Africa – as photographer and film director Harry Hook well knows – is too great and diverse a continent to capture in a single book, or indeed by a single photographer. In order to narrate 40 years worth of images, he has focused on a single theme: rural to urban migration. ‘The permanent movement of people leaving their land and villages to live in towns and cities has been a fact longer than my lifetime,’ he says at the book’s beginning, accompanied by images of villagers dressed in tribal clothes beside their traditional homes. ‘However, growing up in East Africa I’ve seen this migration gathering pace and cause massive cultural and social change.’ The collection then moves to industrial suburbs and inner cities, with photographs that ask ‘is life better here?’
The most striking thing about the urban images is the age of the subjects. ‘Africa has the youngest population of any continent: half of all Africans were born after 1991,’ he informs. ‘Most of these young people are now living in, or heading for, towns and cities.’ Toddlers snap selfies, teenagers lounge at pool sides and young adults vend their small businesses – some of them sporting Obama T-shirts.In fact, ‘Obama in Africa’ is a theme all to itself. Though, interestingly, it was rural Africans that have taken him as an icon since 2009.
Who your father is continues to be very important in most parts of rural Africa,’ says Hook. ‘Barack Obama, born of a Kenyan father, is seen as an African son.’
Though the collection is interspersed with landscapes and wildlife, it is clear that Hook’s real interest is people’s minds. He describes rural-to-urban migration as ‘a deep, subtle, psychological voyage’ as well as physical one. To that end, his best works are the candid, unposed shots, such as an image of three Maasai herders talking casually amongst themselves, or the blurred figure of a boy catching locusts to eat. These kind of images manage to avoid romanticising nomadic lifestyles and remind us that it is the normal, everyday life that is changing for many groups across Africa.
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