THROUGH THE LENS
A Look At The Works of Leading Ghanaian Photographers
Yaw Pare & Steve Ababio
Photographs impact our lives daily. They are powerful tools with the ability to transform minds and lives. Researching on Ghana and Africa on the world wide web has always been a tedious and daunting task prior to social media, with very little documentation and positive imagery to access and reference. Now with platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, that has changed tremendously, offering rapid dissemination of information and pictures and with it, the ability to get quick feedback. As an architectural student, getting visual data, particularly on current developments going on in Ghana was almost impossible, so discovering the works of photographers like Yaw Pare and Steve Ababio was relief. They not only capture iconic buildings and spaces in Ghana and parts of Africa but also capture the daily nuances of being a Ghanaian and African. Their images have come to mean a lot to people, particularly those who are away from the motherland. Theirs is a work fueled by passion, by a quest to create a database of the good in Ghana, of the good in Africa, to educate, to draw the attention of the locals to the vast, amazing and beautiful resources we have in our country and continent. In a growing generation of photojournalists, architectural and landscape photographers, Yaw Pare and Steve Ababio stand out as leaders who are effecting change through images.
In 2015, Yaw Pare started the Facebook page, Random Ghana Pics, where he daily posts sites around Ghana, whether of the growing urbanscape of Accra, the historical castles in the Western and Central Regions of Ghana,a funeral or wedding, or the breathtaking resorts and natural landscapes across the country. He also founded Hawt Tours GH, a local travel and tour company, organizing trips around the country and giving people experiences of places they never imagined existed in Ghana. Together both groups have over 30,000 followers.
Earlier this year, Yaw Pare was commissioned by the Ghanaian Times Newspaper to cover the burial ceremony of Oseadeeyo Addo Dankwa III, King of Akropong, Akuapem. A ceremony that was attended by hundreds of dignitaries, both state and traditional, each image vividly captured the unique Akan culture of sending the departed into the next life, particularly this prominent figurehead in Akuapem.
Yaw Pare is elevating tourism in Ghana out of his own free will because he chooses to see the good in Ghana. By emphasizing the good, the mindset is changed. Here, we talk to Yaw Pare about his work and vision.
Design233: Who is Yaw Pare and how did you get involved in Photography?
Yaw Pare: I was born in Accra, lived in the US from 1994 to 2010. I believe who we are is best defined by the people who know us. But to answer your question, Yaw Pare is a person who wears many hats- Artist, Musician, Cook, Visionary, Businessman and Photographer. People know me for different things based on the location. I’m not particularly keen about the limelight. I’d rather my works be known than me. I’m a firm believer in “Anyone can be who they want to be“.
D233: What is your background?
YP: I hail from Aburi, on my father’s side and Abetifi Kwahu on my mother’s side. I’m divorced with two lovely children. My dad, Kofi Pare, was a former Blackstar football player.
I attended Martin De Porres in Dansoman for elementary school. I dropped out of Presec Legon during high school.
D233: Any formal training or you’re a self taught photographer?
YP: Self taught and still learning.
D233: What significant experiences have shaped you and your work?
YP: Well, back in 2005, I had a conversation with my dad while I was living in the states, regarding a property he had seen and wanted me to buy. I went on google to research Ghana from multiple sites and didn’t see anything appealing about Ghana for me to invest in, particularly, when it came to pictures depicting Ghana! In my humble opinion it was horrendous, to say the least. In 2010, I returned to Ghana after a long hiatus, on a business trip, after being convinced by a friend about the vast opportunities in Ghana. I was shocked in two ways: one about the potential Ghana had as a developing nation, being on the cusp of an economic boom. The second, was a culture shock on how things were so different in comparison to America. I was scheduled to return to the U.S. However, during a chance meeting with an old schoolmate and complaining about how bad conditions in Ghana were and wanting to leave, he pointed out that “If everyone leaves out of frustration, how can change be effected?” That was a defining moment for me to remain in Ghana and be the change I sought after. I decided to remain in my motherland and do the little I thought was necessary to make a difference.
D233: At what point did you make the shift from photographing people and begin to take interest in photographing buildings and landscapes?
YP: I don’t think I ever made a shift from photographing people or other subjects and fully concentrating on building and landscapes. It’s a combination of everything. The expose is what may deem it as such.
D233: Are there differences in the techniques employed in photographing interiors, exteriors and then landscapes?
YP: Well yes, as far as lighting goes, but the techniques are similar. It just depends on what you aiming to capture.
D233: Ghana has such a unique history, tracing the period before colonization to the present. There seems to be a large divide between traditional architecture and modern architecture in building. What can designers, particularly architects and planner, pick from the images you are capturing to reconcile the two in creating spaces that embrace who we are as a people?
YP: That’s a difficult question to answer, not being an architect. But looking at the dynamics, it’s going to require research on sustainability, creativity and money to implement ideas and solutions.
D233: On March 3rd you introduced us to Random Ghana Pics, a page/ group you created on Facebook to highlight the good side of Ghana, posting images of many beautiful and amazing buildings and sights around Ghana. You use the hashtag #BeautifulGhana in the tags for your pictures. Personally, that page is a classroom for me because I’ve discovered some amazing places in Ghana I never knew existed and would love to visit. What role does photography and social media play in transforming our country and continent for the better in light of the war and poverty Africa is always associated with? How do we capitalize on these tools?
YP: That’s great to know. Well, it plays a fundamental role in the transformation of minds and attitudes of a nation to know what they have, as opposed to what they don’t have. Having said that, mainstream media has been taking advantage of this scenario since its inception, knowing the psychology or better yet the power of imagery, on how it shapes, builds, catapults, destroys or ends the life of a nation based on how one depicts it. As the saying goes,” A picture is worth a thousand words’’. So now that the playing field has been leveled a bit through the freedom afforded us on social media, we as a nation or a people, who have been robbed of revenues due us, both intentionally/unintentionally, due to our inability to see what we have or bad media, need to use what I term as ‘’media reverse osmosis’’ to our advantage and showcase the good we have.
D233: Let me say that you’re creating valuable documentation on Ghana. In the area of architecture, a lot of the buildings around the country are undocumented, but you’re changing that? What do you take from this experience you’re giving your followers? As much as you’re on a quest to change the negative perception of the country, has your own perception in any way been affected?
YP: My perception has been that, if you look at things the way they are, they get worse, but when you look at them from a positive perspective, they get better. I’m very optimistic so I’m hardly swayed or affected by negativity.
D233: Beyond social media, how do you create a reach with your work to those who don’t have access to computers, mobile phones and social media?
YP: I’m planning on coffee table books for schools, hotels and for sale at vantage points.
D233: Do you require special equipment in shooting long range photographs such as the one you took of Accra from the Aburi Hills?
YP: In most cases yes. It depends on type of lens used. I’m hoping to get a state of the art drone soon.
D233: What do you look for in photographing buildings, spaces and the landscape? What is your process?
YP: That is a trade secret … lol. Well, I honestly don’t have one. I guess its the angles in which most of them are shot.
D233: Describe the 2 top images you’ve taken and the impact they have had on you.
D233: Do you do any post production on your photographs?
YP: Yes. I believe anyone using the types of dslr cameras we use does that.
D233: Name the most amazing places in Ghana you’ve been to?
YP: Mount GEMI, Volta Region; Lake Bosumtwi , Ashanti Region; Wli falls, Volta Region; Boti Falls, Eastern Region; Busua Western Region; Mole National Park, Northern Region; Fuller Falls, Brong Ahafo; Lou Moon Western Region; Akosombo…the list is endless!!
D233: What are thrills of being a photographer?
YP: It’s a way of connecting with people, nature and communities.
D233: What tips would you give a budding photographer?
YP: Keep shooting and shoot with a purpose.
D233: What are your plans for the future (Books, exhibitions, any untapped areas you’d like to explore through your work)?
YP: Yes, books, videos, exhibitions, collaborations, looking to find unknown or unestablished potential tour sites that need exposure.
Steve Ababio has a unique eye which captures seemingly minutiae details in the subjects of his photographs. Whether he is capturing aerial photographs or cuisine, he’s able to zero in on the unique attributes of his subjects, drawing the viewer in. He is an alumnus of College of Art, Kwame Nkurumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and a phenomenal photographer who has been involved in a number of print publications including CANOE, a Ghanaian-produced magazine which prided itself in featuring African design, art and fashion.
Through his Instagram and Facebook pages, his images have reached millions, but Steve Ababio does not stop there. He is extending his skills to the next generation, offering hands-on workshops which involve taking his students right into the field to get the full experience of what he is teaching them.
D233: When did you first pick up a camera?
Steve Ababio: Honestly, I don’t really remember. Must have been Form 2 or 3 of secondary school, way back in the day.
D233: How did you get into photography and when did it become a profession for you?
SA: My dad travelled a lot and always came back with loads of prints that told the story of where he’d been and what he’d done. That captivated me. I wanted to be like that. But it wasn’t till I got married, moved to the U.S. and got a job with a training, consulting and web development firm that I actually got to flex my photography wings. That’s when I bought my first digital camera and truly began to hone what was till then, just a talent and a hobby.
D233: What piqued your interest in architecture and landscape and is this an area you’d like to expand on?
SA: If my math and physics had been better I’m sure I’d have pursued a career in architecture. I’ve always loved the visuals of fine buildings and landscapes. I’ve always been a pocket critic of things I think could have been executed better or oriented differently for greater effect. I love grand views and vistas. I photograph them as a way of having permanent access to them when I return to wherever I set out from.
D233: Do you have any formal training in photography?
SA: I took photography as an elective in college in second year, but I hated the way it was taught and the limitations inherent, so I dropped it. When I bought my first digital camera in the US, I signed up with the New York Institute of Photography for their excellent and very pragmatic diploma course. That’s where I got my theoretical underpinnings and practical foundation from.
D233: Is there a niche for architectural and landscape photography in Ghana?
SA: There is. It’s a difficult niche because if you’re a professional and need to make money from your craft, these areas are not the most in-demand ones. But with time, patience and consistency, it will eventually pay off.
D233: I notice you have photographs you took in Zanzibar and São Tomé. Which locations has your work taken you to on the African continent and which ones intrigued you the most?
SA: In addition to the locations you mention I’ve been privileged to work in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Uganda and Nigeria. I’d love more time to explore and really document Sierra Leone’s incredible beaches, Uganda has some breathtaking landscapes and lovely people as do Burkina Faso and Liberia. Nigeria is always a joy to work in, their cultural underpinnings are so very strong and vibrant. Zanzibar and Sao Tome are the tourist’s dream destinations. Each country has had something unique and wonderful about it, and each one has it’s own intrigue on a very different level.
D233: What insights have you gained on Ghana and Africa through your work, particularly taking aerial shots of Accra, Mampong and Mole Park and how has using the drone camera influenced your perception of the country?
SA: For Ghana I’d say we have a lot to do and a very long way to go with regards to establishing tourism as a serious source of income and employment for our people. Some countries – like Zanzibar/Tanzania and Kenya – have really gotten that sector right and we could learn loads from them if we ever got serious about it. Using a drone doesn’t really alter much for me as a photographer. It does massively expand the perspectives I’m able to offer my viewers and clients, but these are perspectives I’ve always yearned for but never had affordable access to until now. Before drones I’d look at a project and wish I could capture it from a helicopter. But those were so ridiculously expensive that it was never really an option on most assignments. So my thinking hasn’t really changed; the means to achieving the ends of my thinking have.
Having enhanced perspectives with an aerial imaging platform allows capture of the big picture as well as previously difficult to achieve elevated perspectives. Unfortunately, in my view, most of the vistas we capture with drones now should have been photographed aerially on a regular periodical basis to develop a database that tracks the development of specific areas over time. That would help with transportation and infrastructure development planning as well as control and enforcement of zoning rules and regulations. It seems to me that these have not been high on the priorities of successive governments, so uncontrolled and unbridled expansion anyhow, anywhere appears to have been the order of the day. We capture that now, but it’s unclear that there’s the political will to change much in that area.
D233: How much prep time is involved in shooting interiors versus exteriors of buildings?
SA: Shooting interiors tends to involve the capture of fine details, accents, décor and so on. So more detailed cleaning and set-up tends to be required, thus more prep time or advance notice is needed. The exteriors of buildings are simpler to capture. The building is where it is and the landscaping is what it is. Not much can be done about that in the short or even medium term. So less prep is involved other than basic cleaning and making sure no misplaced items are lurking around in the shot.
D233: What goes into taking landscape shots?
SA: Determining how wide or narrow the shot will be. Determining where the sun rises and where it sets and which location would be ideal to capture from. Determining what is the best time(s) to make the capture. Determining what the best equipment is to capture with. Deciding what emotion or mood you wish to convey with the image.
D233: Have you worked with any architects to photograph their works?
SA: I have. I have also worked extensively with certain subcontractors who have wanted to capture the ways in which their segment of the work has enhanced the overall appearance of a given project.
D233: How do we use photography to understand our architecture and landscape to make better design choices?
SA: Looking critically at photographs of the works of others and how they interact with their landscape can help inform the designer and guide the development choices made. Particularly if the photography is well done, and captures the same location in a variety of seasons, times of day, and in different weather.
D233: What is the one best image you’ve taken?
SA: That’s an impossible question for me to answer. I’m much rather leave that choice for a viewer to make than attempt to tackle it myself. If you think of your favourite photographs as children, then you’ll understand how hard it is to single any one out for special treatment. You love them all differently, but more or less equally.
D233: Do you initiate most of your works or they are commissions?
SA: Most of my tourism related photographs are self-initiated; pretty much everything else came out of or was inspired by a commissioned assignment. This is, after all, the job that pays my bills!
D233: Your photographs are amazing, very detailed and insightful. They capture the beauty of Ghana and on your social media platforms you advocate its preservation. Beyond social media how do you create a reach through your work to teach people about our beautiful country and the importance of preserving it, about how filth and pollution detract from it (thinking of places like Odaw river, Korle Lagoon, Lavender Hill)?
SA: Honestly, I have neither the bandwidth nor the funding to take that message much further than I have on social media. Bandwidth in the sense that much as I would like to, I’m not yet able to afford to take enough time away from income-generating work to do a whole lot more of advocacy. Funding in the sense that to really make a difference to some of the issues I raise there has to be a plan in place, one that has incentives to encourage real behavioural change, as well as rewards for positive action to reverse the negative effects and somehow generate income from clean-up activities. So I do what I can in view of these limitations in the hope that someone with real clout and resources will take note, agree with my perspective and reach out so that we can actually begin to implement some practical projects on the ground to achieve real and measurable change.
D233: What are the best locations or buildings you’ve photographed and which ones would you like to photograph?
SA: Best locations I’ve photographed would have to be the Dutch Embassy in Accra and Eagles Lodge in Takoradi. Both feature beautiful architecture and landscaping on the outside, amazing detail and interior design on the inside. There are a number of stunning private residences in Accra and outside that I would love to shoot as well. I’ve no doubt the opportunities will show up soon!
D233: Do you use any post production methods to enhance your work and how much?
SA: I’m a firm believer in getting the shot right in camera, so I hardly ever edit what I capture. I shoot raw, so my post production involves processing the image so that it reflects the capture as my eyes saw it and then outputting to jpeg, tiff, psd, pdf or whatever format the client or end user requires.
D233: What are the best gear you’ve purchased for your work?
SA: That would most probably be my tripod. Yeah. Tripod. Without a doubt!
D233: Which photographers inspire your work?
SA: The late Bob Johnson, Eric Don Arthur, Emmanuel Bobbie, Nana Kofi Acquah, Nyani Quarmyne, Hakeem Salaam, Andrew Morgan, Jacob Riglin, Clark Little, Ben Green, Paul Nicklen, Steve Alkok, Bayo Omoboriowo, Kelechi Amadiobi, Ade Okelarin, Robbie Crawford.
D233: What tips would you give someone wanting to go into architectural photography, thinking of the workshops you’ve been giving and what would you like to pass on to the next generation?
SA: Invest in education – courses, workshops, magazines, books; invest in the right equipment (which you’ll know based on your investment in education), get out there and practice practice practice!
D233: What are your plans for the future?
SA: Working on a couple of specific projects right now that I can’t talk about just yet, but those are definitely the springboards for a firm and consistent trail to be blazed into the future, which from my perspective, is now!
Thank you to Yaw Pare and Steve Ababio for making the time to for the interviews and for the amazing photographs they provided for the feature. Follow Yaw Pare’s Facebook Page Random Ghana Pics and Steve Ababio on Instagram, @steve.ababio
Images for Yaw Pare’s feature are copyright of Yaw Pare and provided by Yaw Pare; Images for Steve Ababio’s feature are copyright of Steve Ababio and provided by Steve Ababio.