By Molly Gottschalk
Ginika is on her way to join thousands of Nigerian law graduates being called to the bar in Abuja, Nigeria. Photo by @tomsaater.
Too often, the African continent has been captured by the West in a series of clichéd images: women carrying jugs of water atop their head; children either starving or wielding AK-47s; elephants and lions silhouetted against a savanna sunset. But that narrow focus is expanding.
This overdue perspective is thanks in part to Everyday Africa, an Instagram account-cum-global movement that’s shifting photojournalism toward collective, localized storytelling—and now a new book: Everyday Africa: 30 Photographers Re-Picturing a Continent.
In 2012, its founders, photographer Peter DiCampo and writer Austin Merrill, set out on an assignment to document the aftermath of a decade of crisis in Ivory Coast. Both had intimate knowledge of West Africa; Merrill as a former foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, Dicampo as a freelance photojournalist. Both men cut their teeth on the continent in the Peace Corps.
On this trip, rather than photographing refugees and victims of the civil war—images that would likely have contributed to the simplistic narrative of Africa as a land of extremes—they reached for their iPhones, recording passed-over images of daily life. During a turning point in Ivory Coast, the two had pondered, “What does reporting look like if we just start photographing everything?”
“With issue-based storytelling,” DiCampo says, “you decide in advance what images or what words you need from a situation; it’s almost like you’ve decided on a thesis and then you have to go and prove it.” For Africa, with its 54 countries and as many as 2,000 languages, that often means zeroing in on poverty, war, disease, or wild animals—objectifying the exotic, as if donning blinders to all that doesn’t fit inside this narrative.
Riding over the Niger River in Bamako, Mali. Photo by @janehahn.
“It’s not that those things in and of themselves are inaccurate,” says Merrill of well-worn clichés, from scarified faces to cultural safaris, that date back to colonialism. “The inaccuracy comes with the incompleteness of the stories being told. There are elephants in Africa; there are child soldiers. It’s the things that you don’t see that means people aren’t getting a complete image of a place.”
While following a convoy of refugees, DiCampo recalls photographing a child hanging from her mother’s arm, looking off into the distance, with his professional gear. “It was a very sad ‘Africa refugee’ kind of photo, [suggesting] an uncertain future,” he says. A few minutes later, he switched to his iPhone, this time focusing on a group of refugees rifling through DVDs at a roadside stand. “They were such different takes on the same situation,” he explains. “In one of them I’m drawing back on this knowledge of Western photographers photographing Africa, pulling from that visual library, and in the other I’m casually photographing what’s happening.”
It’s in that casual inclusiveness that Everyday Africa finds its voice. The Instagram feed, at 3,762 posts and counting, is catalyzing a new form of journalism that thrives not on the decisive moment but rather on a reality told in small pieces, from multiple perspectives. In doing so, it’s engaging a new generation of African photographers with newfound access to amplify their voices via social media, the internet, and mobile phones. And it’s giving them a platform—an audience nearly 330,000 followers strong, of Westerners and Africans and people of African descent alike—through which to define their own narrative………………….
Aziz makes Coca-Cola deliveries with his donkey in Nouakchott, Mauritania. Photo by @dcoreraphotography.