As photography in Ghana continues to gain recognition, Ofoe Amegavie is definitely one to watch. At 26 years old, Ofoe’s work has quickly gained an international audience with folks across the continent, Europe and North America, checking for his latest additions. The photographer is still finding his voice and evolving into his craft, but this freedom is also part of his aesthetic. Ofoe shoots in a state of unlimited inspiration, working with what currently intrigues him and avoiding what he finds repetitive and tired. With projects like “Studio of Colors”, an ongoing photo series dealing with diverse representations of African print, he aims to show subjects in a fresh way, distinct from how “Africa-ness” is commercially marketed. Ofoe instantly knows what he does not like. This opens the portal towards a constant, adventurous search for what might break the mold.
Below are excerpts from a conversation ACCRA dot ALT had with Ofoe where we discussed the evolution of his work, the current state of photography, and the role he plans to achieve, undoubtedly, as one of the most prominent figures in Ghanaian art. Like his photography, the introvert artist is very aware of what is not working in the country’s creative industry. By using the lens of his camera, Ofoe hopes to find out what might.
I think I’m still exploring. I’m not boxed up so I don’t really describe myself as a particular kind of photographer. Based on how I’m feeling, where I am, what I’m seeing, I just photograph. The project I’m working on right now is more spiritual. So I’m kind of like drawing away from everybody. I don’t go out much.
I prefer black and white images any day. I feel there is too much going on with color. But when it’s black and white, it’s straight to the point. You get exactly what you want whereas with color there is so much taking your mind away from the main story being told.
Can you talk about some of the Ghanaian photographers whose work you admire or find inspiring?
I don’t really follow the Ghanaian scene because to me it looks stagnant. Not to say it’s bad, but they all stop at the kind of equipment to use, the right lighting and all of that. I think it takes away from creativity. I don’t have a lot of equipment. I have just a 5D and a 50MM. I just work with it. So I don’t really follow what is perceived as ‘happening’ within the circles.
But the person who got me into photography was Bob Pixel. I’m not really moved by the present cadre of photographers. A few people are working hard but there is also a lot of copying and fluff. Everything is “the girl standing by the tree in the nice light”. It gets boring. I like stuff that is original, stuff that is fresh. Not stagnant.
How are Ghanaian photographers reshaping perceptions about who Ghanaians are? Or is this even happening?
Slowly it’s happening. Even I was lost when I started. I was photographing without any thought to the process. All that changed after I started paying attention to how my images represent my space and environment. But now a lot of people are going towards the documentary thing. That’s what I feel tells the true story. But yeah, slowly it’s changing.
The photography industry in Accra is so dominated by men. Who are some of the females that Accra should know about?
How can you, as a Ghanaian photographer, make your work more diverse and sensitive? How can we have some gender balance within the Ghanaian photography circuit?
Well for one – let’s get down to the basics. I don’t think even the male photographers are together. Recently, there was a meeting. Insta-meet is just a platform for instagrammers in Ghana to meet. We go on a photo walk, we take pictures, we upload them. We talk about how we can use the platform to promote whatever business we are in, and just one girl showed up. Even then, she only came the first day.
For years, photographers have been trying to put together a group so it would be more like an organized collective. It has not been working because everybody feels somebody has to do it, but nobody does. If you put out a call for a meeting, it’s the same five people that show up. Out of the five, it’s the same three that started before. So now we have an account on Instagram called IGERES Ghana. We recently did one down town, Danquah Circle. I think four girls showed up If we promote this more it would develop that interest for people to get into it and gradually the women would come. But I think there has to be more than just one community. If there were more groups like that, not just for professionals but also for anybody, people would develop an interest to get into it. Personally I would love to see more women participation and that means women need to start seeing photography as important work not just for historical archiving but as a means of making a proper living.
Very few photographers are exhibiting their work in public spaces. A lot have a great presence online. Is that deliberate?
In answer to your question, I’ll share a story:
I’m organizing an exhibition in August, and it’s not easy. I’m trying to get a big space. Usually you call about the spaces and either people don’t get it or charging ridiculous money or are not interested. I tried to do this project. See, when there is construction in the city, they put up barricades. I just thought, put up pictures of random people on the barricade. I wanted to do something like the “Inside Out Project”. Basically, you take a statement. Say, you are against racism. So you take pictures of random people that are in support of it and then you put those around. So kids need education. I want to identify kids who need education. I would go to Nima [a famous Muslim settlement in Accra] take a picture of a kid who’s not going to school, put a picture on the wall where he lives. That’s going to be the statement. There’s a child here that needs education and there he is on the wall.
I wanted to do it on those barricades, cause all you see is these churches being put up. I just approached them and they were like, no. I don’t think it’s just about exhibitions. It should be free. I think art should be free. It’s kind of frustrating, sometimes.
I want to go to Sodom and Gomorrah [shanty town of rural migrants from the North of Ghana] and take pictures of the people that live there. Not put them outside but inside. Make the place look beautiful. If they’re not going to do anything, then make the place look nice. Get a bunch of paint – do the City of Colors thing. First I want to start by putting pictures on the wall – just random stuff, like everything. I want people to feel the presence of photography in their community.
Knowing how young Ghanaians are struggling with their identity, how can photography reshape perceptions about who we are as people?
That can only happen when photographers show people something outside of what they see on TV. People here [in Accra] know weddings look a certain way. There is a beautiful bride in a white gown, the most expensive shoes etc. I don’t think that’s us.
I went to the Volta region [Eastern Ghana] and shot a very traditional wedding. It was nothing like what I see in Accra. They used kente, beads, Shea butter. Personally I think that’s nicer than what I see in the city. That wedding took less than 30 minutes. The drinks were presented to the bride’s dad to show you can take care of the daughter. Everybody then shares drinks to show it’s our responsibility to make sure the marriage works.
As opposed to Accra where everybody comes and drinks expensive drinks and eats expensive food. I thought it was beautiful.
That’s what it is, that’s who we are. If stuff like that is shown more, people will be able to move away from what they see on the Internet. People will have a different side of what they see. I think we need to show the other side. Go outside Accra. Sometimes when I go out, I don’t want to come back. It’s void of what somebody tells me life is supposed to be.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
The main project I’m working on is just putting stuff together for my exhibition. Right now the space I’m in is looking to be very spiritual.
At the moment, majority of Ghanaians are Christian and Islamic, but what about the other side? What did people believe in before all of these religions came in? Over in the Volta region, they have ceremonial dances that evoke certain deities. The people are transformed right when they put on a costume. It could be anyone, but the minute they put the costume on, they take on the essence of whatever deity the dance evokes. I want to experiment a sort of form the shows how it works.
I’m going be doing installations there, so it’s not just about me. Say I work with a costume designer. Whatever costumes we use will be displayed there.
Basically the theme is spirituality. I’ll also be doing a short film. I’m working on something with a musician in Ghana. So I’m gonna take the aspect of the spiritual dances so they dance to music. The music is more like the bridge, the movement and the costumes. Those are what transform the humans from being normal beings into deities. Then, there are the pictures. The pictures I haven’t figured out. But I’m working on it.