Everyday Photos Reveal the Extraordinary Lives of Ordinary People
No famine, no war, no terror: How phone pics of folks just living, working and playing became a global movement
The Instagram feed Everyday Africa was established by Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill to counter crippling stereotypes of a continent. From the day of its launch, Everyday Africa has delivered insightful, novel and previously-overlooked images to invested followers users across the globe.
It was clear that people were thirsting for ordinary, human experiences from communities in far flung places, made by people in those far flung places. Everyday Africa was a pivotal turning point for Instagram users, not only because it became a popular mobile platform that supports emerging and established photographers, but it also became a stage that contextualized imagery.
The formula has since been repeated many times over and the Everyday Instagram accounts exist as a loose conglomeration of allies bringing you the photos that the news simply does not. The Everyday movement is born.
For Blink, Kyla Woods spoke to DiCampo about the project’s inception, its use as an educational tool for schools and future plans.
Kyla: How did the Everyday Africa Instagram account come about?
Peter: In March 2012, Austin Merrill and I were on an assignment together in Ivory Coast, and we were reporting on the country’s post-conflict environment. It came about when we were both frustrated with the fact that we had confined ourselves to such a narrow view; we started shooting with our phones, and it happened naturally, and we captured real moments.
It was refreshing because the pictures we were taking veered away from the pre-conceived narrative; and in some ways this idea of broadening the context of imagery taken in West Africa shone through. We both started shooting on our phones during that trip, and then we joined Tumblr but soon realized Instagram was going to be more effective. The account just blossomed from there.
K: Can you talk about the broadening context of imagery taken in West Africa?
P: There are so many moments that photographers don’t tend to point their lens at. We went through that first trip trying to shoot everything: refugees, rape victims, violence and soldiers, and at the same time, trying to showing everything else that was happening, which was a lot of daily life moments.
P: Yes, at the start. There was little planning in the beginning. People who were initially involved were those professionals asking us about the account or whoever we were in contact with.
It started with a lot of foreign photographers that were based in Africa and then eventually it flipped. Now, a majority of African voices are heard, and not all are professional photographers. Some are just strong hobbyists that we’ve found through the hashtag Everyday Africa.
K: What do you think about the Everyday branding? How do you feel about the different Everyday Instagram accounts that have emerged?
P: It’s great! We never could have anticipated the way this would catch on. We’re walking the tightrope between being a “movement” and being an “organization” — we want it to continue to spread, and we want to guide it. The feeds that followed Africa are some of my favorite ways of learning about the world; Everyday Middle East, Iraq, Latin America…
K: How do you curate Everyday Africa?
P: There is no central curation, and we’ve decided not to give too much direction to contributors. A group of photographers have the login information, and they are free to post on their own. The only instruction they get is to wait several hours to post an image, after someone else has posted.
Everyday Africa is designed to give equal weight to the documentation of life in Africa. As photojournalists, sometimes we are incapable of telling the good stories alongside the bad, and this was something I noticed when I arrived in Ghana in 2006. I was living as a Peace Corps Volunteer, working in Guinea worm eradication, and I was photographing the process and the lives of local health workers as we went through our daily routine . Guinea worm is a painful parasite and the extraction process is often quite lengthy and painful. This is something that is commonly contracted, and though I captured the harsher side of it (people being held down, children crying and limbs thrashing around), there were also moments when people were laughing because people are used to it — it’s not a fatal parasite. I felt it was too conflicting for an American audience to see both sides of the story, too complicated to see that there is levity even in these extreme moments of disease prevention — but Everyday Africa embraces these contradictions and, I feel, leads to a deeper understanding.
Currently, we don’t have time to sift through the contributors’ imagery, and more than that, we are very content with the 25 different voices to come through on their own.
K: How do you get in contact with these photographers? Have you had to delete something because it wasn’t suitable for Everyday Africa?
P: No not once actually. Austin and I thought about it, and we’ve decided to let posts speak for themselves.
K: Do you know most of the photographers personally, or are most of them strangers?
P: I’ve met most of them, but out of the current contributors, I know only half. We just touch base over email, or like I said, there are at least two people we found because they were using the hashtag. Every Friday we do a “follow Friday” feature where we repost a couple of pictures that were hashtagged with Everyday Africa (#everydayafrica) and so we found two of our contributors through that process. We realized we were featuring them over and over, so we just invited them too.
K: Have any photographer’s been contacted because they were featured on Everyday Africa?
P: Everyday Africa, as a platform, has been published a lot. National Geographic, The New York Times and The New Yorker have been doing features on us, and work has been published on their blogs.
Nana Kofi Acquah, who is already a well-known photographer, I think has received an increased amount of attention as a result of Everyday Africa — Instagram as a whole has certainly helped his international profile.
K: When did you notice how successful the platform was? Was there a pivotal moment? Instagram has featured you a few times?
P: We’ve been on the suggested user list I think three times, and they found us — it happened just before this kind of flood of people from the documentary photography world started getting jobs at Instagram.
K: You’ve created a website and have essentially taken Everyday Africa out of its original platform. Why did you do this?
P: The primary reason a website was built is because it allows other people to contribute. The website actually displays anything on Instagram that has been hashtagged with Everyday Africa.
It was a way of acknowledging that we want this project to go beyond just professional photography.
K: And this coincides with the educational curriculums which have been devised…
P: At this point, we’ve done a variety of educational work. The curriculum starts out Everyday Africa and asks students to list the words that come to mind when they think of Africa. Through that, we acknowledge preconceived stereotypes about the region.
Then we talk to them about where these ideas come from and transition to the conception of Everyday Africa. From there it moves into a discussion of stereotypes that affect them in their own lives, and finally we move to photography lessons.
We piloted it in the Bronx, and then we taught in the Chicago area. Actually, a school in Chicago adopted our curriculum. We’ve also worked a lot in the D.C. area. All of this has been in partnership with the Pulitzer Center. And in March of this year, we visited Kenya and did a workshop with a high school in Mombasa.
K: Do you think that Everyday Africa is a new take on the photo agency model?
P: Absolutely. Everyday Africa — and by extension, The Everyday Projects — is less about being an agency in the traditional sense, and more about a group of likeminded people sharing a platform and reaching for a common goal.
We don’t have an office or a staff, with a full time job of finding assignments and sales for our photographers. Instead, now that we have a very large following and contributors who regularly post to our Instagram feed, Austin and I are focused on developing our education network and our curriculum. We’re also working on our book.
K: Could you talk a little bit about this book?
P: The book will come out this year, and it will include more than 300 photographs, as well as commentary and conversation from Instagram.
This book is meant to show the ideas that we project onto Africa, and the arc of change that’s happened on our feed. Early on the feed was riddled with people saying “Oh the poor Africans,” even on really happy photos. But now there’s been a change. People write: “Oh that’s where I grew up,” and “Thanks for sharing this, I’m from there.” The conversations get far more detailed and interesting than that — you’ll have to get the book to see! — but in general, the arc has been from one of paternalism to familiarity.