Ghana | Chester Higgins: Girl From Tamale

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Girl from Tamale, GhanaTamale, Ghana. 1973

of note continues its FOCUS series with photographer Chester Higgins, Jr.

of note: Can you take us through this image? What was the story behind capturing it?

Chester Higgins: It was early one morning in the northern town of Tamale in Ghana. I took a walk to the local bus station. I lingered, leaning against the wall and watching the rush as people jumped into and off open busses. Using the camera lens, I scanned and waited, and then among the throng, this little young girl appeared. Using body language, I asked her to stop so that I could photograph her. She complied. Because of her age and spirit, she reminded me of my young daughter, Nataki, left behind in Brooklyn. When I noticed her plucked eyebrows, I suddenly imagined her at the center of a big loving family.

of note: Your work reveals that Africa has served as a catalyst for you—both personally and professionally. What first led you there?

Chester Higgins: Because of my relationship in the 1960s with African students at Tuskegee University and my involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, the idea of the need to travel to Africa became a reality. Taking that journey to travel so far from the shores of the United States and risk living among strangers seemed less frightening to a 25 year-old than remaining here. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that I was not traveling to Africa to see the animals. The change in physical setting gave me distance from the issues of race and allowed me the space to appreciate the fullness of African humanity.

Being from a small town, I realized I didn’t fit in urban settings and set out to travel alone into small villages. Instincts honed from my southern background came in handy when deciding which strangers to bring close to me and which ones to stay away from. My style of working was simply being a wandering student, making friends and living with people. All I wanted was to be a witness to daily routines, much like a fly on the wall.

of note: You believe that “a photograph never lies about the photographer.”  What truths do your images tell?

Chester Higgins: Behind every thing is an energy, a spirit, an essence that gives it existence. Photography is a means to appreciate the many manifestations of my collective self. The camera is my vehicle of exploration. In capturing images that make my heart smile, I’m collecting external mirrors of myself.

This portrait, for me, highlights what is visually pleasing. Yet, I’m interested in more than what meets the eye. What I find most interesting is the spirit within. It is this spirit that I try to recognize and render. I seek to produce a photograph that presents the obvious, sometimes the ordinary, but goes further to reveal what’s hidden and makes the subject extraordinary.

– Chester Higgins, Jr.

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