Everyday Africa: The Next Phase

A new book from the acclaimed social media project asks readers to confront their misperceptions about life on the continent.

Instagram: @austin_merrill (left) and @tomsaater (right)
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Everyday Africa began as a simple idea: share photographs of everyday life to combat the stereotypes of poverty, disease, and war that dominate stories coming out of the continent. But it began on an assignment whose mission was to report on just those things.

In March of 2012 Peter DiCampo and I were in western Ivory Coast for a closer look at a country that was trying to recover from nearly ten years of conflict and political crisis. Refugees were returning home from Liberia, makeshift militias patrolled the countryside, and many of the communities of this thickly forested land lay in ruins. It was an important moment for a country in a precarious position—a keystone state of West Africa trying to find its way back to prominence. The Western media wasn’t interested, and so Peter and I felt a particular responsibility, as two of the only American journalists in the country, to bring this story to a wide audience.

And yet as I interviewed victims of war crimes, former fighters, and people who had lost nearly everything—and as Peter photographed them—we had the overwhelming feeling that we were piling on. The story we were building, while accurate and important, seemed merely to be more of the same: Another story of conflict in Africa—more ethnic strife, more desperate poverty, more grisly tales of violence. It wasn’t much different from most of what is published from that part of the world.

Weren’t we reinforcing the perceptions everyone already had? And was that the most important thing we had to say about these people and that place?

Using our iPhone cameras, we began to capture scenes that were all around us—scenes far more prevalent than those of crisis, and yet ones that were seldom seen by the rest of the world. A woman working in a shopping mall, children on their way to school, men gathered at a roadside café for breakfast. Simple, everyday moments that were very much like life back home. Could we use photography to make the ordinary interesting? The mundane beautiful? If anyone saw the images, might they experience some form of recognition? And perhaps a moment of candid surprise: Hey, I never really thought about the fact that they must need to get their cars repaired, too, that they must also enjoy afternoon naps, that sometimes the streets need to be swept.

Images of these simple scenes soon became Everyday Africa on Instagram, and like-minded photographers joined our ranks. Today we have more than 3,000 photographs on the feed taken by more than 30 photographers from all over the continent. We are constantly looking for new ways to present this material and to encourage people to challenge their own misperceptions of life in Africa. We have shown the project to more than 2,500 middle and high school students in Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Mombasa, Kenya. We recently launched a new website that brings Everyday Africa together with many of the similar Everyday projects it inspired worldwide. This month the project is being exhibited at photography festivals in Breda, the Netherlands, and in Istanbul.

And soon we’ll be publishing a book that features many of our best images, along with some of the comments left on the images by our followers. These comments, which range from the funny and familiar to the caustic and outright racist, offer a deeper exploration of our misperceptions of Africa. We’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to cover production costs. You can help make the book a reality by pre-ordering your own copy. Your donation will help put books in classrooms, too. In every school we’ve been to, kids have been excited (and surprised) to learn about everyday life in Africa. The discussion of misperceptions resonates with them, and they’re eager to use photography to tell stories about their own lives, dispelling more stereotypes along the way. This is how Everyday Bronx was born, and we hope to spark other Everyday projects in misunderstood communities all over the world.