FUTURE REMEMBRANCE Photography and Image Arts in Ghana

Photography has a long history in Ghana and plays an important part in everyday life.

Philip Kwame Apagya, owner of P.K.'s Normal Photo Studio, presents his painted backdrops, the well-equipped "room divider" – which some people think is a real part of an expensive residence that might belong to the photo subject! We accompany P.K. dropping off rolls of film at the foreign-owned color lab, the most significant development in Ghanaian photography of the 1990s.

P.K. takes us to the sidewalk "Wait & Get" photographers in the Ashanti capital of Kumasi, where an ingenious method of processing paper negatives inside the camera allows hurried customers to obtain ID shots within minutes. We visit Yaw Nkrabeah, the 83-year-old who built and sold his simple box cameras throughout West Africa. Born-again Christian Kwame Akoto "Almighty" narrates the many disturbing events of his painted life story.

In short detours, Stephen Zanoo explains how he makes his eye-catching tomb art using photos of the deceased and artist/body builder Jasper presents his painted video posters of meaty muscle men and the gym built of used car parts behind his house.

Hailing back to the good old days of black and white photography, Joseph K. Davies emphasizes the importance of posing and demonstrates fine retouching, while John K. Assan maintains that he can make you young and draw some highly appreciated "wrabbles" on your neck! Using cloth kept in his studio, Alfred Six dresses up ordinary women as "Queen Mothers" and when necessary, gives them full heads of hair.

P.K. explains local beliefs about "ghosts" in photographic negatives and the practice of "snapping" dead bodies laid in state. Sometimes the dead are buried in fanciful coffins that illustrate what they did in life: They were fishermen or great lovers. Master painter Wofa Ankra and his son Louis use photos of the deceased to paint images on the graves of simple folks, and on request, depicting them as chiefs. A successful portrait always conceals its subject behind a "mask of the cool".

In a suburb of Ghana's capital, Accra, photographer Nelson E. "Events" attracts customers to his studio containing many "natural" backgrounds  where they can pose a foot on painted steps leading to a prop plane or sit on real rocks in front of a canvas seaside. Events recounts irate spouses who believe his illusions. These days, though, the glut of photographers forces Events to leave his studio in search of business: Whether youngsters' beach parties or modern church weddings, "People always want pictures of what has passed!"

FUTURE REMEMBRANCE portrays a striking range of contemporary and historical images by artists and photographers in Ghana – who had been almost as rarely shown outside the continent as they are well-known and appreciated at home. Glancing through the history of black and white photography in Ghana, the film focuses on current social practices of studio photographers and their impact on contemporary popular image arts.

The entire 54-minute film is available to view for free on the Vimeo page of producer Tobias Wendl.


This was my first effort at documentary filmmaking. I also attended many seminars and workshops about all aspects of production.

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The novelty of a film on African photography, which until then had hardly been studied, surely helped FUTURE REMEMBRANCE win prizes. Added to that is the film's humor that derives from the inventiveness and good humor of its subjects. At the time, "ethnographic film" was still assumed to be (yaaaaaawn!) "educational."

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