It is incredibly important for stories to be told by people who have a lived experience of the situation. Mayeul Akpovi does just this with his incredible time-lapse videos of African cities.
Mayeul, who is based in Cotonou (Benin), saw an evolving, yet underrepresented, African landscape before him. There is no shortage of imagery of wild African safaris in media. What is lacking are images of Africa which include the growing cityscapes, seamlessly melding into majestic mountains and sweeping plains. Mayeul wanted to show this near unknown urban Africa.
The feedback on the works has been encouraging and has even garnered Mayeul some funding to explore other African cities, such as Johannesburg, Kigali, and Lagos. He hopes to expand the project even further to include cities such as Accra, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Dakar, Luanda, Dar es Salaam, Cairo, Algiers, Rabat, Kinshasa or Gaborone (to name a few). It sounds ambitious, but also very needed, and I personally can’t wait to see the project develop further!
Previously colonized countries viewed from a post-colonial lens often get a very specific treatment in media. Often, all that is shown are the effects of war or famine. For Mayeul, this project is a means to change that narrative and show that there are multiple layers of beauty and humanity.
Photography has traditionally been a craft reserved strictly for a very specific group of people. However, recently, we are seeing shifts in social structures, which are allowing for more democratic creative industries.
In plainer terms, the reality is that professional camera equipment has always been expensive and inaccessible for people without the means to buy it. Travel photography, again, was expensive unless you had the right connections with the right magazines who could help fund your travel. Showing your work was, again, only really possible unless you had the right connections with magazines or museums.
Instead, we are now in a time where you can get decent camera kit relatively cheaply. You can create an image and instantly put it online via Instagram, Twitter, or even a personal website. The barrier to entry is lower, which in turn means that standing out is harder because more people are creating more and more images daily.
This means it’s even more important for creatives to create more localized narratives. I know I’m loving some of the things video-streaming services are doing; one minute I’m watching a slow-burn drama from Iceland and the next, a reality tv competition from Spain. We’re more connected than ever, and that’s brilliant!
I digress, though. Africa isn’t a singular country but rather a continent of many countries. Mayeul acknowledges that he isn’t able to speak for an entire continent; the project isn’t about that. There have been struggles with gaining access to some of the cities, whereas others have been very welcoming and supportive of his endeavor.
Continuing with this project, Mayeul hopes to create imagery that shows a uniquely African landscape that integrates progress and tradition. His vision is to eventually collaborate with local creatives so that the spirit of the project continues to show this beauty, but in a way where creatives from a place are the ones telling their own stories and sharing the parts of their countries they themselves have grown with.