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Everyday Life Across the Continent

“A collection of daily life images from across the continent, focusing on the mundane and the familiar. As journalists who have lived or spent significant amounts of time on the continent, we find the extreme not nearly as prevalent as the everyday. - From the Everyday Africa “about” page

Everyday Africa is a project formed in 2012 by documentary photographers Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill. Tired of seeing the similar news photographs of Africa focused on famine, war, and suffering, they began a new project depicting the mundane, everyday – and diverse – life of Africa.

I spoke to Peter over Skype and he told me about the goals of the project.

Note #1 by Peter DiCampo.

Laura Morris: The “about’ page of Everyday Africa says this: “How can we identify the extremes without first establishing the norms?” Can you explain this quote to me? 

Peter DiCampo: [...] It’s a statement that is a recognition of the one-dimensional perspective that we're given about Africa.

News imagery doesn't allow for the idea of people to be people. It allows them to be characters in a drama. And some are soldiers and some are famine victims and some are conflict victims, but at no point is there a grey area – a recognition that they are fully-formed human beings just like the rest of us who have hopes, wants needs, breakfast, and children and so on and so forth. It also doesn't recognize that the people we normally see in these conflict situations, these extreme situations, have much more to them than the imagery suggests.

There are entire groups of quote on quote “normal people” that just plain never get photographed, or never get shown to us because our thinking is that only the extreme matters.

A girl looks in on a church service in Sirigu, Upper East Region, Ghana on June 30, 2013. Photo by Peter diCampo.

A girl looks in on a church service in Sirigu, Upper East Region, Ghana on June 30, 2013. Photo by Peter diCampo.

LM: Tell me a bit about the structure of the organisation. How does it work?

Everyday Africa was formed largely last year, when we [Austin Merrill and Peter DiCampo] were on a Pulitzer Center grant in Ivory Coast shooting a very traditional post-conflict story, and we started shooting with our iPhones. We had a conversation about how the Africa we know is rarely the Africa represented – rarely the Africa that the two of us as journalists get to show. So, anyway, it launched from there.

We very quickly realized through talking to friends and colleagues that these are shared frustrations for other photographers who live on the continent, or that have a consistent working relationship with the content. So either they asked to become involved or we asked them if they would like to to start posting – this is also about the time that professional photographers that realized the power of Instagram, so a lot of people jumped on board.

Homework, Kakuka, Uganda, on the border with DRC. June 7, 2012. Photo by Peter diCampo

Homework, Kakuka, Uganda, on the border with DRC. June 7, 2012. Photo by Peter diCampo

LM: Are those people mostly documentary photographers? 

PDC: Yes, absolutely. We have a stronger contribution from African photographers at this point. We have a couple of regular [contributors] and guest segments. They all are documentary photographers.

Since I posted an Everyday Africa email address into our Instagram account, we've been getting messages from people a couple of times a week that want to contribute. Sometimes it's a professional photographer that lives on the continent that wants to come on as a contributor, but sometimes its just some guy that wants to send me two pictures that he took on his iPhone. We’re trying to get that organised now. The idea is to keep it a variety of perspectives of what “Everyday Africa” means, and to recognize that we're talking about a variety of countries [and photographers], professional and not.

Sunset on the Zambezi River, just above Victoria Falls, on the Zimbabwe - Zambia border. May 2012. Photo by Austin Merrill.

Sunset on the Zambezi River, just above Victoria Falls, on the Zimbabwe – Zambia border. May 2012. Photo by Austin Merrill.

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The Everyday Africa project is expanding. They are creating educational curriculum for young teens to be piloted at the Bronx Documentary Center in New York. The classes will encourage students to compare news photographs about Africa with Everyday Africa photographs, exploring  journalism, how to develop different perspectives, and where stereotypes come from. Eventually, the students will go out into their own communities and photograph. The curriculum will be freely downloadable once the project has been completed.

Fishing boats in the harbor in San Pedro, Ivory Coast. March 2012. Photo by Austin Merrill.

Fishing boats in the harbor in San Pedro, Ivory Coast. March 2012. Photo by Austin Merrill.

You can follow Everyday Africa on tumblrinstagram, and twitter @EverydayAfrica.

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