Photography by Nana Yaw Oduro

Nana Yaw Oduro’s photography rewards the labour of looking

Born and raised in Ghana, photographer Nana Yaw Oduro started practising photography as a personal passion. His photography is dripping with a strong mood deriving from an expression of ideas and feelings through distinctive and stylistic use of colour.

He explains to me: “The idea usually comes from emotions and poetry. Very Personal.  Then the challenge is to get a subject—someone I believe can act like me, since I can’t be in front and behind the camera at the same time.”

This need to see oneself reflected in the world is an age-old one that is present in most humans; in a sense, self-portraiture functions as a metaphorical mirror that gives one a sense of their place in the world. But of course, this relationship between the camera and the viewer, the photographer and the camera is fraught with complex histories and on a more personal level brings with it anxiety that comes with the self-awareness that one can be seen and can be looked at. Oduro turns this anxiety around… embraces it, almost.

His images are grounded on intimacy (it’s just him and the subject, sometimes very small groups). This intimacy suspends our attention from shifting and engages us in the strenuous labour of looking. In one particular image, two men hold a soccer ball. The image is shot from a low angle so that we can see their faces against the clarity of the blue sky. This angle also has the effect of breaking up the image into front and back, focal point and background. The two men are focused, intent, showing earnest and eager attention on the object in their hands. Now, we know that a soccer ball is not heavy but there is a certain strain in how they are holding and looking at the ball. That specific moment of looking —the subjects looking at the soccer ball and us looking at the subjects looking at the soccer ball—synthesises many moments that came before; perhaps setting up the camera, directing the subjects, arching the camera up towards the sky, shifting the body until the angle is just right, adjusting the focus and the exposure before finally pinning the shutter. Although there is labour, both in creating the image and in looking at the image, the real story behind the image is simple….absolute beauty. “It doesn’t necessarily have to mean something. Sometimes it’s just the beauty” – Odoru

If beauty is defined as a combination of qualities such as shape, form and colour in a manner that pleases the eye and does not leave the senses wanting, then Odoru’s images are beautiful….they dance around many different sources at different times, but they always go back to the source —him and his subject(s) and the intimacy of a single moment. He notes, “I create for myself, then it becomes for everybody else”.


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