Dateline Tanzania: panAFRICAproject

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

After years in the planning stages, my studio is pleased to announce that our most ambitious project has officially launched.  Although we are known for our long term projects/books including, among others: six years on death row inmates; Olympic games since 1984; twenty years of pregnant women; and, most recently, documenting the building of a superskyscraper in Boston ( until 2016 – but none of these surpasses the scope of (

What do you think of when you conjure up Africa in your mind?  Perhaps safaris: lions and elephants -- maybe the ecology of the vast continent? Most likely, you think of what is most often portrayed in Western media: conflict, pestilence and poverty.   We are over here to photograph the "other" Africa. The vast majority of millions and millions of people go about their lives contributing to a rich, ancient civilization and vibrant, contemporary culture. We are seeking to document all aspects of local traditions, economy, entrepreneurship, medicine, education, and media.

There are 54 separate and distinct countries on this continent. Each has its own personality. Step by step we are trying to find the myriad voices of Africa through photography-the universal language. Last year we performed the litmus test and documented Ghana.  This summer we are covering Tanzania. The algorithm for how the next location is chosen is skewed so that powerful, newsworthy countries have the same chance as the smaller, emerging ones.  With each new country we learn a whole new timetable, temperature and rhythm; protocols, regulations, etiquettes and, most importantly, each country has a new way of being photographed.

Covering Ghana in just less than three weeks I was able to gain access to a radio station, computer manufacturing company and furniture makers. I had to travel for two days on unpaved, red clay roads to reach an emerging clinic that services two hundred patients a day. We brought in new medical supplies as the single doctor and multiple nurses treated malaria, pregnancy and assorted ailments, which are not typical outside the region. I followed the unique coffin artisans who are commissioned to make "containers" that reflect the life and wishes of the deceased. These final resting places are extremely fanciful, elaborate and one-of-a-kind.

Some stories are big, most are small. Everything is a metaphor. We email, telephone, text, Skype every lead to find local people who have old and new stories. Eventually after we have a large enough sampling of issues, we hope to visually tackle more abstract subjects as migration, water, tribes, and weather. We also have plans to include photographs from local photographers who live amongst the stories and have taken them on in depth.

This year in Tanzania we tracked the uneasy relationship of tribes such as the nomadic Maasai, who were displaced from the huge game preserves. Animal conservation seems to be a natural idea until it is revealed that the government exiled many peoples from their homelands. Safaris are a huge part of the economy but human rights issues are contentious.

Modern technology has increased the studio's ability to fund and display our output. When we first had the idea of we were limited as to what we could do. Social networking has allowed us to display and update our progress almost in "real time". We have been able to use FACEBOOK and Twitter when we find good WIFI and cell service. Over the years we have built better "travel muscles" so as to remain healthy, energetic, and creative with the breakneck schedule.

We find some cultures are reluctant to be photographed. Some people want to be paid. Some are suspicious of our intentions. Adapting shooting techniques accordingly has been part of the fun.

In the midst of wars in DRC, HIV in South Africa, disparity between the "haves and have nots" in the fastest growing economy in the world of Ghana and the epidemic of Ebola in Liberia, #panAFRICAproject is in its next phase: documenting progress and all the positives of the “other “ Africa. 



Ronnie James,  August 26, 2014 at 6:10 PM  

Great work on a very ambitious project, Lou! Amazing storytelling. Can’t wait to see your finished product. My only criticism……YOU DIDN’T BRING ME ALONG! (smile)

Don Gurewitz August 26, 2014 at 9:17 PM  

Congratulations, Lou! The official announcement of this exciting, long-in-the-making, project is a real milestone--for you, for Africa's photographers, and for Africa with all its faces and facets. I hope you succeed beyond your wildest expectations. I look forward to each step in the project's evolution. If there's anything I can do to help, I'd be honored--and delighted. Best of luck.

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blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.