As an artist and an entrepreneur, Justin's approach to photography is simple: he prefers the organic approach. Read his story to learn more about his joyful experience visiting his home country, Ghana, for the first time.
I'm Justin Amoafo and currently in Shanghai, China. I'm a Visual Artist & Entrepreneur, so I look for new perspective in every trip I take.
How does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
Photography was the solution to my inquisitive character. As a kid, I always had so many questions about the world around me; some which didn’t have direct answers. Picking up a camera allowed me to take initiative and answer every question by myself. However, photography is just a part of the story. Art in general has allowed me to make the world my playground.
What sparked your trip to Ghana? Which cities/regions did you visit?
I took my first trip to Ghana at the tender age of two. Since then, I haven’t been back. As I mentioned before, I have always been curious about the world around me. My main curiosity was always with where I come from. Since I can remember, I have dreamt of going back home and this December, the dream became a reality. I had no conscious motive or expectations behind my trip, as is the case with most of my trips. Spontaneity is my best friend. In Ghana I ended up visiting Kumasi and Accra, however I also embarked on a road trip from Accra to Nnewi, Nigeria, with stops in Lagos, Togo, and Benin.
What was your favorite approach to photography while in Ghana? Did you generally strike up a conversation with people or just candidly capture the moment? How did locals react to being photographed?
My general approach to photography is organic. I try not to engineer moments or make things out to be something other than what they are. Most of the time, people see my camera or notice me taking a photo of them and usually that is enough to start a conversation. For the most part, people were excited to be captured and that energy pushed me to continue capturing more moments. However, as a photographer, I try to be as removed from the situations I’m capturing as possible (unless I’m directly involved).
How was this travel experience different from past trips you’ve taken? What surprised you most?
This travel experience was different in every way explainable; Africa is my motherland and this was my first encounter with Her. I was immediately overwhelmed by the amount of beauty I saw everywhere.
Please describe some of your experiences.
Before this trip, I had so many questions about my motherland. There were a million conversations that I was dying to have. I always used to ask myself things like “why are Ghanaians so hard working,” but the moment I stepped off the plane, everything started to click for me. Ghana is a country of hustle, and that hustle is blind to gender / ability. Being around so many street hawkers who work day in and day out only to receive the bare minim made me re-evaluate my hustle. Sitting on a tro-tro in 100+ degree weather (the closest thing to a public bus in Ghana) beside women that look just like my mother humbled me.
Every moment in Ghana was humbling because everything around me was so instantly relatable, even though I had never experienced life there before. There were countless deja-vu moments that I didn’t consciously understand, but they still struck an immediate chord in my mind. These are the sorts of moments that are difficult to explain because they’re so real.
The perspective I gained on this trip was inexplicable. I met God through so many people: strangers and family alike. All of those moments went over my head until I really took the time to sit back and reflect. The most surprising thing was walking through Accra or Kumasi and having fans approach. When Instagram released their Insights feature, I discovered that 50% of my followers were from Africa, 30% from Ghana and the other 20% from Nigeria… and that was before I had ever step foot in Africa. Meeting people who support my work and have been inspired by me in the past was definitely something I didn’t expect.
What is your favorite/funniest memory from a trip? Is there a particular travel moment you would relive given the opportunity?
After the fact, I realized that the main agenda for my trip was to discover where I came from. My first stop was to my mother’s hometown, Kumasi. This was definitely the most incredible moment I experienced in Ghana. I visited the house she grew up in, which has been the subject of countless stories of her upbringing. In that same moment, I met my great-grandmother who is almost 100 years old and blind in both eyes. Interacting with her made me feel so inspired and full of life. I still haven’t really been able to properly reflect and wrap my head around that journey and what it means to me and my family.
What recommendations do you have for future travelers interested in visiting Ghana (places to see, things to do, foods to try, etc.)?
See: Elmina Castle / Cape Coast, Jamestown, Teshie-Nungua, Kakum National Park
Do: Adventure, adventure, adventure. My favorite moments in Ghana were the ones with the least amount of planning behind them. Yes, it’s always good to maintain some sort of structure, but Ghana is a great place to get back to the basics. Wander around, look at a real map and discover places you wouldn’t find on Trip Advisor or a normal travel site.
Food: JOLLOF!, waakye, banku, fufu, buff loaf (called puff puff in other places)
What would you say has been the most challenging about your experience? The most gratifying?
Honestly, the only challenging part of my trip was travel. The airline I traveled with made it incredibly difficult to get from point A to point B, but I forgot about all of that once I arrived. I challenged myself to stay present and in the moment throughout the trip, because it was such a huge milestone. Given the sacrifices I made to get there, staying present wasn’t very difficult. I was blessed with an incredible trip and too many stories to write down on paper.
What would surprise most people about Ghana? What would you like people to know about Ghana that the media rarely shows?
Ghana will be a slap in the face for most people with a traditionally western view of what Africa is like. It’s really yin and yang; of course there are places that are less developed than others, but the other side of that spectrum is truly incredible. Most people wouldn’t expect to go to Ghana and see houses that look just like (if not better) than those in America or other super developed countries. If you’re one to those people, you are in for a serious surprise.
I think everything that I want people to know about Ghana is seldom reported about in the media. They will never do an exposè on the incredible work ethic of Ghanaian women. They will never explore the incredible rate of entrepreneurship and invention. The main thing the word needs to see is the immense potential of the youth in Ghana. Our country is home to the future leaders of the world.
What’s next for you? Do you have any final words of advice for others, particularly Africans in the diaspora, interested in (re)discovering their heritage?
Definitely more trips to Ghana (and all over Africa!) Although I spent over a month there this time around, I feel like I only saw and experienced a fraction of what Ghana is. I definitely want to take my time and get to know Ghana more, as it is the main motivation and inspiration behind everything I do.
To keep up with Justin's travels and art, be sure to follow him @justinamoafo on Instagram.
Photos Courtesy of Justin Amoafo