“I want to use photography to defy the notion of changing times and cultures,” says the Congolese photographer Junior Diatezua Kannah. “I go further than just registering what I see when I observe my fellow Africans during my fieldwork, and I aim to include an artistic feel in my work.”
Kannah, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, imbues his subjects a luminous spirit, something rarely seen in press photography. Besides his own personal work, Kannah has freelanced with Agence France-Presse (AFP) since 2007, and for several other international magazines such as Jeune Africa and Forbes. “I want to pass on information with my photography but also educate people so as to help prevent certain things from happening again. I might sometimes shoot the most horrific scenes in specific parts of the DRC but they are a mirror of other events around the globe. My point of view is local as well as universal.”
Depth of Field
It was on his job at Fuji Film that Kannah learned the art of photography, checking thousands of photos a day for clients, most of whom were photographers. He began to recognise photographers by their different styles, started understanding the nuances of composition, lighting, depth of field, etc. “In my spare time I looked at the images like paintings; only one or two percent of the images were sufficiently interesting, but it made me passionate about photography. A year after I left I became a photographer myself, kicking off with a story about a plane crash for the AFP with a cheap camera.” He got some basic photojournalism tips from the English photographer Lionel Healing and it took off from there. He visited places torn apart by strife while they were still considered dangerous, but always aimed at revealing these regions in their purest form. “I know these regions and lived through the same situations, so it’s my duty to paint a respectful picture.”
A continent victimised by propaganda
“Africa as a continent remains victimised by propaganda, and this has disrupted it’s development. There’s impatience and blame in the images of propaganda, but change don’t come instantaneously. However, I’m motivated by the fact that every new story can bring change for the future,” explains Kannah. “By mirroring or comparing the behaviour of my fellow Africans with my own I try to notice consistency and contraditions, and this introspective way of working helps me to arrive at insights to inform my work. And I can make references to the troubled history of Africa and the DRC and its hopefully positive future. » The result is photography that is never faked or forged; Kannah loves the rawness of his images.
Commissioned vs. Personal work
This is slightly easier in his personal work than in his commissioned press work, for AFP for instance, where he has to “report” more objectively. “It’s a slightly different way of working; there’s no place within their hierarchy for background stories, and the images always need to be informative. I get sent on assignment for lots of different subjects, but it sometimes means I have less time for my own work, which takes longer to complete. But whenever I can spare some time on assignment, I shoot documentary style photographs of locations that haven’t been shown a lot to the outside world; unknown places of my country.” In general, though, whether on assignment or shooting personal work, he tends to stay close to what really happens in the DRC. “That way my audience is assured – whoever I shot for – that my images are realistic illustrations of the country. Whether it be through images of the fauna and flora or people like the sapeurs, I search for consistency in all areas and would like my pictures of the DRC to reflect a country yearning for inner coherence and integral development.”
Kannah is critical about the status of photography in the DRC. Though it’s booming because of the rise of digital cameras and mobile phones – as it is everywhere on the planet – the ubiquity implies photography is now the prerogative of everyone, according to Kannah. “That also means it’s often confused with professional work, which it’s not most of the time. Institutions here ought to protect and guarantee the quality of what is used for professional purposes, but they lack both the initiative and the manpower necessary for constant monitoring. I sometimes find my work in newspapers that just took them from the internet without my consent.” He understands that local media often don’t have any budget for photography, so in order to support them he offers his images for free, in exchange for a mention of his name.
I’ve only just begun
“There’s an element of competition here that means foreign photojournalists constantly have to improve their work. Nonetheless, looking at some of their work, it’s clear that our tasks are different. The quality is certainly here, but we lack a solid structure to affirm the importance of the profession and promote our work.” That said, Kannah admits he’s quite impressed by the work of some of the foreign photographers working on the continent, people like Phil Moore, for example. “But I’m meticulous about my own work and very happy that international colleagues congratulate me on my work. In my head it’s just starting to take shape.”