My name is Nana Kofi Acquah. I was born in Elmina, 200 metres from where the first slave castle was built in sub-saharan Africa. I grew up in Tema and Accra, and at age 12, I fell in love with poetry, and painting shortly after. I discovered photography when I worked in advertising. I took off as a commercial photographer but quickly realised I could do more with my photographs than sell soap and sex.
I love to hear people’s stories. Everybody has a story, and the camera is an amazing tool for capturing them. I enjoy documenting everyday experiences. I think the photographs we consider boring today for their lack of drama, will become the most accurate records of history in the future. It’s okay to dress up a model in the most fabulous clothes but in 500 years that won’t be a very accurate representation of how regular folk dressed in 2020. My kids are growing very fast, and they are also often the subjects of my photographs.
Africa is my obsession, my joy, my hope, my heartbreak. When I am in Europe or America or Asia, there is no motivation to lift a camera. I feel like the spaces and stories often feel too curated for my liking. I love the unpredictability of Lagos. The spontaneity of Accra. The pitch at which Dakar sings. The soft, seductive dance of Bamako; and how Abidjan sways her hips when she walks. I am currently on assignment in Kumasi, the capital of the Ashante kingdom in Ghana and after many years of regularly visiting and photographing here, I am yet to understand this city.
The light in Ghana is generous but unkind. It gets too dark too quickly, and the sun here has a temper. So I like to photograph people when the sun is still waking up, or when it is burnt out and heading back home to sleep. Because I started as a commercial photographer, I am very good with strobes but I don’t use them on assignments nowadays for two reasons: I like to give my subjects a break. Nowadays, I work a lot in rural and peri-urban communities, and most people are polite and so won’t complain when you’re taking too much of their time. By borrowing just a bit of their morning, and a bit of their late afternoon or early evening, I give them a big chunk of the day to go about their activities. This is always a win-win because they get to go on with their lives, and they give me the best part of them because they realise I respect them. The second reason is simple. When the sun is really high, people don’t smile. It is just too hot, and even when they want to smile, there’s too much light in their face so they squint.
I used to say I became a photographer because I wasn’t getting enough time to paint but now that I work as a photographer, it is painting that has become my new hobby. Today, I’d say I photograph because I enjoy it. I love to capture people’s souls. I love to play with colours and patterns and forms. But I also love to do good. Stop wrong. Celebrate right. Encourage the thriving. And photography allows me to do all that, and more.