Ghanaian photographers excite industry with new prize
From the days of the great studios of celebrated veteran photographers like James Barnor, Felicia Abban and James K. Bruce-Vanderpuije to now with a younger generation, photographers are showcasing Ghana on the world stage with great art.
Over 20 years ago photographer Nii Obodai started Nuku Café, a space for artists and art-lovers to share their work with a creative community. In the last five years the café evolved into the Nuku Studio, which provides training programmes, workshops, mentorship and peer to peer review sessions for photographers.
Now, in 2018 Nuku Studio in partnership with the Dutch Embassy is in its second edition of the Portraits Ghana Photography Prize, an initiative that supports photographers in their careers.
“The purpose of the competition is to open a platform for showcasing the best of portraiture being made in Ghana about Ghana,” Obodai says. “The competition also sets out to challenge and draw out excellence from our growing, dynamic and very creative professional photography community.”
Part of this creative professional photography community are Eric Gyamfi and Francis Kokoroko. The two are also part of Nuku Studio.
The team has chosen to focus on portraiture, defined in a myriad of ways. For Kokoroko it is: “Portraits as a way of looking at ourselves, and in this context using images to initiate conversation about the landscape through the presentation of its people.”
Photography as a medium in the arts is becoming increasingly popular with young artists who wish to tell stories about themselves and those around them.
“I have been interested in storytelling and the many mediums that could be harnessed to this end,” Gyamfi says. “This was what drew me to photography; the ability of the photograph, as language, to communicate and share experiences with a much wider reach.”
“Now, I am intrigued by the ability of images to affect, shape and reroute our world and perceptions of ourselves in relation to it. I am on a learning curve towards understanding what this really means, through my contributions and responsibilities.”
Driven by the desire to interpret Ghana's dynamic society Kokoroko turned to photography to document his encounters across the country.
“Engaging in the process of making and sharing has unequivocally made me more aware of societal politics and the rather complex nature of our interactions with each other,” he notes.
As artists embark on this range creative ways of storytelling, from fine art and photojournalism to street photography and commercial practice, the group hope that the prize will support them to that end.
“There is a need for a forum that offers critical feedback as this so important to creative and professional development. The competition allows us to do this,” Obodai says. Adding that: “For us as a jury and the public it's an opportunity to encourage and inspire creative excellence that pushes our comfort zone through engaging and thoughtful photography. Making good and great portraiture that opens up critical discourse is challenging and demands a call for genius.”
A lack of infrastructure and financial support for the arts, and photography especially, means that many photographers have to leave the region to push their professional development, this, Kokoroko says, comes with its own complexities. He is keen to have Ghanaian photographers and their work contribute to the local and global conversation while developing the necessary spaces and institutions for them to thrive at home.
Obodai believes that Ghana can become a centre for photographic learning, distribution, representation.
“Photography is already playing a major role in transforming our culture. If we look at how much photography is already been exchanged and activated on the internet and used for communication and how that is already affecting and influencing Ghanaian photographers and people who use the photography” he points out. “Photography is now becoming the dominant form of expression and personal communication.”
Submissions for this year's competition closed at the end of March, the award ceremony will be on 23 April at the Dutch Embassy.