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Images of Ghana
Beyond objectifying people and places
Published Wednesday, June 11, 2014 1:27 pm
by Cidney Holliday

Third in a series.

This past weekend our group traveled to Mole National Park to look at the attractions that northern Ghana has. We made the 12 1/2 hour drive early Friday morning and arrived that evening. Beyond realizing that this trip was longer than the international trips I had taken to get to Ghana, I was able to meditate on the journey to the North.

Baboons forage for food near a community church in Ghana.

There were so many images to take in during this drive. There are brown and tan shantytowns scattered across the shoreline in Cape Coast. I have memories of the hustle and bustle of the Kumasi downtown markets and living areas. I marveled at the spread-apart villages. Settlers selling Shea butter from mud and thatched roof homes, well water pumps and well-kept mosques dotted in between. Everything I saw I wanted to take a picture of. But I didn’t, for good reasons I will explain.

When we finally arrived at the National Park, and when we took the safari trip in the morning I put my camera to use. I took pictures of the fauna and the flora. I snapped images at the baboons near the community church and the antelope, graceful and magnificent, on the savanna. I took panoramas, like pan-o-ramas, of the landscapes. Every time I took a still image I appreciated the fact that I could sit and capture a small piece of God's creations around me. These pictures are important for remembering the land, but I have taken a different approach to remembering the people. They are, indeed, people.

One action which has consistently bothered me on my trip is how some people take images of the people in Ghana like they are attractions. I’m a tourist too, I completely understand that, but I think there should be a certain level of respect and grace that should be taken when taking pictures of others. I feel like more often than not these pictures are taken with camera phones or Cannon pocket cameras and shot without even asking if they are comfortable or even okay with what’s going on.

Then these images are posted on Facebook, the throne of lived experiences, to show family, friends, and acquaintances what their “authentic African” experience is like. It simply makes me feel like they are experiencing the Ghanaian people as ‘interesting’ objects, not people with names (which should have the time taken to get pronunciation right) and families and a livelihood which does not revolve around posing for your pictures or being your voyeuristic object of fascination and online glorification without correct context. There is a difference between asking if you can take a picture, engaging with the person talking with the person to remember that moment, and simply trying to live the memory through a  lens and romanticizing the experience there.

I was told many times before I left for Ghana to not romanticize the place or the people. They are real people with names and families and histories which can be shared or different from my own. I have tried to take time to realize this aspect of respect, and I just wished others have been able to do the same. It’s another very hard aspect of this trip to explain in words. I found myself at Mole National Park wanting to take pictures than I would have electronic memory for. However, at times I found myself just pausing and wanting to enjoy the beauty of the reality, not living through the camera lens.   

Cidney Holliday, Davidson College Class of 2015, is on a six-week research mission on Catholicism in Ghana. She is a graduate of South Mecklenburg High School.


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