As we celebrate this monumental fifth edition of the Addis Foto Fest (AFF) and gaze back into the journey thus far, I am humbled by the experience the process of conceptualizing and organizing such an event. It has been a personal photographic journey with an important mission of developing a visual language as it relates to representation. When I came back to Ethiopia 11 years ago, I realized that developing our own visual aesthetics and changing the way the world sees us, required something more robust and sustainable than the occasional lessons at a workshops.
The driving force to organize the AFF has always been my core belief that not only in Ethiopia, but across the continent, the creative sector is an important component in our development. Hence, AFF represents a unique platform to share with the audience the vital role that photography plays in influencing how the world perceives us, and crucially, how we see ourselves. It was fundamentally important for me as a photographer, to engage in a dialogue on the distorted image of Africa from the outside world, and to use this platform as an opportunity to share with the world the cultural complexities, demographic and geographical diversity of the African continent and its people.
In the age of digital connectivity and a highly interlinked global community, photography’s impacts transcend cultures and bridges divides. With the advent of social media, photography’s role has reached unprecedented levels in impacting economics, politics, culture, education, and just about every other aspect of the human condition. Because Africa does not exist in a vacuum, it was also important for me to organize a festival reflective of our global community of photographers.
Hence, AFF was first conceived to promote Africa through an event that showed the world its’ immense talent, while also creating serious discourse on the lack of a balanced visual perspective in relation to Africa by the photography industry as a whole, that has often viewed our continent through a single lens. Our goal remains to address these issues and progress the dialogue on the importance of developing new talents and institutions through global network to define our own visual language.
There are also economic and commercial opportunities through photography. Images are an effective communication tool in not only branding and selling products, but also our rich and diverse cultures vis a vis tourism. A 2015 study by Earnest and Young found that Africa & Middle East’s creative industries, in which photography plays a significant role, was collectively worth 58 Billion dollars annually, while also employing 2.4 Million people. As global audiences seek authentic and diverse content, festivals like Ethiopia’s AFF need to develop the young and emerging talents further so that they can benefit from this growing sector. Hence, if we are to tap into our potential, photography and the wider creative sector are essential tools to channel sustainable income for the continent.
Through AFF’s four previous editions, we have seen a steady rise in interest, both from the audience and emerging talents. In Africa, photography as an art form is maturing to an extent where our artistic and aesthetic expressions are genuine, and not derived from external interpretation of our continent. In light of this, AFF 2018 has received the most number of entries from Africa, which is testament to the expanding reach of the festival, which continually features new talents while also promoting Africa on a global platform.
Finally, as Africa looks towards the future, photography’s indispensable role in presenting the multi-layered realities of the continent cannot be understated. The time to invest in our Africa’s burgeoning creative sector is now!