How do you capture the spirit of a nation? Through art, culture and freedom of expression. There is a new generation of photographers that are giving the people of Africa a mainstream voice, representing a modern continent that is looking forward in its principles and ideals. Things have changed drastically since Malick Sidibé first gave us his unique portraits in the 1970s of local Malians wearing bellbottoms and boubous. The new African photographers are using modern, digital methods to give their work a unique gravitas and vision. They are capturing striking images of everyday life that are being seen all over the world.
Kadara Enyeasi from Lagos became well-known for his striking black and white portraits from his Human Encounters series in 2014. He originally studied architecture, before turning his talents to photography. His self-portraits are an intimate way of perceiving himself and interpreting the environment that he lives in. Recently Enyeasi’s work has progressed into social documentary, with a particular interest in the way people on the streets gesture and interact with one another. He feels that particularly in Lagos people put on more of a show, rather than being their natural selves. Enyeasi often takes fashion commissions from brands in Ghana and Nigeria, juxtaposing colours and textures, and experimenting with silhouette.
Nadine Ijewere’s photography work focuses on diversity and the identity of the soul. She is heavily inspired by her Nigerian/Jamaican heritage trying to create a new standard of beauty. Whether she is shooting analogue or digital, the photos are beautifully composed and thought out. It is important for a photographer to know the difference between analogue and digital, both in terms of technique but also choosing what is appropriate for the picture. Digital is very eco-friendly and more versatile for publications like the ones that Ijewere has done for magazines like Vogue and i-D. Her photographs taken in Lagos, using local models in particular capture a wonderful energy of the people of Nigeria and much of her commercial work has been used in mainstream campaigns.
Ethiopian photographer Girma Birta was self-taught. His photographs are very expressionistic, bordering on avant-garde – they almost look like paintings, the backdrops hidden with vibrant colour. The street scenes that he captured of Addis Ababa in Moving Images II of a mother and daughter were particularly striking, fusing fine art with modern photography techniques. When the blockage to Eritrea was lifted in June 2018, Birta was one of the first photographers to travel there to photograph the people. His Asmara series documents this visit in a poignant and unique way. Birta’s use of digital media shows just how important it is for young African artists to have a clear voice in this changing society.
Contemporary African photographers are leading the way in changing the perceptions of the world. Through their art, they are giving a new generation of young Africans a platform to speak and express themselves.