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21 May 2020

In Ghana, a New Dimension of Freedom is Emerging

21 May 2020 - Written by Lucia De Stefani

David Nana Opoku Ansah's series Area Boys & Brotherhood, awarded PHmuseum’s New Generation Prize as part of the 2020 Grant, explores the meaning freedom acquires for coming-of-age Ghanaian boys.

© David Nana Opoku Ansah, from the series Area boys & Brotherhood

In the intimate act of capturing his subjects, Ghanaian photographer David Nana Opoku Ansah has always longed for something that was missing from his childhood, a familiar yearning he never quite satisfied. “Every time I shoot, I try to reimagine myself in the person [I photograph]—the person's emotions, my emotions, the theme and how I feel about the shoot,” Ansah says.

In his encounters as well as the portraits and photographs that compose Area boys & Brotherhood, awarded Phmuseum’s New Generation Prize, Ansah attempts to reconnect with his emotions over the oppression he experienced growing up, resurfacing now through the intimate connection that the camera engenders.

In this coming-of-age tale, the boys he photographs seem to have received more concessions than he was allowed, simultaneously re-awakening his sour memories and challenging his sense of equanimity.

© David Nana Opoku Ansah, from the series Area boys & Brotherhood

Born and raised in Accra, the capital of Ghana, Ansah recalls a somber childhood and adolescence in an overly protective family. No bonding with peers was allowed outside school, and playing on the neighborhood streets was unthinkable. Their rebelliousness he missed: that freedom to be honest, to make mistakes, and to be who they wanted to be.

Ansah looks for that license in the poise of the subjects he photographs. “Right now, I think everyone is trying to de-associate and de-attach from all the norms,” he says. “I think everyone is trying to be free.”

Unrestrained in their movements, his cousin and nephew pose in their deceased grandfather’s clothes, voluminous roomy garments for their boyish frames. Right before the shoot, and with a nonchalance suited to his age, he wondered about the significance of death, inspired by the idea of the old man he never met. This young boy, suspended here for a moment between his family’s past and a future of his own; but his freedom gives him the insight to be so. “They want to be free, they want to be vulnerable, they're not afraid to show emotions like crying,” Ansah says. In his work, he seems to be on a private quest for acceptance and redemption.

© David Nana Opoku Ansah, from the series Area boys & Brotherhood

Set as a photography backdrop, the pink sheet offers mild contrast. But more than visual, its function is symbolic: it stands for the vulnerabilities his subjects express—young men evolving with a rich range of emotions.

In Ansah’s work, color plays an important role. Certain tints and shades he assigns their own purpose, a visual strategy with the power to express feelings. “I really want to communicate my images through colors,” he says.

One photograph in particular has that power. A man on the beach removes a piece of clothing, his body wrapped in the soft struggle, his hands in the air.

The carefree gesture displays a freedom from intention that Ansah has longed for. The colors, too, strike an emotional cord for a sense of comfort. “I liked the color and how they moved together,” he said. The azure trousers of a morning sky, the orange shirt as coarse sand on sunburnt skin, the candid shirt as a luminous cloud, a combination of nuances blending on a beach, a moment of authenticity that brought Ansah some relief, perfectly captured by the words of the man he just met and photograph: “This place isn't for anyone. So be free. Just be yourself.”

© David Nana Opoku Ansah, from the series Area boys & Brotherhood

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David Nana Opoku Ansah is a Ghanaian photographer and filmmaker creating work across many genres to explore and document modern blackness and community. Follow him on PHmuseum and Instagram.

Lucia De Stefani is a reporter focusing on photography, illustration, culture, and everything teens. She lives in New York. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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This article is part of the series New Generation, a monthly column written by Lucia De Stefani, focusing on the most interesting emerging talents in our community.

Written by

Lucia De Stefani

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