Photoville is a modular photo show in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The city’s largest photography exhibition, it attracts tens of thousands of visitors to its riverfront site beside Brooklyn Heights. Wandering through the formation of shipping containers you can encounter dozens of photo projects, and this year Instagram has mounted its first curatorial project at the annual gathering, Everyday Projects.
Photographer Nana Kofi Acquah hails from Ghana and arrived in New York this week to participate in the Instagram exhibition. “I am in New York as part of @EverydayAfrica, for Photoville,” he told Hyperallergic. “The many Everyday Projects that started with @EverydayAfrica have their first joint exhibition.”
Begun in 2012, the Everyday Project was the brainchild of photographer Peter DiCampo and writer Austin Merrill. Based in West Africa for years, the pair were frustrated by the stereotypical narratives that were being touted by media outlets. Trying to break that cycle, they used their mobile phones to capture and share snapshots of daily life in the region. Today, 18 photographers from across the continent take part in the project, and they share their images on the @EverydayAfrica Instagram account.
“I was invited to join EverydayAfrica by Peter DiCampo, and I am glad he did because it affords me opportunity to contribute to the ongoing discourse about where Africa is or should be headed in terms of visual representations,” Acquah said.
His first time in New York, Acquah told us that he thought the city felt like a “blown up version” of Amsterdam. “Everything is on a larger scale,” he explained. “There’s also more diversity in terms of the people and the cultures, it is not as predictable. And you guys have police everywhere. New York raises for me the concept of how it is possible for a person to be lonely in a busy marketplace or right in the heart of a mob. Everybody is listening to their music with earphones on, or busy with their phones or doing some other self-absolved activity. I wonder how New York will feel if people reached out to each other more?”
In Ghana, he explained, some of the biggest challenges facing new photographers is education. “I looked at how much the best art schools in the world cost and there was no way on earth I could afford to enroll in any of them. The next best thing was apprenticeship but there were also no top class photographers to apprentice from. And then after overcoming those two hurdles, the next one was getting people to pay me my worth,” he said.
“Most people in Ghana are used to the local photographer who shows up at a church on Sunday and takes photos for a dollar or less a print. So when you show up after all the education and investment in high-end photography equipment and ask to be paid by the hour by day, they look at you like ‘you must be crazy.’”
Mobile photography has changed photography for Acquah. “Before Instagram, I was already training people to use their mobile phones to film, take photos, and also write stories for Voices of Africa, an Africa Interactive (a Dutch sponsored project),” he said. “The challenge with that job, was the videos and photos and stories produced on mobile phones ended up being shared on www.africanews.com. What Instagram has done is revolutionize how we consume photos and videos.”
He now considers the mobile photo-sharing platform his portfolio. “When someone says they want to see my work, I say ‘check out @africashowboy on Instagram,’” he explained. “I recently shot an assignment for a new client. I didn’t know anything about them before they reached out to me. When I met the CEO, who is based in the States and was on his first trip to Africa, he said: ‘Your instagram feed blew us away. Everybody in the office kept talking about it.’”
We asked Acquah to share images from his first few days in New York, and he agreed. It is always fascinating to see the great metropolis through the eyes of someone who is seeing it for the first time. Here are some images he shared with us.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.