We are products of the street on which we stand, and the street on which this picture was taken is peaceful everyday. It is situated in simple bliss, order, and the safety which comes with solitude or the dark. It is the stretch behind the British High Commission in Accra. It is also a minute’s walk from the Ghana Institute of Journalism, where a graduation ceremony took place last Saturday.

When do we feel safe in a place widely considered unsafe? Only when we are completely aware of where we are, and are sure of who or what elements control the realm, and are comforted and protected by the knowledge of their presence.

A photographer’s intentions are diverse. But they all are united in this thought: to register memory. And a photographer registers memory with every picture, because he is a student of such things as colour, movement, light and contrast. It is his job to know techniques to maneuver these littles, so they become art material instead of obstacles. Fundamentally he knows these tricks of nature and usually turns it around into something pleasant, with various everyday techniques.

Professional cameras abound today. So it does not take much to achieve a good photograph. But there’s more to a good photograph than a high –end camera and editing software. You should be able to tell when a picture demands to happen. Because your actual job is to be a student of observation, you should listen to your environment…your eyes should be attentive to it. You should tell when the sun is ready and trees become pure. Essentially, you should see the picture before your forefinger clicks on the shutter. And when you have mastered your intuition, you are certain, in the split-second when all of you are still and your finger goes to work, that you’ve done something good…that you have been part of the moulding of a miracle out of the mundane redundant day.

Especially when taking pictures of people who are posing, it is important to make them seem like they’re not, and also to get them to see from behind the camera too. It’s another way to achieve a great picture. So, rapport is key. You don’t necessarily have to demand for the models to bend their neck in a particular way or look thirty degrees away from the light. When you both have gone far enough into familiarity and shared compromises of what is creative, comfortable and pretty, and you’ve juxtaposed your plots accurately enough, the model knows what you mean and all you can say is: good.

Look at this picture. It is simple in the way it’s beautiful. All the elements which make it beautiful are in nature itself. All the photographer has in this instance, is an intuition, finger, focus and timing…and boy has he focused. He’s gotten her where he wants mentally, and so observe; the model is confident in her joy, either of graduating or in the knowledge of her beauty…or both. She’s confident too, in her environment and the fact that she’s queen of it. She’s also confident of the photographer, not necessarily for his expertise, but in his intention. He is a genius in the way he has gotten her to trust him up to that very second. They both want a story: of peace, simplicity and victory.

As photographer, even you are sometimes surprised at the outcome of your input. You know it’s going to be a great photo, but never this good. Nothing prepares you for that moment. It’s beautiful…so beautiful that you almost feel like a thief taking credit for it. But like Teju Cole argues, creativity is also knowing what to include. The photographer, Nana Poku Amankwah, is therefore creative…and all creativity comes from a love.

Even if it’s on the street, there’s freedom, confidence and trust. She’s dressed in a brilliant yellow knee–length dress, and beautifully intricate designs are cut at the helm, arm and cleavage borders. She has bold red shoes on her feet and a cute little watch on her left wrist. She’s the colour of fire, and we look upon her like we are beholding high flame…its difficult to look away, but it’s not just because of her dress. I cannot quite figure out the second reason.

Many things are remarkable about this picture. The model, Pearl Germann, is smiling at the ground. She has one foot over the other, which is how women pose these days….with their legs. She’s slightly lifted the end of her dress, so that we can see just enough of her upper thigh and she’s touching her hair with her other hand. It’s seduction demeanour, but it’s classy in its beauty.

All of life’s elements are basically thought. Thought is opinion, so basically, we exist in and by opinion; whether it’s ours or another’s. The perfect life, people argue, is when we live by our opinion and not what people say. And in a world where everyone has an opinion, how do we ensure, that our opinions stay intact and we can live fully? The popular theory to the question is to ignore dissenting opinion ( which is usually ill-intentioned and negative anyway) and be surrounded with the like-minded.

We surround ourselves with people of similar mental climate, not just as insulation from negative energy, but for validation too. Their opinion is what we can deal with and are prepared to accept and utilise in our daily walks through life.

This means then, that others’ opinions are vital to us…we depend on it. No man is an island, and even when we are alone, we are never truly alone; there’s a crowd in our head, there’s a book our faces are buried in, there’s music blasting through our earphones. There’s always companionship, there’s always opinion…and whether we like it or not, we are affected by opinion which is not ours. So like Morgan Freeman said in the song, could it be that we are fighting a war which can’t be won? By encouraging ourselves to believe in only our opinion of ourselves, are we running around in circles?

We can’t do without opinion. We might stifle it, but we can’t do without it. We need opinion which is not ours. But we need opinion which is true and spoken in a way the inner us can receive. Therefore, who better can tell us opinion than the lover…our lover.

An honest opinion is as a result of accurate observation. Accurate observation is a kind of truth…and truth is a kind of gift. An honest opinion is the best gift…which is another definition of affection. Let me translate what the open eye and right forefinger are saying to what they are focusing on in this picture: “You are beauty, fire and a winner…that’s my honest opinion of you, and through this lense, my eyes, it will be the world’s opinion of you”.

The picture was most likely taken squatting, or on one knee. The taker’s finger is tender and thoughtful, and there is a smile on his face, for he knows what he’s doing. The way we behold her is the way the photographer beholds her. This photograph is a lover’s opinion…or perhaps, is our photographer the lover?

Photo: Nana Poku Amankwah 
Model: Pearl Germann 


* A version of this essay first appears on myershansen.wordpress.com in November 2015.

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