Photographing an American Marine with a malnourished boy during Operation Restore Hope, Mogadishu, Somalia (1991). © Paul Lowe/Panos

Victor Acquah has established AfricanLens to present African nations as “you” and “photojournalists who travel across the continent see it.” Hopefully, AfricanLens as a collaborative space for photographers contributing outside of their employers’ (agencies’) influence or editors’ decisions may dish up some novel, calmer stories.

AfricanLens also provides a platform for analysis. Early indications – and early contributors – are good. David Campbell, professor of cultural and political geography at Durham University, over the past couple of years has published (to academia AND blogs) excellent research and positions on media and photography; Campbell’s editorial for AfricanLens takes on the potential pitfalls of the debate about defining Africa:

“What is the visual story that needs to be told about Africa? … Would we even ask that question of the Americas, Asia or Europe? It is unlikely. Others are represented in ways designed to shore up the self and  ‘Africa’ is central to the formation of European and North American identity.”

This is a familiar argument, and inasmuch as it still exists, I reckon it is as valid as ever; visual consumption is almost always simplifying and reductive. Would we be better with dozens of  [Insert individual African nation names here]Lens instead of AfricanLens? Possibly, but let us not expect to run before we can walk. That Campbell’s position questions some tenets of AfricanLens itself would suggest this is to be an intellectually honest and open forum.

Campbell presented the above image from Somalia by Paul Lowe in 1991. Lowe’s image is an echo of Nathan Weber’s from Haiti (talked about here) and reminds me that discourse on the use and usefulness of photography outside our borders is as vital as ever.

Good luck to Victor and AfricanLens.

Photographers and Fabienne Cherisma, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 19th 2010. © Nathan Weber

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