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Addis photo fest

Salima Punjani, an intern with Oxfam Canada, who is also a part time photographer and writer currently based in Addis, contributes this article about the recently-ended Addis Photo Fest, a major photographic event of the year.

Saturday December 11, 2010 saw the end of the incredibly successful first annual Addis Ababa Foto Festival (AFF), but the creative momentum sparked by the festival is omnipresent. AFF was organized by Ethiopian curator and photographer Aida Muluneh and brought together photographers from all over Africa and the diaspora for 5 days full of diverse and unique events. From portfolio reviews for emerging African photographers, to panel discussions to photo-video projections AFF set a high precedent for future arts and culture events in Addis.
The festival was launched with a photography-music projection produced by a workshop on street photography led by Paris based photographer Yo-Yo Gonthier. The projection depicted images taken in Addis Ababa and was accompanied with live music put on by local Ethio-jazz funk band Nubian Ark. It was Gonthier’s first experience mixing photography and live music and he gave some insight into the development of the project.

“The process was to try to play live in front of the image, when I made the images I was thinking of the fact it will have music on it. With Nubian Ark, the idea was to pose the same questions in photography and music. For instance, when talking about Arrat Kilo where the houses are being destroyed to build big commercial buildings, it was like the blues because I know people who live there will have to leave, so we played blues, it is simple like that, we tried to make a discussion between something common in music and photography.”

Gonthier’s performance was followed by a photo-audio project created by Ethiopian artists Miheret Kebede and Helen Zeru. The projection photographically and aurally tracked Kebebde’s journey around Addis Ababa while she asked people to trade their old shoelaces for new ones. The crowd was bursting with laughter as they listened to and watched the confusion of pedestrians trying to process Miheret’s strange request as well as found commonality with the yells of Addis city sector names like “Kasanches” “Bole” and “Arrat Kilo” coming from taxi drivers calling out their destinations. The excellent reception of Meheret’s and Yo Yo Gonthier’s work is an example of how AFF served as an amazing opportunity for both local and international photographer’s to gain recognition and exposure.
Throughout the duration of the festival, there were a series of closed portfolio reviews of the work of 16 young emerging photographers from across Africa. The portfolio review ws initiated by the Goethe Institute in Mapulto, Mozambique where 32 photographers from 16 different countries were invited to present their work to curators. There was a follow up at the Bamako Encounters festival in Mali where 16 photographers took part in the reviews. Monique Pelser, a photographer from South Africa was one of the artists selected to take part in the portfolio review sessions. Pelser appreciated the opportunity to meet with curators from various places ranging from Germany to Lagos and the chance to see how her and fellow participants’ work has improved and developed over the past few years.
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“One of the most amazing things about these portfolio reviews is the networking between photographers, we have really started to develop relationships and start a dialogue across the continent … this network supports a shift which gives people, especially young emerging people, a sense of possibility and community to function in.”
When asked about she feels about how the coming together of the emerging photographers has helped to change the image of and challenge the market for sensationalized images of Africa, Pelser felt the portfolio reviews have good intentions and provide a strong support for the photographers.
“One of the most positive things about the support for young African photographers is that there is an underlying intention of not exoticizing Africa though photography and the photographers. Rather than choosing the most cliché or most iconic images, we are being encouraged to interrogate our environment in a self-reflective fashion. I think (the market for less sensational images) will be a gradual change, it is gradually gaining momentum, but it will take a couple of generations to shift. Once people, they use the phrase ‘graduate’ from the program, it opens up space for others. Disseminating this way of looking, this philosophy of looking, spreads the intention, and through that network and in a couple of generations, people will start questioning the authority of what they saw before and (work on) shifting and remaking it. ”
Elise Atangana, a Cameroonian-French curator who participated in the festival explained how often in international photography festivals, Africa is underrepresented and emphasized the importance of the AFF in helping to showcase and promote photographers and photography that aren’t typically seen in the stereotypical representations of Africa.
“I think the first edition in Addis Ababa is professional and interesting, I feel it is modern and a really good start….In France there is a concentration of power on a photographic level, so it is difficult for an African artist to emerge.”

Atangana along with two other art professionals presented a photographic compilation titled “On the Roof” from 12 different African artists on subjects ranging from dance and music to polygamy and adoption. The presentation aimed to showcase new practices and genres of African photography.
The success of the AFF shows that there is a demand for high-quality artistic and cultural events in Addis Ababa. The overall ambiance of the festival was very positive, the festival did not only cater to photography enthusiasts, but had a very accessible, welcoming atmosphere which attracted a diverse range of people. AFF continues to act as a resource for emerging artists via its website, Facebook page and blog. To read more about the events and exhibitions that took place during the festival as well as to learn more about the participants please visit www.addisfotofest.com.

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