Paul Ninson’s story is one that many of us got acquainted with in the past few weeks. A photographer, an artist and a father, Paul Ninson is bracing to build the continent’s largest photolibrary.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, with what Paul Ninson hopes to achieve the words spoken will be infinite. His story gripped the internet’s attention when it was shared on popular photo-activist Instagram page @humansofny. From his humble start to his journey in a foreign land and his kindness with each step, it was no surprise how positive his goal appealed across borders.
He’s a man who likes new challenges. You’d be right to expect that he has a winning formula for each one of them too. His latest endeavour is the Dikan Center. This monumental enterprise is set to make Ghana the home of the largest photo library in Africa.
We had a sit down with him to get a better idea about highly-touted project. For someone not new to risks we were mildy surprised to find that his personal outlook is to be anything but complex.
Good day, Mr Paul Ninson. Your story is a heartening one. You caught the eye of the world after your inspiring story was shared by Brandon Stanton’s photoblog, Humans of New York (HONY). What is it that drives you as a photographer and a pacesetter?
I wanted to express myself and also, through that, make a living to support my daughter.
Your project, the Dikan Center, is a dream you have fostered for a while. How long have you had this dream, and what impact are you aiming for?
It all begun when I started collecting photography books of African descent. When I came to New York, seeing all these resources and opportunities here. I love to read and I encourage my daughter to do the same. I could take a few rare books back home to share with others. Maybe it will inspire others. But as the number of books I collected increased, I got the idea to share the resource. There aren’t many resource centers in Ghana for photographers or visual storytellers. Dikan (which means ” take the lead “) became my purpose, to do something for others.
The Dikan Center is a collaborative effort through fundraising. Why do you think your story is different?
I don’t think my story is different from a lot of photographers out there. I have had a blessing of an opportunity, but I believe there are many out there with stories just like mine but in different forms. The story of Dikan stands out because it was born out of my frustrations as a young Ghanaian learning the art of photography with next to little support in my country. A lot of Ghanaian photographers are self-taught, and they mostly tell wedding stories or those that can earn them a living quickly. Coming to New York is a privilege, and I understood my privilege, but how can I use this opportunity to help others even with all that I was going through here in New York? I think a lot of people understand the need for this center in Ghana. I think a lot of people believe in my vision to help others.
Your photography has captured iconic moments of Ghana’s culture. When did your interest in photography start, and do you have a golden rule to whatever you’re working on?
I think it goes back to my sources and influence. Growing up, my grandfather used to tell me stories of our culture and traditions. Stories about the Asante people and sometimes specifically stories of my traditional home Kumawu. Today, looking back, these stories told by my grandfather influenced me a lot. When I got a camera, those were the stories I was drawn to. For doing it, again and again, I guess it has become my style. Ghanaian culture, and I think most African traditions, are centred around community and storytelling– this is a rich visual cultural display.
Do you consider trying new ‘tricks’ or techniques in your photography?
I am constantly learning and practising new ideas. I am constantly reading, watching tutorials and reading other photographers works. These are among some of my greatest resources.
Are you conceptual with your photography?
No. No, I’m not conceptual at all with my craft. I just document things the way they are without thinking too much of it. I don’t do much post-processing or think much about the tool I use.
Your faith and principles are a driving force in everything you do. “Givers never lack” is one of your credos. You’re a Christian, a father and a family man. Clearly, you factor these aspects into your daily life. Do you factor your faith in your photography? And if you do, how do your faith and fatherhood inspire your craft?
Of course, I do factor those in my craft. I am a photographer and a Christian; I can’t separate the two. It’s my living. My faith in God has influenced me a lot in the stories I tell, the way I treat subjects, what photography means to me and how I can use photography as a medium to impact and help others. I firmly believe that it’s easy for me to think of others because I have the life of Christ in me.
Do you envision the Dikan Center as a place for not only learning but teaching the art and the values of preserving legacy? If so, what ways does the Dikan Center intend to achieve this?*
“Dikan center is more than a place for photography books. I say it’s a palace, where stories are told, and history perseveres.”
What do you think about the Ghanaian photography and visual art scene?
All I can say is that the visual art scene in Ghana is growing, and many artists works are now recognised.
What is the mark of a good photographer for you?
If it is good, then there is bad. I don’t believe in that. Photography is a medium of expression. How effective can one express him or herself is the goal, I reckon.
What brings you fulfilment as a photographer?
The fulfilment comes from the ability to use photography to inform or educate others.
Which young Ghanaian photographers or visual artists are you keeping an eye on?
There are a lot of upcoming photographers in Ghana, and across Africa, I am constantly seeking them out.