I know Afropunk from the many pictures I saw online and always wished it would cross the pond. So when a friend wrote me it was coming to London, I didn’t think twice and booked a ticket. I was curious to feel its atmosphere as each US edition were not only a style manifesto but also spreading a message of humanity. This year had a peak with topless breast cancer survivor Ericka Hart. This is when it stroke me. Afropunk was not another music festival. Of course, it celebrates the Afro community but it is even more to me, it celebrates individuality, community and most importantly humanity.
When I arrived I didn’t have a clear idea of the pictures I would take (side note: can we talk about that camera ban inside the venue? It was ridiculous!!), so the first thing I did was snap at people on their way to the venue to feel the vibe of the event. But it’s only once I entered Alexandra Palace that I got an epiphany. I’d do portraits.
‘The face speaks to me and thereby invites me to a relation’ Totality and Infinity, Emmanuel Levinas
This quote by French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas always stayed in my mind. The face and its expressions can tell you so much even without words. That’s how I felt at Afropunk. People smiled. You know that thing about smiling with your eyes? I always thought it was not true until Afropunk. I loved the expressions on people’s faces. It was genuine and possibly what made their individuality therefore style shine.
Alexandra Palace was tricky for me because it was the first time I took indoor pictures. The place was huge but there was no natural light. One could think that it is easier because with natural light things fluctuates but let me tell you that lighting at a festival is the same! Because there were gigs and also because some areas of the location received more or less light than others, I found it hard to set my camera and use light at my advantage. After the fashion week outdoor craziness, shooting indoor was another crazy (but chilled) experience.
I think my on the spur of the moment decision to shoot portraits was actually a very deep wish. The thought started with a friend asking me if I could tell apart black people. Though it wasn’t meant in a bad way, it annoyed me, really. In the end when it comes to black people, it feels like it always comes down to two things: hair or body. You know, this idea that all black girls are all big lips and butt while guys are some version of 50 Cent (remember that album cover?). To sum up we all look the same.
Now that I am writing this, I am realizing these portraits were meant to have people focus on our diversity. Just going to one African country is enough to show it. Cameroon (my mother’s country) has more than 250 different ethnic groups, so imagine the richness in facial appearances. Now expand it to the rest of the world and you will see, we are not all similar but all beautifully diverse.
Afropunk was really interesting to observe under that lense. I know there are already tons of better pictures of the festival but photographers seem to focus more on style and hair. This said, it doesn’t mean they forget to convey the individuality of the people they photograph, it’s just a different approach.
Though this post ends with the picture below, my Instagram isn’t. I will feed it in with Afropunk images for the next couple of days. So feel free to come and say hello!