Countless entries on Africa Works and, in articles I’ve written for others, have emphasized the importance of seeing Africa and its people in a 360-degree, panaromic perspective. Everyday Africans are, in short, vastly different than the dominant media images of disaster, disease and mayhem. Out of the everyday, a new image of the region is emerging, and that image, while not wholly positive, conveys a stronger, more appealing backbone than the usual fare. The premise is clear and persuasive: in understanding the normal, the functional — what works — in Africa, both Africans themselves and sympathetic outsiders can better appreciate this neglected and frequently abused (by media) region.
Photographers and video-documentarists have a special role to play in the reinvention of who and what counts as typically and paradigmatically African. So the appearance this month of a new collection of everyday African life, by an American photojournalist, is welcome. That the New York Times, in its influential “Lens” blog on visual journalism, is featuring the work of Peter DiCampo and Glenna Gordon. two terrific young photojournalists who have made outsized engagements with the sub-Saharan region. Their works highlights the sea-change in attitudes on the part of the mainstream media towards even the possibility of African normalcy.
The era of reveling in the pathology of African pain may not be over but at least the “pornography” of African pain is less compelling than at any time this century. DiCampo’s photos stand as evidence that in the everyday, Africa’s depth and significance can best be grasped. His work parallels that of many other earnest and sincere chronicles of the African, arising from the soil of the continent and the passions of the diverse multitude driven to the African story.
Let the celebration of the “new African normal” begin in earnest.