Donkey’s years from now, if we look back to our current age, what will have been taken into account? Tomorrow asks questions we cannot answer, and it is unpredictable how our actions today will be interpreted tomorrow without the right documentation. In regards to documenting our stories as Africans, one needs to remember that it is only through open communication that we can share stories to construct our realities together and help bring walls of stereotypes down.
Back in early 2017, the idea of Random Photo Journal began as a means to communicate stories in a visual and dissimilar way, no special edits, just uncooked content presented exactly as seen. Art should mirror its age and also go beyond it. To create such experiences I looked for smaller moments everyone love to see but miss due to the hustle and bustle of life. Achieving that little task transported observers to a far off landscape in time and put them face-to-face with remote moments, giving them an opportunity to interact in ways they never could fathom. The real-life moments of these images built a diverse narrative about the essence of our immediate surrounding and also gave invaluable avenues to engage directly with audiences in different fields in art, as-well-as inspire thinkers in cross-cultural spaces interested in the daily lives of undocumented locals.
The beauty of Random Photo Journal is how unplanned and haphazard the shots are. It is really a way of seeing, sometimes slant, straight, curved, black and white, coloured, emotional and total analysis of situations that exist for only as long as 3 seconds. The cover image of this issue is a minimal picture of two men on a motorcycle at Lokoja, Nigeria, nothing out of the ordinary, but captivating nevertheless.
Flipping on, the magazine unwraps with a picture of a woman on a motorcycle. Saturdays in Lagos are known for weddings and the woman in the picture was daintily dressed in a pink beaded Aso-Ebi clothe to show she was on her way to an Owambe (Owambe is a lavish and flamboyant party thrown by Nigerians which is usually characterized by a show of luxury, lavish spending, colour, extravaganza, paparazzi, lots of food, music, dance and networking. The origin is in Western Nigeria, particularly the Yoruba culture.) Her headgear is large and trademark of most Nigerian women; her radiant and enthusiastic smile served as proof of the fun she was to have at her destination. The motorcycle there signifies the fastest means of transportation in Lagos when it came to going to places urgently and arriving on time; it is common knowledge that the city is plagued with intense and stubborn traffic. It juxtaposes the randomness of the Nigerian society with the way things are planned, the street fashion and other factors that represent Nigerianness, the rough potholed roads and the block and flat projects houses which signals the lower middle class. The image was made at the mouth of small London, Ojuelegba, Shitta, home to the famous Nigerian singer, Ayo ‘Wizkid’ Balogun.
The opening composition by Caleb Ajinomoh sets the pace for the number of fine writing featured in this issue. His essay “Nigerians at malls” is short, sweet and precise in capturing the life and behavioural routines of Nigerians when they visit malls. He succinctly explained the pride in their stride as the upper and middle class who can afford to be at a mall, and the mundane process of how they go about the shopping. The featured image was taken at the Palms shopping mall, Lekki, Nigeria and it was made to commemorate the Independence Day celebration. Caleb Ajinomoh is a freelance journalist, playwright and novelist; his short stories have been featured in Kalahari review, Afreada, Brittle paper, Adda, The Offing and he was a finalist for the Book Doctors 2016 Pitchapalooza prize for his debut work of fiction. He is also the editor at large for The Mustard magazine and was the judge of the Random Photo Journal prize in creative fiction and poetry in 2017. It was a pleasure to have him write the opening.
The magazine continues with a playful but well thought out approach to curation, one of which was a picture of a woman pushing a wheelbarrow with her son hitching a ride by embracing the goods on it. Other images also stood out, like the Ajaokuta steel labourer sitting on the truck with a smile on his dusty lips stained with cement, like the rest of his suntanned body.
One thing I love about the features in the magazine is diversity. I tried to draw diverse contributors in on the poetic and abstract atmosphere that gives back to the spirit of our motherland.
In her poetry and spoken word, Claudia Owusu talked about memories harboured in her mind about growing up in Accra. “Drown or Drought.” She is an American-Ghanaian alumnus of Otterbein University, a spoken word artist; creative writer and filmmaker based in Ohio but spends her time between Ghana and the United States. Her feature in the magazine was not a big surprise, photojournalism is like poetry or spoken word or every other work of art, these things are not separate anymore, and everything is flexible now. In that way, the journal is a personal collection of exceptional artists we found dear and wished to record their work. The platform is small but it is not about looking at ourselves as small, we know what we want to say and how to say it and also, there is a place right now for something noiseless and precise.
A good example of something precise is Surf Ghana as a collective doing what they do with promoting the culture of skate and surf on the Gold coast. Surf Ghana is a collective of creative youth based in Ghana united by their passion of skateboarding and ever since their origin 3 years ago they have been on a goodwill mission to teach youths in the country and beyond with their Skate Tour Gh program. The deal is to teach the Youth a new outlook on life to further broaden their perspective of what living really is about. In this issue, I wrote about the collective and specifically about why the world should know about the work they do in promoting the democratization of board sports in Ghana.
Images and more images, all of them stand for something important in today’s society, be it a catfish in a bowl, men smoking hemp, school children visiting the Nigeria war museum in Umuahia, a boy eating in a shanty restaurant, a man brushing his teeth half naked in a bathroom or a fisherman in a sea of plastic waste floating all around and putting a smear on the beauty that is Nigeria. If nothing stands, the picture of a biker cruising on the bridge at Itobe, a town within the left bank of the Niger River does. Without much emphasis on the biker himself, behind him rests silhouettes of mountains and mangrove trees woven together, the vast Niger River and tiny traces of towns and fishermen in the water. The colour is subtle and the look on the riders face is focused on the journey ahead of him. More images depict daily society, exploring topics like plastic recycling, water scarcity, fabric and fashion, modes of transportation and religion.
Moving on, Zimbabwe as a country has been in turmoil since the stepping down of President Mugabe, there have been bomb blasts, unrests and other social situations. But since the beginning of time in Zimbabwe and other places in the world women are oppressed, something Cathrine Chidawanyika is fiercely against. Luckily, she is always in the mood to write a poem and most times they are about social justice. She is an unapologetic feminist based in Harare and her poem “Cycles” which features on page 30 of the magazine is human in every way. It discusses the pull of the past, the burden of the present and how both are always in close relation and necessary to what happens in the near future.
For this issue, she wrote two poems, the other one is titled: “What of the celebrations?” and making a purchase of the book online is the only way to find out.
When I reached out to contributors for the project I gave them freedom of choice to create as they pleased! As great minds, it was not a surprise that they all came out with ideologies that melted together to forge something unique and whole. Looking through it is obvious the Journal is about how we are a product of inspirations from our environment and from us, it is about being honest about the way we act in our own environments, our living conditions, the surprise and beauty of our existence in a social background where most things are being hidden from public eyes.
It is random that an illustrator features in the magazine but is it, really? We have always contemplated on how visual art can be viewed through a more literary perspective and some of Eleni Anastassiou work relates to poetry.
Poetry, as I often like to describe it, is like a whirlwind that wraps around you for a moment and then leaves quickly if you do not take the cue and write down the feeling. Such is the art of Eleni Anastassiou and the process of it is poetic. Featured in the magazine are lines, colours and portraits that she made while being on a summer vacation in Ghana with her friends from Amsterdam. She is an art student and part-time philosopher, photographer, filmmaker, illustrator and sometimes poet.
One day after returning from documenting Balogun market, Lagos Island I found that in one of the frames I had captured a man with two ears, I was surprised, I wanted to share but withheld. Photography is a secret. Another image used in this magazine is that of dead snake seen on my way home in Owerri. These images required close observation and Anthony Madukwe is a genius at observation. Only he could have come up with a story like “Barefoot Reminders of Death.”
The story delves into the life of a Nigerian couple and the problems that plagued their hasty marriage engineered by worldly possessions and societal pressure. In the story, the voice listens to the husband, a dying man, whinge about his predicament while on his hospital bed. With his story, Anthony further went on to explain the conditions in which men and women alike, who rush into marriages without being in love find themselves in, and the damages it does to their mental and physical health.
It is known that the hood is a breeding ground and besides the breeding, there are other diseases like domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases and the lingering chemical stench of urine, shit and death. The story found a way to personify death as a man who moves from place to place, leaving footprints in the sand and a morbid stench in the air.
Barefoot reminders of death was specifically placed at the end of the magazine because just like Nigerians at malls, it finished the job of looking inwards and capturing the miserable lives of Nigerians in the ghetto, the dull living conditions as permitted by the economies of scale and how all of these affects their personal lives, marriages and child upbringing. Anthony Madukwe was observant and patient with his in-depth look into the humdrum life and times of his character who is plagued with an incurable disease caused by his beliefs. Also, the force of the story makes it a better way to end a book.
Anthony Madukwe is a Lawyer based and writer based in Nigeria. His work has been featured in Kalahari Review and Dwarts. It is also important to point out that he won The Random Thoughts Prize in creative fiction in 2017 with his story “Stained Asphalt” and then went on to win the Afreada Valentine’s day prize with his story “Safiya’s eyes”. He has ever since then won our hearts with his style of writing.