Original article written for momondo, available here.
We explore the vast, diverse African continent and its numerous facets through the imagery of the inspiring Instagram photography movement Everyday Africa
The African continent is rich in both tradition as well as diversity. No one is more aware of this than Everyday Africa, the Instagram photography movement transforming the way people view daily life on the continent.
The first of the Everyday photography movements, from which numerous others have since spawned, Everyday Africa showcases imagery by photographers living and working in Africa, all of whom find extremes to be far less dominating a narrative than the familiar.
Since its inception in 2012, Everyday Africa has built up an online following of 366,000 at the time of writing and, as recently as June 2017 produced their first book – Everyday Africa: 30 Photographers Re-Picturing a Continent.
It is little wonder that the work of Everyday Africa resonates with momondo’s vision of a more open world. We caught up with American photojournalist Peter Di Campo, the founder of Everyday Africa, for a chat about dismantling stereotypes and portraying the continent through depictions of everyday life and everyday people.
How did Everyday Africa come to life?
I first went to sub-Saharan Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, living in Ghana for two years from 2006-2008. I constantly documented the community I lived in, albeit with images I had studied (as a photojournalist) in mind. These images were generally a negative depiction of the continent.
It was, therefore, difficult to reconcile trying to photograph daily life in Africa while also trying to photograph what was programmed into me as far as how Africa should look in terms of finding poverty, disease and so on.
Fast forward a few years, and I returned to my work as a freelance photojournalist in 2012 with the writer Austin Merrill. We documented the aftermath of the post-election violence in the Ivory Coast – interviewing, and photographing refugees and the victims as well as the perpetrators of violence. We looked for discord on a very specific trajectory. Everyday Africa came about when we pulled out our mobile phones and photographed without any limitations.
We freed ourselves from our narratives and shot pictures of everything around us. About a year later we started to see other Everyday projects popping up around the world.
What image of Africa do you aim to present through your work?
The keyword that we go back to very often is context. Obviously, a lot of the imagery on Everyday Africa is a lot more positive than we are used to seeing – at least in mainstream media. Instead of war, poverty and famine, a lot of our images are either more basic (people going to work, doing their laundry, cooking, and eating) or more positive (fashion shows, sporting events and so on).
I would like to stress that we don’t see this as a sort of PR project for the continent, in terms of us only presenting the positive. The idea is to experiment with a new idea of reporting in which one’s daily experience of walking down the street captures so many aspects of life mixed together, in a broader, contextualized way, as opposed to a news story.
Are the images displayed by Everyday Africa all taken on mobile phones?
Our imagery extends to other forms of photography. We encourage mobile phone photography but there are certainly a lot of photographers who capture moments that they feel they want to share on other cameras, so we don’t discourage this.
What, in your own words, is the impact of mobile phones on the African continent?
We’re seeing a major disruption of traditional media because people anywhere, Africa included, can now share photos and harness an enormous audience. To me, it’s amazing that so many African photographers can essentially become heroes for the continent in the art and photography world because of all the creative things that they are doing.
National Geographic wasn’t going to find these photographers and hire them so in a way it provides a continent-wide sense of people being able to look up to others in artistic practice. Mobile phone photography has done amazing things for the confidence of the African photography world.
Are there any places in Africa from your travels that you can recommend?
Africa is such a diverse continent! There are so many incredibly rich cultures. I loved my time in northern Ghana, where I immersed myself in the cultural traditions of the region – drumming, festivals and so on. I also loved my time in Kenya, waking up to seeing wildlife on our doorstep.
I am a sucker for Zanzibar as well – in some ways it feels like you’ve wandered into another century. You can drive for an hour and find some of the best beaches you’ve ever seen. I love having this sort of varied experience at one’s fingertips. The next place on my list is Dakar – which I’ve heard wonderful things about.
What is the story behind the recently published Everyday Africa book?
The book came up as a way of us celebrating how far the project has come. It was made to celebrate and encapsulate the first few years of Everyday Africa’s existence. Everyday Africa may be an Instagram project but I think people are still very excited about physical objects and about holding the book in their hands or pulling it off their shelves. The book includes a lot of Instagram commentary that is very caustic, uplifting and even paternalistic.
There’s a lot of ‘I want to save Africa’ and other comments of that sort that are contrasted with others saying things like ‘this is my home, so thank you for showing it.’ It’s a push and pull contest of a very outdated opinion of Africa contrasted with a modern and connected view of the continent. The successful Kickstarter campaign (that funded the book’s publication) was a sign of just how dedicated and enthusiastic our audience is.
Where does Everyday Africa go from here?
We are experimenting with what happens when you animate the things that people post online, in the same way that we experimented with how such comments change when you put them in a book. We are now trying to put the comments off feeds and experiment with actors using them in a dialogue. We had a small performance as part of the book launch in Nairobi and we are now in the next steps of figuring out the next steps for a full theatre production.
We also recently became a non-profit – Everyday Africa is now an umbrella organization for some of the other everyday projects. Our mission as far as this goes is twofold – continuing to grow out of Everyday Africa while finding ways to creatively display work from It and lift the profile of African photographers.
Education is our second focus – we use our work to confront the views of Africa that kids may have, predominantly in the US. We discuss the stereotypes that they may have and the relationship between themselves and the media and then teach practical photography using Everyday Africa photos as examples.
The goal is that by the end of the project, the kids have their own everyday project. We will be expanding on this idea quite a bit but we feel that now is a good time to be doing this sort of thing. There is a need for more empathy in the world, better cross-cultural communication and, as the media landscape continues to fragment, there is also a need for more localized storytelling and self-representation. We are very excited to play a role in these processes.