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Akwaaba to Dikan Centre

BY: Kofi Akpabli

 Last Saturday afternoon at South La Estate was one of those moments you know are very special, much more special beyond the moment itself. We were at the opening of Dikan Centre, a vision I shall be dwelling on in a minute.

But let me first talk about the company. You know that feeling when you find yourself in a group and immediately realise that you are surrounded by people who think, live and love like you? Exactly! The audience was made up of outgoing personalities who love the media and the arts and who care for Africa’s place on the world map.

I mention the world map because what was rolling before our eyes was of global significance. The event was being streamed live to the rest of the world; and there were many, mostly Ghanaians who had come from different parts of the globe to participate. To top it all, there was, on the stage, one of the most well-loved story tellers of our time.

Ever heard about the Humans of New York? No worries, just google it. Cool Dude Brandon Stanton, author of the book Humans of New York, a bestseller, was the Guest Star to talk about himself, his work, Dikan and the future of man in a story-soaked world. For those who want instant perspective, Brandon has an online following far beyond 20 million people.

He is one of the most read writers of our time, easily the most famous photographer too. He is a millionaire, a philanthropist and someone who is devoted to giving voice (and upliftment) to random individuals he meets on the street. I mean he has turned many ordinary people into very successful folks, just like that!

I just said quick perspective, right. Let me thicken the plot a wee bit. Let me drop in one line by the human behind Humans of New York.  Actually it’s a simple story.

Act One: Brandon Stanton lost his job as a bond trader. Act Two: With his little money, he bought a camera and took up photography.

But the way he executed Act Two (while sleeping on couches and borrowing ‘chop’ money from family and friends) is what has made him who he is today. His pictures of strangers on the streets of New York became huge hits on Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram.

Hear him: “I think people try to put it (Humans of New York) into a box of showing the commonality of humanity, my purpose in Humans of New York is not to tell the story of humanity, it’s to tell the story of the person right in front of me.”

 Brandon has been listed as one of the very few individuals changing the direction of the world. Enough about one hero. Now to the next, the hero of today’s column.

Paul Ninson, an Accra boy and a photographer, went to school in the US. Encountered all there is to encounter out there and he is back to Ghana with a vision. A vision made possible by his ingenuity and the crowd funding campaign of Brandon who had arrived hours earlier from the US to be part of history.

When I hugged Paul later that evening, I confirmed what I had observed from afar sitting in the crowd. Boy has been teary-eyed all afternoon.

So we had gathered last Saturday to inaugurate Paul’s dream, a non-profit visual education centre to promote visual and photography education in the country. In Akan, Dikan means ‘To take the lead’ and that illuminates the vision.

The facility is an educational and cultural place where people of all ages and backgrounds can go to learn and share their perspectives through exhibits, workshops, film screening and training in photography. It has a photo gallery, story laboratory, studio, classrooms and Africa's first photo library.

 It is said to be the largest photography library in Africa  showcasing the work of the continent and diaspora’s forgotten, established and emerging talent.

According to Paul, who is also a film-maker, the Dikan Centre houses more than 30,000 books he has collected so far. For a private space, this is a first of its kind in Ghana. But any idea what’s in store in this library? In addition to books of work by pioneering black photographers, such as Gordon Parks, who was the first African American photographer to have a staff position at Life magazine, and publications including National Geographic, there are rare books including one signed by Stephen Hill, who was governor of Gold Coast as Ghana was known before independence, dated 1852.

“I started buying African photo books, with the idea of sharing them with young photographers back home, but as my collection grew, it dawned on me that I could create a library dedicated to photography and visual education, so I started reaching out to booksellers for donations. I also received donations from private galleries and collectors,” says Ninson.

My tour led me to a photo studio and classrooms which provide space for workshops. I walked into an exhibition space which was hosting the exquisite works of the late Ghanaian documentary photographer, Emmanuel Bobbie (also known as Bob Pixel), who died in 2021. Here, I spent some minutes on painful and fond memories.