We catch up with Ghanaian photographer Derrick Ofosu Boateng on the day that his artworks are being released on the covers of the highly anticipated album of iconic rapper Common. Beaming with joy, Derrick talks to us about the colors of Africa, how his father helped his dreams come true and the rise of Ghanaian artists.
Where are you at this moment?
I’m in my house in Accra, Ghana. I live here with my three brothers, two sisters and my parents. I’m the fifth and youngest of the family.
How and why did you become a photographer?
I definitely have my dad to thank for that. It started with me trying to put myself out there on Instagram as a model, wearing colorful vintage clothing that I was into. But soon I realised people were liking and following me more for my photography then for my modeling. My father, who was very supportive of me finding something that was catching on, gave me his brand new iPhone so I could start playing around with taking pictures. While studying business administration, photography became my way of communicating with the world around me.
What message are you hoping to put out there with your work?
I want to show the positivity, strength and joy of Ghana; and the colours of Africa. News outlets often show Africa in a negative way, and of course that’s also part of life here. But they neglect to shine a light on the energy, power, immense creativity and pride that’s also embedded in our culture. I often release my work accompanied by a poem by Gordon Duah (kwasi.afrika), my brilliant poet friend, whose words perfectly reflect the duality of my own thoughts. For me, in life, the negative and the positive are often intertwined. My photography is a celebration of both those thoughts, the colours, the people, and the pure sense of beauty that is to be found in my everyday life here. I hope to give a sense of healing with my photography.
I think those thoughts are also reflected in the way you use color in your photography. Where are your thoughts at the moment?
Actually, with all the positive things happening to me and Ghana as a whole –despite all the news– I’ve been feeling really excited and energised lately. It feels like there’s a lot of creative momentum and confidence. Afrobeat has exploded with Ghanian artists like Kelvynboy, B4bonah and Darkovibes leading the way for many more great artists. Then there’s Edward Enningful who’s now the editor-in-chief of British Vogue, and of course Virgil Abloh at the reigns at Louis Vuitton. There’s a feeling of opportunity, like we’re a new hotbed of creativity –like Paris in the twenties.
What are your most important sources of inspiration? Music, films, books or art?
For me the people and colours of this country are my inspiration. Real life, the marketplace, communities, the laughter, there’s just so much expression in everyday life. As soon as I step outside of my house there’s colour everywhere, Africa is full of it.
What is your process like, when you come home from the market?
I start imagining my own narratives, inspired by the scenes I’ve witnessed, but more directed and focussed, creating enhanced realities. And also what I can do with the objects I encountered in the Ghanian streets. Then I’ll talk to my cast, mostly friends and people I know, who are willing to work with me to realise my intentions.
So you never take pictures of actual daily life and street scenes. Is that a choice, not shooting documentary style?
Many photographers and travellers come to Africa just to take pictures of people without their consent. Which unfortunately resulted in a lack of trust with photographers in general with the bigger public. So I avoid those kinds of scenes. Besides, my work is much more graphical and I’m attracted by my own, imagined narrative more than documentary stories.
What’s your relationship to your curator, Holly Fraser from WePresent?
It was actually WePresent, where Holly is the editorial lead, that wrote the first big profile story on my work in the Western world. It obviously meant a lot to me, and probably to a lot more people then we can imagine.
Who are the people around you that support you in progressing your practice on a creative level?
There’s a friend who I sometimes photograph with, and who I discuss creative ideas with. And of course there are my agent Jay here in Accra, and my agent Patrick in Paris, who are helping me out with business matters. But besides that, I actually work quite solitarily. I do try to help other photographers though, with tips and tricks. I feel anyone putting Africa and Ghana on the map, will progress us as a whole.
Having ‘00’s hip hop icon Common approach you for his album artworks is like a dream come true, who would be your dreamed art collector?
Hmm tough one…
I hear Prince Charles is very much into art? You gotta aim high in life.