Lesson One: Photography and Portraiture

 

Article by Shannon Mac Ardhail

 

“Kwesi!” two boys cheered and exchanged brilliant smiles, first to each other then to me, from the opposite diagonal corner of a table of the Challenging Heights’ school library in Winneba, Ghana. Next, they gave me a decisive, slow, upward motion nod. They were confident and proud It was a sort of welcome-to-the-team nod. We shared this instant camaraderie because my name, just like theirs, is Kwesi.

 

Kwesi is my newly discovered “day name.” It comes from a very old tradition in Ghana and other West African cultures in which a name is given to a person depending on the weekday of their birth. Luckily, I was born on a Sunday and possess, in my opinion, the very chic and strong name Kwesi. Cheers and smiles echoed around the table as the rest of the Beauty for Freedom Team introduced themselves by their day names and found their respective day name brothers and sisters around the table.

 

  

 

It was the first day of our art therapy workshops with the students of Challenging Heights and photography and portraiture was lesson one. They had given us new names and in exchange, we gave them cameras. “Hold the camera vertically,” Erica Simone, our legend of a photographer instructed to 11 pairs of wide and determined eyes. “Long ways, like this,” She clarified demonstrating with her own camera and 10 cameras followed suit. A nudge and a helping hand soon had all 11 upright and ready for portraits.

 

With a few more quick instructions on focusing and contrasting backgrounds for portraits, all the students flew off location scouting and building their portfolio. “Stand here,” one student with the day name Kofi asked another. The student’s eye found inspiration in the texture of a weathered cement pillar. I admired his creative direction as his subject posed in-front for his portrait. The model stood vibrant and joyful making bold gestures and facial expressions. The photographer, confident and decisive, snapped away. For a second, I forgot that Kofi had never used a camera before. He picked it up the art quickly and while looking through the photos with him I was astonished at what he captured.

 

It is believed Ghanaian day names speak to a person’s character and soul. My name, Kwesi, is said to be a guide. And our photographer, Kofi, is said to be creative.

 

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