What’s Next Africa? – The Hidden Stories -, is this years theme for the LagosPhoto Festival, currently taking place in Lagos.
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By Peter Vlam
This year, LagosPhoto aims to put Africa in a new light, one that does not include the dramatic images of Africa that are popular across the globe. Instead, the hidden elements of beautiful Africa are portrayed through the medium of photography. This includes making the important social issues visible, from a holistic and organic perspective.
Dutchmen Marc Prüst is the creative director of the Lagos Photo festival. Together with the African Artists’ foundation he selects the photographers and puts the final image selection together. The construction of the exhibition is his responsibility. ‘Photography as an art form has an enormous potential in Africa.’
What is the festival about?
LagosPhoto festival is about surprising the visitor. Our main criteria is simple: quality. Our theme is ‘What’s next Africa, The Hidden Stories.’ We have selected 41 photographers from all over the world. Their work tells a story that is not often shown in the media. We want to surprise visitors with their stories.’
Why do people have to see the exhibition?
During the festival you can enjoy wonderful stories told by photographers from all over the world. We have people like Mario Macilao, Nana Kofi Acquah, George Osodi, Jodi Bieber.
What made you participate in this festival?
‘Because it is great! Lagos Photo festival is a new festival with a bright future. There are so many ideas and possibilities waiting to be explored and to be set up. Lagos is a wild place and logistically it is pretty challenging. But hey, it is the only photo festival in the region. Many, many things are possible here.’
What is a good photo for you?
‘When it comes to documentary photography: A good photo tells a good story. A striking, original, surprising, or moving story. It should be a photo that tells a story that upsets you, makes you angry or smile. And it is very hard to tell a good story. I mean, taking a photo is easy. Everybody has a camera, the technique seems simple, it is all is digital. So what most people do – even professionals – is taking photo’s like memories. But that is interesting for only a small group of people. It is like proof of an event you attended. But that is not what I mean with a good story. A good story is universal and relates to something you did not know or felt before.’
Lagos Photo features work of African and non African photographers. Is there a difference between the two groups?
‘Yes. But first, all work that we present is made in Africa. So that is our starting point. We feature African stories. But we do not limit ourselves to African photographers. We have both. And yes, there is a visual culture in Africa, which differs from other continents. In Europe we have a visual culture that is influenced by images and art based on Christianity. As a result, we subconsciously, somehow appeal to images that refer to famous icons from art in the church. In Africa this is to a lesser extend the case. Focus lies on other things, which is not easily to describe what exactly. People from the Western world photographing in Africa have a different ‘eye’ than people who are at home in their continent. They see different things. It is like describing an elephant blindfolded. One is touching the trunk and the other the tale. When they describe what they are seeing, you get different descriptions. This some how also goes for the difference between Western and non-Western photographers when we are talking about documentary photography. They tell different stories and that is something I believe you can see during the festival. Very exciting to bring this together.’
How does photography relate to other art form in Africa?
I think there is great photography here by African photographers. Really strong images. But some of it is less strong in terms of concept. The in-depth idea behind what people are trying to say can be richer at times. You can sense that there is not a very long photography tradition in Africa, it is a young art form. Other than art forms like writing and painting. But the need for good story telling through photography is enormous. The talent and potential of young photographers is wonderful. This will happen in the next years to come.’
What is next?
‘I believe that the need for photography as an art form within Africa is big. The demand for African made images is huge, the artistic potential of the African photographers is huge and the untold stories waiting to be told are overwhelming, LagosPhoto can be the center of this kind of developments in the future and it is wonderful to be part of this movement.’