worn by a barber.  I asked the guy why he barbered that style for himself. He told me: “You know, this is a very conservative society but through my hair, I have the freedom to express what I want”.  I really fancied that. He was rebelling against the conservative nature of the society.

Benin. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Benin. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

Were there any regional or national differences across the barbershops you photographed?
To be honest, I did not find many regional or national differences in barbershops across West Africa. In fact, I found them very similar. There also was unity in the hairstyles themselves; unity in the language of using your head to talk.

Sure, there were differences in the names of the styles but many of the styles were the same. It shows how globalised or how connected the world is today. Many of the styles come from the same influences:  Western media.

Côte d'Ivoire. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Côte d’Ivoire. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

Are you exhibiting Pride at the moment?
No, but I hope to exhibit this project across West Africa and beyond. I am still looking for an organisation to support the exhibition. I would also like to publish a book on the project because I think this is an important part of our culture that needs to be documented. It has to be celebrated and shown around the world.

Ghana. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Ghana. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

What is your next project?
I will be looking at the nightlife of Lagos and beyond through the eyes and lives of DJs. DJs at parties, DJs in concerts, DJs at various ceremonies. I want to use DJs, who are an integral part of our nightlife, to depict life in Lagos.

Senegal. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)
Senegal. (Pic: Andrew Esiebo)

Any advice for aspiring African photographers?
I think the only advice I can give is for them to work hard, to be passionate about what they do, to never give up and always be ready to learn new things. Keep pushing and open your horizons. You’ll go places with that.


Showcasing a different Somalia

Birthed out of the frustration of the mostly negative and one-dimensional depictions of their country, and armed with the “responsibility of building a better Somalia”, the curators behind the blog Discover Somalia make use of imagery and other sourced information in an attempt to “change the negative perceptions and stereotypes” about their country.

Dynamic Africa spoke to them about this new project aimed at showcasing the diversity of life in Somalia.

Can you tell us a little bit about who the people behind the “Discover Somalia” initiative are?
Discover Somalia was created by a group made up of Somali diasporans, mostly college students in United States and the United Kingdom who are very much up to date on current affairs in Somalia and/or are involved with Somalia in their respective studies. After seeing how Somalia is portrayed in the mainstream media, we wanted to take ownership. We … as free Somalis at this historic moment in our country wanted to help define and shape the country we want. We never got to experience [what] a stable Somalia looks like, but we want to take responsibility of building a better Somalia that can live up to the promise of all its peoples.

Somali women walk past a billboard with the message ‘Cultivate to prosper’. (Pic: Stuart Price / Dynamic Africa)

What are the main objectives of your blog? What inspired you to create it?
Discover Somalia is an online photography blog that attempts to change the negative perceptions and stereotypes of Somalia. Somalia is not a place of war and famine and destruction and all these horrible things we so often hear in the mainstream media, but it’s a place where normal people do normal things all the time, just like we do. We wanted to start a project that could be more all encompassing, we wanted a collection of images that showcases Somalia’s progress and normalcy. We have many present and future objectives, but for now we want display  images progress and history of Somalia, so that people understand that there is [more] to Somalia.

Lido Beach was Mogadishu’s Miami Beach in the ’60s and ’70s, a vibrant, lively, and party-packed place where the city came on the weekends to kick back and go for a dip. In the decades since, it has become abandoned — one of the most dangerous areas in Mogadishu. Now, people are slowly returning, the restaurants are opening up, and it’s become a great spot for an espresso, some shisha, and a quick dip in the ocean. (Pic: Dynamic Africa / Jonathan Kalan - Matador Network)
Lido Beach was Mogadishu’s Miami Beach in the 60s and 70s; a vibrant, lively, and party-packed place where the city came on the weekends to kick back and go for a dip. In the decades since, it has become abandoned — one of the most dangerous areas in Mogadishu. Now, people are slowly returning, the restaurants are opening up, and it’s become a great spot for an espresso, some shisha, and a quick dip in the ocean. (Pic: Jonathan Kalan – Matador Network / Dynamic Africa)

What would most readers gain from your blog?
For decades, mainstream and Somali media have documented and continue to document a seemingly endless cycle of wars and famine in Somalia, exposing otherwise ignored tragedies to the global audience. But too often the subjects of these images seem to be reduced to symbols, and viewers do not encounter them as fully rounded human beings. And we rarely see photos of the Somalia’s progress or the cultural heritage and history of Somalia. A complicated country is often reduced to caricature. So when people come to our blog we want them to instantly see a different Somalia that they don’t witness elsewhere.

Boys repair fishermen's nets on the beachfront in Mogadishu. (Pic: Petterik Wiggers / Discover Somalia)
Boys repair fishermen’s nets on the beachfront in Mogadishu. (Pic: Petterik Wiggers / Discover Somalia)

Photography seems to play a huge role in your blog’s aesthetic, do you plan on including other forms of artistic/media narratives?
Everyone sees things differently. Put 100 photographers in a room and you’ll get 100 different photos. The way you see the world is unique, and photography lets you share that perspective with others. We saw too many people focusing on images of the deadly  explosions in Mogadishu, while turning  a blind eye to the entrepreneurs, footballers, beachgoers and the reconstruction of Mogadishu. We believe that even though Somalia is busily rising out of the ashes, to the majority of the world it will remain, for a long while, the land of starving children, AK47-wielding rebels and greedy big-stomach-small-brain politicians. It takes a long time to change a bad image … but we can do it, one photograph at a time.

Visit the blog at http://discoversomalia.tumblr.com/

Dynamic Africa is a multimedia curated blog focused on all facets of African cultures, African history, and the lives and experiences of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora – past and present. Visit the blog and connect with the curator, Funke Makinwa, on Twitter.



Celebrating natural hair: The Coiffure Project

Baltimore-based photographer Glenford Nunez‘s latest project was inspired by his assistant Courtney who wears natural hair. He started photographing her with his cellphone and accumulated a small body of work that he then turned into a book of natural hair portraits.

Nunez on a shoot. (Pic: TYP Photography Studio)
Nunez on a shoot. (Pic: TYP Photography Studio)

Nunez is one of many photographers documenting a growing trend and pride in natural hair. Other projects worth checking out are Michael July’s coffee table book dedicated to the Afro and Nakeya B.’s “The Refutation of Good Hair” series with models eating handfuls of Kanekolan hair.

(Pic: www.nakeyab.com)
(Pic: www.nakeyab.com)

Nune’z mobile pics of Courtney led to the creation of the The Coiffure Project in which he showcases the beauty of natural hair on women of all shapes, colours and sizes. All his photos below are courtesy of TYP Photography Studio.