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CityMakers: Visual portraitist Daniel Effah captures images to spark conversation

By Nickie Shobeiry on July 4, 2018



Nickie Shobeiry is Apt613’s correspondent at Synapcity, Ottawa non-profit for civic engagement, connecting people across diverse communities to share perspectives and create positive change.

Daniel Effah is an incredible visual portraitist, capturing images with the aim of sparking conversation about the African diaspora. His series, ‘Blend If’, is currently on display at the Ottawa Art Gallery.

Below, we talk to him about his life and career journey.

You moved to Canada from Ghana at 16. What was that journey like, and what inspired you to pick up a camera?

I came here because my dad and my siblings were here. I’ve always been influenced by art and culture; I dabbled in painting, and that’s what I started off with. I picked up a camera after one of my past relationships – and then I fell in love with it. As well as with architecture and other art forms, I submerge myself fully in the art – and then before I know it, it’s a journey of its own, telling a story. It came naturally to me with a camera.

Does your architecture link to your photography?

It taught me how to envision space, form, light. One of the things I love about architecture is that it’s an interdisciplinary art form which goes through all other disciplines. It incorporates all of it. It’s easy for me to pick up what I learnt from architecture and apply it to photography. It’s a learning experience over the years.

You use a lot of symbolism in your photography. Can you tell me more about your influences?

Growing up in Ghana, there’s a lot of stories I’ve picked up since childhood – taboos and sins – as well as coming here. Reading all the literature, studying art history with architecture – there’s a lot of symbolism. That’s what influences me to pick it all up and tell a new story, with an amalgamation of all the experiences I’ve had in Ghana and Canada.

What’s the inspiration behind your series, ‘Blend If’, which is exhibited at the OAG?

That one was collaborative; I worked with Sham Ahmed, an amazing photographer. We were talking about entering a gallery, and we were bouncing ideas off each other. We both went about it in different ways, but the message and the theme was very similar. The inspiration for ‘Blend If’ was from my experience living in Canada as a first-generation immigrant, my experiences coming here, the culture shock you experience, and how you meld the cultures together. Coming from a strong African household, there are cultural needs to be upheld, but living in a different country altogether, you can’t help but meld them together. The inspiration comes from the shared experiences from most immigrants – coming from somewhere different, having to mould the two cultures together to find that balance.

The inspiration for ‘Blend If’ was from my experience living in Canada as a first-generation immigrant, my experiences coming here, the culture shock you experience, and how you meld the cultures together.

What about your series, ‘Bloom’? You used a mix of written word and photographs.

Myself and a friend of mine talked about incorporating flowers into it to showcase beauty – not just beauty in the physical form, but a sublime nature. A much deeper form of beauty that you don’t see, but you feel. That’s what I wanted to express. The poetry was from a book I found that really inspired me. Some of my inspirations come from reading something and getting really excited and wanting to create a visual expression of what I’ve read.

What advice do you have to other CityMakers?

Everyone has their own personal journey. The pressure of accommodating to what people like can be a little strenuous, so the best thing is to pursue what you love. It might be something you never imagined; pursue things you like and hold dear, and you’ll be surprised at what impact it has on people. In my entire life, I never would have imagined I’d have this impact on the community or people in general. It’s supposed to be a personal journey and doing something that I love, and that has a ripple effect on how it affects people.

Keep up with Daniel on Instagram and Twitter: @ArtofEffah.