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Exploring West African Art Photography Through The Lens of Fiifi Abban

Formerly known as the Gold Coast, Ghana is rated as one of the fastest growing economies in West Africa.

Characterized by a very rich history with its habitation possibly dating from 10,000 BCE, Ghana is a country famously known for its lush forests, diverse animal life, and miles of sandy beaches along a picturesque coast which makes it an overall fascinating repository of cultural heritage. March 6th, 2022 marked the 65th anniversary of Ghanaian independence from the British colonial rule and it is also a day of remembrance that celebrates the heroes of Ghana who led the country to attain its independence.

As the post-colonialism atmosphere led by a strong sense of liberation grew exponentially in the past mid-century, so did the need of creation, self-representation but mostly of cultural self-preservation.

Subsequently, the demand for art amongst the West African population increased through various mediums such as painting, photography, fashion, music, and symbolism ( Adinkra) as the representation of a concept in visual form.

Opposed to its neighboring countries, the Ghanaian culture lacks a strong mask-making tradition but instead focuses more on actual wearable art as the symbols can be designed on every piece of clothing, objects and fabrics. This concept is also known as “portable” art.

When it comes to longevity and preservation, we cannot fail to mention the prolific West African portrait photographers of the 1960s and ’70s era such as Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé, and Samuel Fosso.

The majority of portraits from these decades tend to gravitate toward a sense of political change defined by press imagery and propaganda, focusing on the major struggles for an independent Ghana. Nowadays, as the popularity of Ghanaian culture and history increases, so does the demand for new imagery representing brand new stories, ongoing changes and an overall undeniable modernism of the country still strongly attached to its roots. We’ve had the immense honor to chat with Fiifi Abban, one of the current top game changers of this new era of West African photography.

Photographer Fiifi Abban What initially got you into photography?

I've always loved photography, I remember before high school my mom got me a very tiny Samsung point and shoot camera as my birthday gift. I'd take pictures of everything around me. I grew up loving it. I took photography seriously after I lost my banking job 2 years ago, even before that I'd shoot anything I thought looked interesting with my IPhone. I got a few commissioned works which I shot with my iPhone till I owned a professional camera.

When do you know you have a good picture?

“Good” is a subjective term for me, good is getting the image I want. Once that happens I feel the urge to create a lot more. I know I've not taken a good image when I feel disappointed & don’t have the motivation to go again.

What is the most rewarding thing about being an African photographer from Ghana?

The most rewarding thing being an African photographer is having to capture images that represent a story full of our rich culture and tradition.

Was there a time you thought Ghanaians weren’t fully understanding your art ?

I do believe this is normal for every creative, especially photographers, your art might not be for everyone. I had to unlearn a lot of things , we don’t need to be boxed as creatives .

Not everyone was really in sync with me when I started shooting on my iPhone. But when you know what you bring to the table and you are very consistent with whatever you are doing , eventually people tend to go with your flow. Creatives should learn to create timeless art rather than always having to please the masses. Not everyone might connect with what you create , I believe in impact, so find your niche and keep working towards that .

Where do you get your ideas ?

Music, I'd say, is always a great inspiration for me to create amazing visuals. I get inspired by other artists l, as well as my surroundings I get to connect easily .

Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing & career path?

Quite a number of photographers influenced me one way or the other. but most importantly the adventure of figuring out your own unique style was an integral part for me.

How has your style changed over time?

I started experimenting with photography. Photography is a never ending learning process for me & my style has obviously grown and changed over time.

If you could invite any 3 people, dead or alive, for dinner, who’d they be and why?

The legendary James Barnor, I'd definitely want to hear him talk about his passion for photography and how the journey was for him.

Joshua Kissi, such an inspiring creative. Been following him from the Street Etiquette era and I would love to ask him questions about the industry.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, probably one of my favorite artists ever. I’ve been admiring his work since I was young. I would love to watch him paint and have dinner with him.

How would you describe your perfect day?

The satisfaction of striking out your to-do list seems to be a perfect day for me.

We highly recommend our readers to check The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s "In and Out of the Studio: Photographic Portraits from West Africa" book.

Written by Sarah Von-H All photos by Fiifi Abban

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