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October 10, 2012

“Everyday Africa” Offers a New Photographic Perspective

By Ingrid Skjong | Art

Everyday Africa
Shoeshine boys in Toumodi, Ivory Coast. March 2012. Photo by Austin Merrill.

Aware that most images involving Africa depict a stereotypical—and often highly distressed—image of life on the continent, photographer Peter DiCampo and journalist Austin Merrill set out to shift the perception. Zeroing in on the richness of everyday moments, and capturing them casually with their iPhones, the two amassed a collection of photographs—some of which are on display in “Everyday Africa,” showing through October 19 at the VII Gallery in Brooklyn—that present Africa in a different light.

“We’re not ignoring war or any other kind of bad news, because that’s a part of what happens in Africa, too,” says Merrill. “But it’s not what we’re focusing on. [We want] a local restaurant, a musical performance, the stores, the offices, the people—the things that fill our lives every day, no matter where we are.”

Both photographers are no strangers to Africa, having been Peace Corps volunteers there (DiCampo in Ghana, Merrill in Ivory Coast). Merrill, a journalist with a focus on African culture and politics (and currently an editor at Vanity Fair), spent more significant time in Ivory Coast in subsequent years. There with DiCampo in March, on a reporting trip backed by a grant from the Pulitzer Center, the two found themselves snapping photos with their iPhones using Hipstamatic and liking the results. DiCampo broached the idea for “Everyday Africa.” “The fact that we were taking photographs on such an accessible device fit right into the everyday nature of the project,” says Merrill.

The compelling photos have a familiar feel that goes beyond the filters: Kids shoot mischievous looks with universal resonance. A woman hangs laundry in a shaft of sunlight. A giraffe towers calmly over a seated man. (Check out more on the project’s Instagram feed @everydayafrica, which collects daily posts from iPhone photographers in multiple African countries.)

The pair would like to continue the program by photographing every country on the continent, involving more contributors (Africans included) and possibly doing a book. Till then, “Everyday Africa” will carry on, showing a less-extreme side of a nation. “My hope is that, if nothing else, people will leave the exhibit finding that they’re thinking about Africa in a new way,” says Merrill. Through October 19; 28 Jay St., Brooklyn; 212-337-3130; viiphoto.com; everydayafrica.tumblr.com.

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