It’s been 5 years since journalists Peter DiCampo and Austin Maral dreamed up Everyday Africa –a hugely popular Instagram project that now boasts 325,000 followers. The idea was to challenge the cliché that African stories all just about poverty disease and war, and to instead showcase beautiful images of daily life from all across the continent, and offer a more complex, richer view of Africa. In May, a book version of Everyday Africa will be released.
The Nairobi launch will be held May 10 at 6:30pm at the Alliance Francaise.
Nairobi photographer James Muriuki sat down with DiCampo to talk about the project.
How did Everyday Africa come to be?
It was around 2012. I had lived in Ghana for several years at that point, first on Peace Corps’ volunteer program, then based in Accra as a journalist/ photographer. Austin had lived in Ivory Coast for several years, again on Peace Corps and then as an Associated Press correspondent in the early 2000’s. We were aware that the daily life of people is not what was on the mainstream media. When the idea came to us, we started by shooting on our phones. We had no past experience of phone photography and didn’t really know what Instagram was. It was casual. As we went on with reporting trips we would also shoot with our phones. That was the beginning of it.
Everyday Africa. You went with a very literal name?
In some ways, it’s a problematic name because your every day is different from mine, even though we both live in Africa. As the idea grew, we added more and more photographers and at some point we had to start paying more attention. We now have photographers in all different places, to have as many diverse voices as we can, knowing we will never cover what everyone’s daily life is. This is a very different editorial view from the western media editorial view.
As you grew, how did others get to be part of the platform?
I’d say at the beginning, it was other foreign correspondents who’d say “I’m frustrated too.” And we’d say, “Sure join us.” Once we were becoming a big thing, we had to get more strategic about it.
Who makes the decisions as to which photographers to look at, and eventually who will make it to the platform?
Its mostly a matter of workload, Austin and I are still handling the bulk of the work so we start by finding them, then present them to the group that is already on the platform and say what do you think. Occasionally we have like mini-elections.
How do you create a democratic regional balance where the quality may vary immensely between different countries?
We don’t want to necessarily let the Western standard of quality be the only standard, but then at the same time we don’t want to look and say since this person is from a country where we expect less photographers to come from so we take them in. We have to look and see there is a natural eye with the person and there is room for growth. I’d say that’s what we look for. I have actively watched people grow as they post on Everyday Africa.
You started out on social media. What were the comments like?
A lot of them deal with the subject matter of like how do we portray Africa. The people that get the most upset by our photos are Africans who have left the continent and they are like, “Stop showing us in certain ways.” And then the Africans that live in the continent will come and say, “This is important, it’s how we live.”
You want to show positive stories. But then how do we confront the negatives in our society with photography?
In the beginning I felt like all of the white foreign contributors were like hell-bent on changing the image of Africa – only showing positive. Other Africans were also often the ones showing the problems. That’s why I think Instagram could potentially be very useful new form of journalism – it’s about context. Normally when you see an African problem in the news article, it’s in a vacuum – we only see the problem so we assume it’s only problems that in the place. The hope would be that, slowly overtime, if people start to see good and bad, normalcy and extreme in many parts of the world, they’d know there’s not this vacuum-ous idea about a place. They would understand that people here and the situation here has as much complexity as everywhere else in the world.
Where do you see this going in the next few months? Years?
As Everyday Africa, I don’t know if we’ll become an agency and to be frank, do agencies really make money for photographers any more? Things are challenging everywhere in the photography medium market but I’d love to find a way for this to be a sustaining organization. I don’t know if this will be consistent grant funding or a business model. I know that it will continue to be a platform for many voices in photography and I hate to fall into that trap of thinking what do they get out of this. I suppose exposure but we encourage people to use it as much as possible to broadcast themselves. So we will be moving forward with the photographers in mind. At the same time, I would love for us be doing more and more educational programs. That would be the main thrust of the organization.