By Julian Jackson
Africa Media Online is a South Africa-based picture agency, which showcases historical material and contemporary photojournalism, covering the whole of the African continent with photographers who are on-the-spot with specialist knowledge of their area. Robyn Keet, Client Manager with AMO, says, “This focus means that superior coverage can be obtained with expediency, from photographers who have excellent contacts and local knowledge.”
She explains that they are particular about only using Africa-based photographers. Those that do not have the requisite skills or equipment are brought up to international standards with a training programme. The agency has a social media focus on returning fees to community-based photographers so they have a different emphasis to some of the more hard-nosed commercial agencies – what Robyn calls “Fair Trade Photography”. Africa Media Online has been instrumental in the creation of Shutha.org, in conjunction with World Press Photo – a free resource for professional photographers in Africa aimed at ensuring they can compete in both local and international markets for photography. The training is led by professional photographers and other technical experts, and has had a big impact in helping talented people achieve their objectives in both still imaging and videography.
AMO’s big strength, according to Robyn, is in editorial photography rather than the advertising/corporate sector. Starting in the year 2000 with a single photographer, they have grown to encompass an ever-expanding 180,000 online images, representing over 300 photographers, photographic libraries, archives and museums around Africa. Historic collections going back to the early 1900s are also part of their offering including Bailey’s African History archives and Iziko Museums, master photographers such as David Goldblatt and Graeme Williams, photographic libraries like Africa Imagery and Art Publishers and African archives including those of Mo Amin and the A24 Media collection. They also have the (South African) Times Media archives, which covers a huge swathe of publications going back to colonial times, including painting and illustration as well as photography. They have acted as advisers during the digitization process and helped the collection to reach the marketplace.
Although the apartheid era looms large in the historic archives, with trials, racist signage, and of course the triumphant release of Nelson Mandela from imprisonment in 1990, the collection is much broader in focus. It has images of all aspects of African life – not just safari parks and beautiful countryside, but also features on lifestyle and social subjects like dance studios, migrants and refugees, street vendors, recycling, sports – a cross-section of contemporary life on the continent.
During the soccer World Cup in 2010 held in South Africa – the first time this major championship kicked off in an African nation – AMO and World Press Photo took the decision to train new photographers and give them the opportunity to tell stories about their world, from their point of view. Jean-Pierre Kepseu was one of those selected for the Twenty Ten project. This used the media-friendly circumstances of the World Cup to empower African journalists to tell Africa’s story. 128 text, radio, photo and multimedia-journalists from 34 countries were trained in six workshops held in six countries around Africa to produce content in the run up to and during the World Cup. The top 18 journalists were invited to South Africa to create content on the ground during the event, Jean-Pierre was amongst those selected. The journalists produced 129 photo features, 108 radio features, 170 text features and 20 multimedia features in French and English. Jean-Pierre used the experience to begin supplying daily life images from Cameroon to be sold through Africa Media Online.
Many distinguished contributors include Greg Marinovich, who has covered working conditions and strikes, including the Marikana Mine killings, where 34 striking miners were shot dead by police, and Roger de la Harpe, who specializes in the wildlife, landscapes and people of South Africa.
Robyn Keet says, “Our contributors have the most amazing vision of our vibrant continent. I hope Visual Connections readers will take up the challenge to explore our site and see how fresh and dynamic our content is, and you will be helping support the developing media of Africa.”