Why I Changed the Way I Photographed African Kids

18th November 2017 BY Fatmata Kamara

The romanticization of African kids in poverty through photos is nothing new, has been ongoing for decades, and has always seemed like something that was part of the travel package for everyone paying a visit to the continent.

In 2014 when I got back from my almost 4 month trip to Sierra Leone, I posted the picture below with a generic caption along the lines of “despite being poor they were still happy.”

Even while typing the caption at the time I knew there was something “off” about it, but I was excited about the new “eye-opening” experience, and ego boost I was going to get from the since-deleted post.

Why not “all kids”

There are Non-African kids in poverty all over the world, even in our own backyards here in the West, but never would we take a picture surrounded by a group of white children in poverty and post it on social media with such captions. Instead, we choose to travel all the way to a country in Africa for our life-changing, soul-searching trip. Why?

This isn’t a competition on why aren’t we also romanticizing Non-African children in poverty to the same degree. No child should be living in poverty and definitely not romanticized; but if we’re truthfully speaking, seeing Non-Black children in poverty makes us more likely to question why they are in poverty, what are we, what is the government doing about this? Whereas seeing African, and Black children in poverty make us indifferent to their suffering unless they’re  begging for our help.

After centuries of the dehumanization of Black bodies, it is easier to humanize and sympathize with somebody if they aren’t Black. In other words, it’s harder to use someone as a prop in photos if you consciously saw them as complex human beings.

So how do you photograph African kids?

Now that I’ve gotten the chance to do it again, I’ve begun to change the way I photograph Africans, Sierra Leoneans in this case. Especially children.

Photographing Africans, and black people, in general, requires a different sort of mindfulness and skill set, to not perpetuate stereotypes and the upholding of white supremacy. I cannot let myself exploit the struggles of people in the name of art. Who has that ever benefited but the photographer and the martyr complexes of those viewing?

The only difference between me and anybody else here is that I had an opportunity to be more than my situation

Interestingly enough Continental Africans photograph themselves completely different than how they are photographed. They photograph themselves just like we do. At their best. So why does the world only want to show and see them at their worst?