Oyster Convos: YEVU Designer Anna Robertson x Ghanaian Street Style Photographer Francis Kokoroko
YEVU designer Anna Robertson has been making funky fashions out of Ghana for a minute now. Over the years she's also built strong collaborative friendships with cool local creatives, and she's kindly offered to introduce us to one of her talented buddies. Ghanian art director and photographer Francis Kokoroko takes amazing documentary and street style photographs and he recently shot the lookbook for the new YEVU collection (online now). Here he and Anna talk about Africa's experimental style and the growing creative community.
Anna Robertson: What do you do and where do you do it?
Francis Kokoroko: I am a photographer based in Ghana and working across West Africa.
How would you describe the creative community in Ghana currently and how has it changed since you've been working as a member of its community?
The creative community is really growing and there is this conscious awareness of our role as influencers and catalysts of change.
How did you become so good at photography (yes I think you're a really, really good photographer)? And was that challenging growing up in Ghana?
As someone who uses photography as a tool of expression, it has become really important for me to fluently communicate how I feel and what I am thinking. Photography has become really personal and that comes at a price.
When we've worked together, in the streets of Nima or in the YEVU workshop, you seem really at ease with being in people's personal space, and this is also reflected in your photography. Has this ever resulted in a bad experience in Ghana? Or are people generally at ease around you and a camera?
As a photographer, I immerse myself in whichever space I find myself in so I can connect with the nuances. A lot of encounters I have had have two outcomes: either the person is comfortable with the camera or not. When you don't just treat people like characters or props that can only exist in your frame and genuinely take an interest [you achieve a better result].
What do you think makes Accra a stylish city? Is it a stylish city?
I wouldn't say Accra is a stylish city but that paradigm is getting an overhaul as people are really beginning to experiment. It is now more about expression than "fancy" looks. I could be wrong.
We have produced some pretty great images for YEVU and have had fun along the way. How would you describe our working relationship?
Funky! I do not consider myself a fashion photographer but YEVU always allows me to add my voice to the commentary on fashion from Ghana.
What's the craziest thing you've seen in the streets of Accra when you've been out shooting?
I was photographing a crowd of supporters at a political rally and next to me was a sneak thief busily unzipping someone's backpack. I was gobsmacked! Come on!
You've been described as one of Africa's "Millennial Avant-Gardes". True or false?
Those are labels. Our goal is to think differently and progressively.
What do you do to cut loose when you're not working (if there's even a time that you're not working)?
Have you learnt anything working with YEVU (me)?
One thing I have learnt from Anna Robertson? Treating all people with respect and dignity. And also not taking one's self too seriously…!
Francis Kokoroko: Why is photography important to your brand and why have you always shot in Ghana?
Anna Robertson: Shooting our campaigns in Ghana has always been integral to the brand. Our first ever shoot was four years ago and we shot it in the compound I was living in in the centre of the city of Accra with my dog as a prop!! We've come a long way since then, but we still stay true to the country that we owe so much to by representing it in an honest visual medium for our customers. We shoot Ghanaian models, work with a you and the Ghanaian team and I wouldn't have it any other way; it's a homage to Ghana. And it's also the most photogenic place I've ever been, I wish my eyes were cameras most of the time.
What do you think are the similarities and differences you find from photographs coming from the West and Africa?
I think there's an honesty and rawness to the images coming out of Africa, not just in terms of what we've done together but generally speaking. I think that there's so much more diversity in content and that there are ideas in terms of locations and referencing past trends in Africa that haven't been explored yet, or are starting to be explored by people like you, and that's so exciting. Like the shoot we did last year referencing studio photography in west Africa in the 90s. That was so fun and weird because I haven't seen anyone in fashion in Africa really throw back to that in such an obvious way before.
What inspires your fabric selection?
Makola Market — a daily dose of the most intense sensory experience! Curating from the insane quantity of prints though just comes down to visualisation on our customers in different contexts. We also listen to our customers and know what has done really well in the past — generally I choose prints that have no more than four colours, and try and find a balance between the really funny hectic prints, like the prawns, and the more subtle prints like the black and white. I try and find something that suits a broad range of tastes, but can also get carried away with the super outrageous ones. The summer range includes doughnuts and sunglasses and I can't wait to unleash them in Sydney.
Do you think Ghanaians are Stylish?
Hell yes! Look at these photos! I think you're right though when you say that people are beginning to experiment, I love that. At least in Ghana, people are looking less to the West for inspiration, but rather internally and approaching it in a really resourceful way, and the West is looking to African countries for inspiration.
Photography: Francis Kokoroko