While we were roaming the web looking for talented people for volume 1 of the Alkebulan bookseries, we came across this beautiful series of photographs by Heather Agypong. We had to interview her. After numerous of failed attempts to meet up through Skype, phonecalls and even trying to meet up in her homecity, we finally got both of our busy schedules to work. We talked about her work and her connection to Africa. Get a little inside scoop of your new favourite photographer.
Who are you? Where are you from?
My name is Heather Agyepong. I am a young black creative from South London. I’m a British artist who uses both photography and performance to personalise explorations of my western experience.
How and when did u start making images?
I began using photography as a therapeutic tool to cope with issues surrounding depression. I had deep issues with how I understood myself from what I saw, read and experienced growing up in the UK so I took images to see if I could reflect and deconstruct these ideas. People who looked like me seemed to be dying, in conflict or in distress. We’re always ugly or unseen and I wanted to understand why were we represented in this way, so I picked up a camera.
How do you describe your type of photography and why did you choose this method?
I feel like I am just starting out so I am discovering this for myself but I feel like I always want my work to challenge and encourage and never be complacent in doing so. My background is in psychology so understanding the psychodynamics that occur in the everyday which are subconscious is important within the work.
Do you remember seeing any Ghanaians photographers or other kinds of artists in your industry when you grew up?
I do not really remember seeing any Ghanaian photographers but I do remember a whole lot of music. Me and my second generation friends always made fun of it but we secretly loved it and knew all the words. I remember listening to a lot of gospel artists and E.T.Mensah. I started listening to Fela Kuti in my early twenties and could not believe someone so original and challenging could be both African and popular; that’s pretty sad to think such a thing. I love John Akomfrah’s work but growing up it just didn’t seem ‘African’ to be both black and creative.
Does your Ghanaian background influence your art, how does it affect who you are and how you move through life?
The reason I started taking images was directly related to my African upbringing. My work so far has been deeply personal and initially was to challenge my beliefs of how I saw myself as a Black Brit. Yet I feel somewhat burdened by the label ‘Black’ Photographer. It seems as though my work will forever be categorised within the race relations which often leaves me gasping for air. I aim to explore these boxes and compartments we fall into be it deliberate or otherwise.
Last question: Can you recall a specific saying/tale/folklore story or joke your parents or family told you over and over again.
My recent project The Gaze on Agbogbloshie was inspired by my mother who used it as a folktale to warn me that if I visited, Sodom and Gomorrah, I would never return. I remember times when I used to misbehave and my mum would turn her head, cut her eyes and say ‘Sodom’. According to the story it described in terms of a cesspit bereft of hope. It petrified me, till I visited the place and saw it for myself. I think she deterred me from going to the area because she knew I’d figure out the truth. She is a funny woman.