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A new photo book captures a side of Africa the media never shows

Re-framing Africa

“Everyday Africa”, a new book based on the popular Instagram feed, captures a side of the continent most newspapers never show

“Everyday Africa”, a new book based on the popular Instagram feed, captures a side of the continent most newspapers never show

Fleur Macdonald | March 17th 2017

In 2012, two years after Instagram launched, photojournalists Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill started Everyday Africa, a feed on the photo-sharing application. On assignment in the Ivory Coast, which was recovering from its second civil war, they posted the photos that newspaper and magazine editors wouldn’t commission: images of an Africa where disease, poverty and war weren’t the focus.

“A female boxer trains inside a makeshift gym in Katanga, Kampala, Uganda.” By Edward Echwalu

The idea took off. The account, which has posted over 3,500 photos, has 300,000 followers; the hashtag #EverydayAfrica has been used more that 179,000 times; and offshoots of the project have sprung up in Asia, India and Latin America. Think-pieces about the project have been published in the very publications that initially spurned such pictures.

The success of Everyday Africa is partly down to the quality of its images. A select group of 30 professional and amateur photographers have the password to the account and permission to post images they’ve taken with their mobile phones. But it also aspires to democratise the dissemination of information through social media – a hope that was particularly prevalent in 2012, when the Arab spring was still fresh in people’s minds – and taps into the widespread belief that the news media only runs negative stories (the hashtag #theafricathemedianevershowsyou has also hit a nerve).

”Afro on purple. Silhouette of my daughter. Accra, Ghana.” By Nana Kofi Acquah

Now DiCampo and Merrill have put together a book of images from the project. “Everyday Africa: 30 Photographers Re-picturing a Continent” is square, like an Instagram post. The photographs – of children playing, teenagers flirting, people working and old women gossiping – depict scenes of daily life that will be familiar to everyone, whether African or not. While the book is not as completist as its title makes out – this Africa excludes much of North Africa, as well as Zimbabwe, Chad, Tanzania and Cape Verde – these photographs do give a different impression of a place that has too often been misrepresented by the media.

The book, though, feels disappointingly static. It doesn’t say how many people have liked each photo. Captions and hashtags provide some context – but you can’t help wanting to click on the hashtags to see other photos filed under #elephantorphanage. And you have to flick through lots of pages – the closest you’ll get to scrolling – before you’ll find the section devoted to the comments (which range from curious to argumentative to delighted, as followers spot a scene they recognise).

As Africa changes so does the way we document it. Instagram has long since introduced new filters and editing tools, not to mention video, making many of the pictures in the book look dated. The value of “Everyday Africa” lies in the way it shows a familiar place in a new light, yes, but also in the way it captures an optimistic moment in the early days of Instagram, when many users still believed in the power of social media to change the world for the better.

 

Klopse Carnival in Cape Town is celebrated by South Africa’s coloured community every year on January 2nd. In the 19th century, it was the one holiday that slaves were permitted to celebrate; today, thousands of gaudily costumed revellers take to the streets to dance to music and gawk at the parades. But a comment reveals a dark side to this carnival: one member of this troupe was stabbed on the way to an after-party in Athlone, where Charlie Shoemaker took this photograph. A dangerous part of the city, Athlone is where large sections of the coloured community were dumped during forced evacuations under apartheid.

 

This was taken on a bridge in Bamako, Mali by Jane Hahn, a freelance photographer based in Dakar. A beautiful woman speeds past on a moped, her bag dangling from the handlebars. She is so poised, she almost looks still – until you notice her weave and traditional dress streaming behind her in the wind. 

 

Dates indicating when the photographs were taken have not been provided, so it is hard to tell whether this image by Peter DiCampo of a pool in Grand-Bassam, a popular holiday resort close to Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, was taken before or after the attack there on March 13th 2016, when at least three gunmen, claiming to be from al-Qaeda, killed 19 people. In this picture, a little boy in armbands calls out to a man in the pool, presumably his father. Two girls in swimming caps look up to their mother who is in a sarong standing on the edge of the pool. It is a familiar scene – the middle class on holiday – in an unfamiliar setting.

 

I love this image by Holly Pickett, a photojournalist who works across West Africa and the Middle East, of a proud young father clutching his baby daughter. The caption reads, “She’s my girl”. At times, the everyday-ness of “Everyday Africa” makes some images feel repetitive – the number of images of smiling children squeezed onto the back of a bike are too many to count. It is photographs like this that shine out: loved ones looking after each other – simple but not sentimental.

 

Ginika, the caption explains, “is on her way to join thousands of Nigerian law graduates being called to the bar” in Abuja, in the north of the country. Taken from the front-passenger car seat by Tom Sataar, this is a spontaneous snap celebrating a milestone, a picture that could have been shot anywhere.

Everyday Africa: 30 Photographers Re-Picturing a Continent Edited by Teun van der Heijden, Peter DiCampo, Austin Merrill, Nana Kofi Acquah (Kehrer Verlag), published in March in Britain, and in May in America

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