My favorite photographs N°4: Nana Kofi Acquah

My grandmother had a pub where wayfarers, fishermen, their wives, officers and anybody who had trouble or was looking for a little happiness would come, buy tots of the local gin, “akpeteshie” and start pouring their souls out. I would crawl under tables, eaves dropping and soaking it all in. When I got bored listening to them, I’d run to the beach, sleep in a docked canoe, play soccer with my friends, catch crabs or help some fishermen pull in their catch of the day.

Picking up the thread from earlier this year, Ghanaian “storytelling” photographer Nana Kofi Acquah sent through his “5 favorite photographs”, and explains why. 

“Impressive but Depressive.” Those three words are stuck in my head and always pop up when I remember my exhibition in Bamako. I was showing The Slaughter Boys — a series on animals slaughtered on the beach in commercial quantities for consumption across Ghana’s capital. Those were the words from one of the viewers and the photograph above is my favourite from that series.

You must remember that I consider myself, first and foremost, a storyteller before a photographer. I love people and the stories they have to tell. When you take photos for a living, there’s always the temptation to treat assignments as just assignments but if I worked like that, my love for photography will die in no time. I need to always connect. Feel. Explore. Discover. Disrupt. Observe. Challenge. I made this quiet photograph of a woman harvesting maize on a very busy farm; in a hyper-charged atmosphere of laughter and celebration. Harvest is always a good time for farmers. It took a lot of effort to not get carried away, to get something simple and beautiful. I am happy to say this photograph graces the cover of a just released coffee table book.

I’ve been working on a series called ‘Bedroom Portraits’. I’ve been looking at Accra, its people and where they sleep. In the pursuit of this story, I have photographed folk who sleep in cemeteries and those who live in mansions. One of my favourites from this set is of James. James hasn’t slept on his bed in eight years. He’s a self-employed IT guy and has a few companies that hire him as auditor.

On this particular assignment, I also got to photograph the two Liberian women who, not long afterwards, won the Nobel Peace Prize but it’s not their photographs I’m sharing with you. This girl is a seamstress’ apprentice. Trying to pick up life from where the war left it. I don’t know what her experiences were but the sticker on her sewing machine spoke volumes.

This last photograph is from Elmina, where my umbilical cord is buried. Elmina is my love and pain. I was born about 200 metres from where that slave castle stands but I never went in there as a child. My mother has never been in there. Most people from Elmina never go in there because it’s depressive. So imagine me walking out of that haunted edifice and then these noisy school girls, just walk past me shouting, laughing out loud in a language I love to speak: Fante. It really was a breath of fresh air and the whisper of hope my soul so needed to hear.

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