Pandemic hobby becomes blueprint for Africa’s largest photography library

Ghanaian photographer Paul Ninson smiles as he talks to a reporter in Long Island City, Queens, New York, USA on November 5, 2021. Photo taken on November 5, 2021. REUTERS / Andrew Hofstetter / File Photo

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NEW YORK CITY, Nov. 23 (Reuters) – Since the pandemic forced many American bookstores to close or cut prices, Ghanaian New Yorker Paul Ninson has amassed 30,000 African photo books for a library that he hopes it will inspire the next generation of returning photographers.

Ninson believes he now has the world’s largest collection of books with images taken in Africa or by photographers of African descent. Thanks to a million dollar crowdfunding windfall, he has already started shipping the treasure to West Africa.

“For so long we’ve let other people tell our stories and spread our stories,” Ninson said in one of his 16 New York storage units, filled with piles of books up to the ceiling.

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“This is the space that I want to fill, so that I can give the tools and the resources to African photographers and black people to be able to tell our own stories,” Ninson said.

He started the hobby shortly after arriving in New York City with a photography scholarship in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged obsession as struggling bookstores offloaded their inventories at discounted rates.

He thus acquired around 15,000 books, did odd jobs and takes out personal loans to cover his expenses. The collection now includes all issues of National Geographic from the past 40 years.

“Some of these images are amazing… but sometimes I wonder what people in these communities have contributed to these stories,” Ninson said, flipping through the pages of one of the magazines.

“Do people in these communities accept the way they are represented, especially Africans? Ninson wondered.

His dream of using the books to create Africa’s largest photography library in Ghana came true after popular blog “Humans of New York” promoted a crowdfunding campaign for his project which raised 1 million dollars in just one day.

Since then, Ninson has doubled his collection, scouring the east coast of the United States in search of new acquisitions. Over 18,000 books have already been shipped to Ghana.

The funds will help build the library in the capital Accra. Named after the word for “Take the lead” in its local language, the Dikan Center will also offer workshops, equipment rental and studio space to aspiring African photographers.

“There are a lot of people in Ghana who desperately want to be photographers, to tell the stories of Africa,” Ninson said. “These books are going to be the backbone.”

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Reporting by Angela Moore and Cooper Inveen; Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Mark Porter

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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