The French festival ‘La Gacilly Photo’ takes place annually in the lovely town of La Gacilly in Bretagne, France. Every year they invite a country, or in this case an entire continent: Africa, as their main theme.
As I just returned from a trip to Ghana where I co-organized, with World Press Photo, Noorderlicht Photography, and Accra based Nuku Studio, a masterclass for photographers from several countries from West Africa, I was very interested to hear about the program. It was cool to see some of our masters and students from the workshop in the program of the festival.
Then I saw the poster.
A zebra-print twin flex reflex camera? On a backdrop of wax print? Subtitle: Man-Animal: face-to-face?
Is this really how a photography festival in 2017 represents Africa? The continent of zebras, old cameras, and happy prints. A place where noble savages confront animals.
To be fair, the selection of the animal photography is not directly related to Africa or African photography, and the selection of artists is wide and varied. But, how is it that when it comes to Africa, (or Japan for that matter if I look at last year’s poster) so many in the West fall back on stereotypes, simplifications, and visual cliches?
A festival poster is the image that represents what you want to say about your program. By making this poster the face of their campaign, the festival shows that they themselves have learned very little about Africa, and have not moved beyond the stereotypes of a backward Africa with noble savages and animals that roam its plains. It makes me doubt on what grounds they selected the works that will be on show, and how diverse and bereft of stereotypes the selection really is.
Photography has at the very least the potential to eventually change perceptions, as initiatives like everydayafrica show and aim for. This is (clearly?) not the aim of the festival in La Gacilly. There are some great artists in the festival, so let’s hope the audience will be wiser by learning from this wide variety of artists and works that will be on show.