AGORA HERO MICHAEL ABOYA: A Young Photographer From West Africa

At AGORA we are always on the look-out for promising photographers so we can share their story, their professional tips and artistry. If you enjoy the following interview you won’t want to miss our article on portrait photography with Luis Garvan, this article on fine art fashion photography with Caitlin Bellah, or this article on dance photography with Dayron Vera.

Michael Aboya – the latest AGORA Hero – is a promising photographer from Ghana. His professionalism at such a young age captured our attention. His work is mature, simple, yet wonderfully eye-catching. We talked with him about what it takes to be a young photographer in the colorful and endless canvas that is Africa.

Michael, your images, like the one that won the #Sound photo contest, portray a cheerful and optimistic representation of the life of the people around you. One can almost feel music and laughter in your images. Is it something you can normally sense on the streets, or have you chosen to reflect only the bright side of things?

As a photographer I focus more on telling stories through my images. The purpose is to tell these stories to inspire, empower and get in touch with the emotions of the viewer, in ways they can relate to. These pictures may reflect happiness, sadness, love or strength through composition, lighting, and the subject.

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When and how did you become interested in photography? Is it difficult to make a living as a professional photographer in Ghana?

My passion for arts and photography became real in 2013, when I was 19. At that time I was studying software programming. I had no particular interest in it, but my parents wanted me to be a programmer. I lost my father to cancer and this drove me to pursue my dreams of becoming a photographer rather than doing something I did not enjoy. I dropped out of school and used what little savings and funds I had (that were meant to pay school fees), to get myself a camera (a Canon T3 and Canon EF 70mm – 300mm).

Making a living as a photographer in Ghana can be profitable but it can also be difficult. Smartphones are getting better at capturing images in just a few simple clicks, and people tend to take photos using their smartphones, so do not necessarily require the services of a photographer. Photography has evolved greatly, and it is now a key marketing tool for businesses. Thanks to the production of sophisticated cameras, photos can be taken in very high quality. To make a living as a photographer in Ghana, you need to be creative and invest in camera gear and other equipment to produce a quality service.

How does your family deal with your aspirations as a photographer now? Do they support your choice? After winning a photo contest they must be proud of you !

My mother was not happy about my decision to become a photographer instead of a software programmer. Being a single parent, it was hard for her to come to terms with the reality of what I wanted to pursue; a profession that has never been (and still isn’t) particularly appreciated in our society. As a loving mother, she has always wanted the best for me, especially as the first son, so I could contribute in caring for my younger brothers. Over time, she accepted my decision, and realized I loved photography, so she supported me in any way she could, and I am really grateful for that.

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Since digital technology has democratized photography and made it a more accessible art form, there are many great self-taught photographers. How did you acquire your photographic knowledge and skills?

After I purchased a camera, the next step was to join a photography school, but the fees made that impossible. So I invested a lot of time reading about photography, and watching YouTube videos on how professional photographers shot and used different kinds of lighting to their advantage. I would then go out with my camera to practice by shooting anything I found interesting, and then go home and do some editing. I kept doing this over and over again until I gradually started getting good at it.

“…I believe creating a great image is not about the camera, but the person using it, and the story or message they are trying to transmit to the viewers.  Upgrading or using high-end cameras simply enables you to produce creative images in high quality.”

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Who/what are your biggest influences as a photographer? Where do you get your inspiration from?

My main source of inspiration for my photography comes from music, books, and movies. Sometimes I pick lines from what I read in a book, or from lyrics in music, and try to create pictures out of them. The photographers who influence me the most are Lexonart and Joel Robison. I love the way they tell stories through photography.

What kind of gear does it take to make a shot that wins a photo contest ? For your outdoor shoots, do you use artificial or natural lighting?

I am currently using a Canon Rebel SL1, and I sometimes use a Canon 5D mark II, Canon 6D and a Samsung mobile phone camera, which has pro mode options. However, I believe creating a great image is not about the camera, but the person using it, and the story or message they are trying to transmit to the viewers. Upgrading or using high-end cameras simply enables you to produce creative images in high quality. For my outdoor shoots I only use natural light, although the biggest problem with working with natural light is that you have no control over it. So I plan carefully, and know how I can work with the differences in natural light that I get on a particular day.

We often see these amazing Africa-shaped bags in your photos. What is this about? How are you related to the production or sale of these products?

The bags are designed by the brand Orijin Culture, to connect everyone to Africa with pride, style and class, whilst also creating a unique cultural lifestyle through African-inspired fashion. I work with the brand as a photographer, and I tell our African stories through photos which feature the bags.

photography_contest_agora_images_marketplacephotocontest_winner_agora_aboyaWinning image of the AGORA #Sound Contest. Photographer: Michael Aboya (@eightman), won $500.

 

A global online community as AGORA images, where photographers can come together to share ideas and be inspired is helpful, but growing as a photographer is up to the individual to explore his/her creative capabilities”.

Do you have other skills or hobbies besides photography? Are you able to combine them?

I’m into music. I learnt how to play the guitar with youtube, and I am most inspired when I am playing my guitar (a Dream Maker). I often have visions when I play, and I immediately write them down so I can translate them into pictures. I am also good at computer hardware and software maintenance. I have used all these skills as motivation and energy to move forward with my photography.

Do you have a place to exchange with other fellow photographers? Do you think a global online community of photographers, on a platform such as AGORA could be useful to learn and grow as a photographer?

Sometimes other photographers ask me questions on how certain aspects of their photography could be improved, and I try to help in anyway I can. Most importantly I tell them that it is more about creating a unique style rather than trying to be like another photographer. A global online community, where photographers can come together to share ideas and be inspired is helpful, but growing as a photographer is up to the individual to explore his/her creative capabilities.

You have achieved a notable personal style in your photos; with your selection of themes, your use of colour and composition. What advice would you give the community of new photographers on AGORA so that they too could win a photo contest ?

A passion for art and photography has to be present. Practice, learning and striving to be unique in your art. It is never easy, but it is worth it. No one is born an artist just as no one is born a pilot. They are all skills that can be taught and learnt, but most importantly you need to be passionate about what you do. As E.M. Forster said, “One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.”

Watch Michael Aboya’s testimonial #Sound Photo Contest.

About:

Michael Aboya, winner of the #sound photo contest, is a self-taught Ghanaian photographer based in the capital, Accra. He is passionate about photography and captures every moment with his lens to tell the stories of the lives around him. Aboya has exhibited his work with STA Africa (Saving The Art In Africa) to raise funds for their Arts4Good project. After leaving his programming studies to pursue his photography dreams, Michael became the photographer for Orijin Culture, an African-inspired fashion brand.

AGORA is made by everyone! We would love to know what you think; share your point of view with other members of the AGORA community.

QUESTIONS FOR THE AGORA COMMUNITY:

How can a global online community benefit photographers? How can photographers learn from each other? How could AGORA become this global online community?