Monday, 28 January 2008

Photographer | Philip Kwame Apagya | Ghana, USA


I want to start off the year with a wonderfully imaginative photographer from Ghana, Philip Kwame Apagya. His photographs are a little bit of magic put onto to film with stage-set designs as a background the sitter can be wherever they want to be....the possibilities to this idea are endless. All credit to Philip, these photographs are great. Thanks...

Philip Kwame Apagya | African Photographer

Fascinating images from the realms of commercial studio portraiture –

In Africa, a photo studio is the place where dreams come true. For a few pence, ordinary mortals can strike a pose and achieve immortality, have things they haven't got and may never have, be people they are not and may never be, have access to the inaccessible. People start asking for personal portraits that go beyond the image usually present on identity papers, often the only 'popular portrait' available. This opens new roads and avenues to the art of photographic portrait, with possibility for the artist to catch special moments in people's existence: people ask for a picture for several reasons, but with the common desire to have a 'funny picture'. In this process, new forms of self-representation become part of a new social identity: this is the framework in which we might consider the work of Philip Kwame Apagya. Philip Kwame Apagya's formal portraits in front of commissioned painted backgrounds seem to be suspended between realism and a sort of naïvité, they are both unreal and hyperealistic: the dreams of African people are put on stage -against scenery which praises consumer society. The subject stands in front of a painted backdrop that portrays everything people dream of having: fake New England country houses showing off some porcelain, VCRs and TVs in bar closets, modern kitchens with well-stocked refrigerators with coke and cheetos...portraits with a quarter / half / full smile, because nobody in Africa is really deceived by make-believe...but for one glorious moment they can have it all. These portraits are highly amusing for us, 'western people', but are also unintentionally disturbing because of the insight they offer into a growing cultural vacuum. This is the dream, and it is empty and materialistic.---


Philip Kwame Apagya was born in Sekondi (Ghana) in 1958, after a period of apprenticeship in his father's photo studio (a former crime-scene photographer), he worked as a travelling photographer for a while in the Sassandra Region (Ivory Coast), following the colour revolution in the late 1980s. After having graduated in photojournalism at the Ghana Institute of Journalism in Accra, he opened then his own studio (studio PK's normal photo studio) in Shama (Ghana), in 1982.

Philip Kwame Apagya is known worldwide, because of his participation in many personal and collective exhibitions. Among others: 'snap me one!' studio photographers in Africa where special emphasis was put on the studio decorations. The items shown include 150 photographs, 10 original backdrops from Ghana as well as other materials. Visitors had the opportunity to be 'snapped' in front of a backdrop of their choice. The photos were taken by Philip Kwame Apagya.1998 Stadt Museum, Munich; City Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach; Iwalewa-House, University of Bayreuth; 1999 Smithsonian Institute, Washington 2000. Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam catalogue with the same title is available. 'snap me one!'studio photographers in africa

prestel-verlag, 1998 'Africa by Africa' / ' l'Afrique par elle-même' / 'Portrait Afrika' photographic view1999 Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; Barbican Art Gallery, London; South African National Gallery, Cape Town; 2000, Third Rencontres de la Photographie Africaine, Bamako, Mali; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; 'Inside Africa' 2000 Noorderlicht, 2000 Photography Festival, Fries Museum, Groningen; 'Collezione etro uomo spring/summer 2000', Galleria Luisa delle Piane, Milan---

African photography since photography was invented in Europe, it is customary to think of it as primarily a western activity, Africa photographed by Africans is something that likewise could escape attention as the photographs of Africa, which we see every day are almost without exception made by western photographers. Traditionally, African cultures refrained from photography for many carried the belief that to be photographed was to have one spirit taken away. African photos operated as codes in a society in which the image one projected was very important. The British policy of 'indirect rule' enabled Africans in the territories colonized by Great Britain to learn European techniques earlier than others, so that the Ghanaians were familiar with photography from the turn of the century. The arrival of the box camera in the 1920s speeded up the Democratization of photographic techniques. The camera blossomed in the hands of indigenous photographers as colonialism waned and the Ghanaians adopted photography for themselves - initially by touching up photos, then through photo-montage and finally in the form of painted scenery that played a part in Ghanaian social life. The painted background is a heritage from Europe, and represents an intermediate step between painted portraits and photographic portraits.

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