Photo credit: Francis Kokoroko, Dumsor Vigil 2016 | See more of Mr. Kokoroko’s work here
The Paradox of the Beautiful Image: an interview with
Ghanaian photographer, Francis Kokoroko
Francis Kokoroko is a young photojournalist from Ghana, West Africa.
He earned his degree in computer science from Ashesi University, Ghana. After taking a photography course at the New York University office in Ghana, Francis became enamored of photography and now regularly writes for Reuters documenting cultural and social change in Ghana and other African countries. His work has appeared in The Weekly, The Africa Report, FRONTLINE and CNN Africa.
In February, 2017, Francis talked with MAKER MAGAZINE about his art and his work.
How have your early life experiences informed your world view and, more specifically, your current work?
My world view is more critical about representation and the importance of telling our own stories. I am aware of the 'backstory' when I am creating work now.
What exactly is your work these days?
These days I am usually working on year-long projects on the themes of identity, cultural diversity and social change.
What got you started doing this sort of work?
These works are very personal and started from the desire to document these themes that could serve as reference documents in both local and global conversations.
Do you consider yourself an artist or a photojournalist, or some hybrid of the two?
I believe I am an artist exploring photojournalism.
When you became a photographer, what were the biggest challenges you encountered and how did you overcome them?
Challenges would be finding the right structures and institutions locally that push you to create work that is critical and relevant to the landscape. The local media shows little interest and that affects the sustainability of the practice.
What interesting projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a photo project which explores Identity as 'performance'.
What is your favorite type of photographic subject matter to work with?
I like to work on societal issues and the dynamism of the local culture.
On Instagram, a few weeks ago, you posted these words next to one of your photographs:
“The paradox of the beautiful image. The sitter wants to trust the photographer to make an image that fits into her wild ideas of beauty. The photographer, oblivious of these hallmarks, makes photos for himself; purely based on his feelings and imaginations. Here again, the subject becomes 'prop". Notes. 1/3. #notesonportraiture”
What do mean by, “the subject becomes 'prop?” and, what are “notes on portraiture?” This sounds like you are writing a book. Can you give MAKER readers some insight into this poetic passage?
No, I am not writing a book. It is about allowing my audience into my process and usually what I am thinking about before and as I make photographs.
One of my favorite photographs is the one you call, “Young Mayweather.” I was drawn to this photograph firstly, because I am a boxing fan and secondarily, because of the saturated colors and the intensity of the young man’s gaze. Can you please tell me the context of this photograph?
I stumbled upon a fight in Jamestown one Sunday afternoon between "young Mayweather" and an opponent. What got me curious was his name and his present record of never losing a fight.
It was important to shed some light on the ever growing interest in boxing at Jamestown in my small way so that any source of assistance out there can come and support these young dreamers with their education and ambitions.
I see that you take on very far-ranging subject matter ranging from the political, such as your 2015 Dumsor Vigil series, to the cultural, such as your December 2016 photographs of a community of skaters in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. These are very different subjects; how do you prepare yourself mentally for capturing the heart of these events?
I have more internal conversations with myself about these things every day, and then I photograph them. These conversations often compel me to voice them through images when the opportunity presents itself.
Sui Amantes, Sine Rivali series 2016
Do you have a favorite photographer(s) who have helped you develop as a photographer?
A few favorite photographers who continue to help shape my practice are Nana Kofi Acquah and Nii Obodai, both Ghanaians and both based in Accra.
What type of camera(s) do you use and why? What was your first camera? How old were you when you received it? How did you obtain it? (bought/gift/found?)
I just got my first film camera; a Minolta and, that was two weeks ago.
What is the difference in texture, color, and framing when you shoot with your traditional camera vs shooting with your iPhone?
The iPhone takes away a lot of technical freedom and this produces a very unique aesthetic.
In 2014, when you shot, “Man Inside” in Dansoman, Ghana and “Commuters” in Tesano, Ghana, the way you framed the light and the subject and your utilization of color are quite extraordinary. Did you use filters or any external manipulation on the photographs?
At that time I was using Hipstamatic on the iPhone. The app opts for lenses and film rather than filters. I think it's the same thing though.
What do you think is the future of modern photography?
The democratization of its production and distribution will force photographers to be more critical and push the craft to be more engaging and conscious.
How has social media grown your photography business?
Social media has presented me with a wider audience which would otherwise be unavailable.
Do you sell prints of your work? If so, how much do they cost and where can people purchase them?
I am not selling at the moment, but I am thinking about it.
As you know, this article will appear in the first edition of MAKER MAGAZINE, which is dedicated to MAKERS from the African Diaspora. In what ways do you think being from the African Diaspora has informed the work you do?
Being aware of the effects of allowing others to tell our stories, my work often comes from a position that counters the existing narrative.
What advice would you give to young, upcoming photographers?
Never stop learning.
If you were to give three pieces of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, what would you say?
1. Believe in yourself
2. Take responsibility
3. Put integrity first
What does it mean to Francis Kokoroko to be a MAKER in 2017?
Becoming the change I want to see.
MAKER MAGAZINE is proud to present Francis Kokoroko as part of our 2019 Amsterdam exhibit, NOIRE ABSOLUE, which will be a group exhibition featuring the work of emerging contemporary photographers of the African Diaspora.