We wander down a cramped street in Anomabo, a fishing village along the coast of Ghana. It’s late afternoon and the street is teeming with people, eating and drinking, buying and selling, calling out to one another and to us. We’re causing quite a stir. “Obruni,” the local term for “white person”, echoes up and down the street.
The sun breaks through the clouds, tinging the street with an eerie golden glow. We pass a group of children playing in front of an ancient blue house. Everything here feels ancient, or perhaps timeless; it could be 2014 or 1714. The kids are bathed in light, skipping rope, their shadows dancing on the wall behind them.
I feel desperate to take a picture — to capture this place that is unlike any place I’ve been before. I turn to Atta, the guide who just gave us a sombre tour of the historic slave-trading fort in Anomabo. “Could you please ask the children’s mothers if it’s okay for me to take a photo?”
Atta addresses the group of women gathered next to the kids. A rapid-fire conversation ensues. “They say it’s okay,” Atta tells me.
I’m not so sure though. One of the women stands up and begins to yank the children by the arms, arranging them in a stiff line in front of the wall. The smallest child cries, and gets a slap.
“No no,” I plead. “No, please don’t.” I look on helplessly, camera in hand, surrounded by shouting and laughing. The kids are lined up now, looking at me expectantly.
It’s not the photo I envisioned. I don’t want to take it. I shouldn’t take it. But I raise the camera to my eye and click.
Ashamed as I am of the circumstances under which it was taken, I think it’s a pretty good photo.
In Akwidaa, another Ghanian fishing village, my friends and I are surrounded by a hoard of children the moment we arrive. “Peechure, peechure, peechure,” they chant, making circles with their fingers and holding their hands to their eyes. “Obruni! Peechure!”
Children in Akwidaa. Note my friends Ken and Michelle in the distance, looking slightly relieved that the children have abandoned them and run toward me. Again, I can’t deny that I like the photo.
If I have a hand free, it is instantly gripped by a child. I eventually start holding my camera with two hands. (Photo: Ken Wichert)
In other places the children — and sometimes the adults — are more direct. “Cash,” demands a small boy, no more than five or six, in the town of Cape Three Points. “Mah friend. Mah friend, cash.”
I don’t take the little boy’s picture and I don’t give him cash. But I can’t blame him for asking.
Everywhere I went in Ghana, I saw things that I wanted to photograph. I’m a photographer and I like taking pictures when I travel. But many times I passed up photos because I felt like an invasive opportunist, or because I was uncertain of the reactions I might receive. Or because I was too tired to deal with the craziness that I knew would ensue the moment I pulled out my camera. Or — perhaps more honestly — because I felt like I owed something after each picture I took.
Sometimes when I did decide to take a photo, especially a photo of children, I felt uncomfortable afterward.
I found myself thinking that to really capture the spirit of one of these fishing villages — which I found so visually stunning and culturally fascinating — I would need to spend several days there, getting to know the people and giving them time to get used to me so I could take pictures of what was actually going on. Maybe with time they would forget that I’m an Obruni and just get on with their lives. Or maybe not. Regardless, my six-day visit to Ghana was too short.
This is one of my favorite pictures from Ghana, mainly because the girl isn’t paying much attention to me.
So I think I took fewer photos on this trip than I have on previous trips. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. I experience things differently when my camera is stowed in the camera bag and not in front of my face all the time.
I’m not sure what my point is. This is just something I’ve been thinking about. I’m curious to know what others think.
Cultural anxieties aside, I had an amazing time in Ghana and I’ll be sharing more Ghanaian experiences over the next few weeks.