While pursuing my passion and building my business I've found it a bit of a challenge to translate the essence of what I do and why I do what I do to people.
Saying "I'm a photographer" in Ghana does not get you the kind of response that flatters when you do what I do. One of my friends categorically told me just not to say that and others tried to find clever alternatives to describe what it is that I do.
Amongst many other things people perceive to be more important, I am a makeup artist and a photographer. That's my passion, thats what I've chosen to do and thats what brings me joy and fulfillment at this point in my life. I've always been able to see the beauty in a person and bring that beauty out in my minds eye. I talk to people and my hands twitch with eager anticipation of what I could do with their features and the right amount of light. EVERYONE can be beautiful.
My mom has worked in the beauty industry her whole life and thats where I got my inspiration. The art of transforming people fascinated me from a very young age. It's always been second nature for me to want to enhance peoples looks.
However, as is the case with a lot of creatives in my generation raised in my beloved Ghana you had to make something of yourself. Aspiring to be a 'hairdresser' or carpenter was a woeful lack of ambition.
I remember an incident that happened when I was in primary school, I sat next to a boy who was an insanely gifted artist. Let's call him Alex. One of our teachers one day made a joke about another students mother who was a judge, something to the effect of her being a very stern woman. He said it in a colloquialism which made the class laugh and in a moment of inspiration Alex handed me a small piece of paper on which he had illustrated a stern judge complete with horn rimmed glasses. It was amazing. We must have been about 11 or 12 years old and he blew my mind, he drew it in under 5 seconds. Somehow the picture made its way around the class and the girl whose mother it was was understandably very offended. A teacher got a hold of the drawing and when the class was asked who drew it Alex pleaded with me to take the fall. (this was in the day of corporal punishment) Someone was going to get lashed. I didn't even think about it. The picture was that good. Thankfully the bell rang and I ran, but the offended student was out for blood and I was reported in the staff room. So here I am sauntering over the playground heading back to class after break time thinking all is forgotten when I hear "Herh! Elom Amekporfor! look at your face, come here!" I was busted. I head over to the staff room to a Sanhendrin. No class was in session at the time so all the teachers were present. It was a public shaming. I'm sure I must have gotten whipped as well but the humiliation erased the memory of that pain from my mind. Contrary to what I had though, only one teacher (bless her heart) complimented my alleged artwork. I will forever remember that speech:
"You won't draw your mother who hasn't done anything in her life and is a mere hairdresser, you have the nerve to laugh about a respectable judge. Do you know what it takes to become a judge?" "Stchripid girl"
"You should count your lucky stars you are in the same school as the people you are laughing at." "Stchripid girl"
"You better go and apologize to her and write a letter to her mother...nonsense"
and it went on and on for what seemed like hours, every sentence being intermittently laced with an emphatic "stchripid girl"
My primary school by the way, was one of THE best schools in the country at the time. It was a catholic school and I wasn't catholic. Thats how good it was.
I would have felt bad about the blasting and it may have affected me worse had I been able to relate to their venomous displeasure. I was completely oblivious to the perceptions of society to certain occupations. I was vaguely aware of a class system because I grew up with house helps and drivers and nannies but I never extrapolated it to my parents generation. My siblings and I travelled every summer from the age of 3, by twelve I had come to assume thats just what everybody did. My 90 year old grams tells me today that my mum could have bought a mercedes every month with the amount of money she was making doing peoples hair. So when I stood in front of that abusive crowd at 12, I just didn't get it. To be honest I just thought they hated me because I wasn't catholic. Preteen logic. I never told my mum about this incident because I had had a minor incident in school several years prior to that concerning my hair and the woman just came and DISPLAYED!!! I spared them the assault this time around.
My mum studied the science of cosmetology in the UK in the early seventies she returned to Ghana and changed the face of cosmetology forever. Maybe I'll write about her story in another blog. Today when I get frustrated about breaking through that social barrier of having a 'respectable career', she's my inspiration.
I've had my share of a 'respectable career', while it was socially and financially lucrative it was void of passion and a sense of purpose. I never thought I would find that one thing that would make me love to get out of bed every morning; i'm spoilt and I love my sleep. But finding it in fine art portraiture has finally made the penny drop.