ERIC Gyamfi is an artist based in Ghana’s capital Accra. But when I contact him to discuss his work with the Los Angeles-based artist Moses Sumney, he’s in Casablanca, Morocco, reading a book about the reclusive African writer Yambo Ouologuem.
Eric works across a variety of mediums – from printmaking to sound – but his starting point is always photography. He’s drawn to its ability to be understood by a wider audience, especially at a time when the internet and social media has made it “perhaps the most used language currently”.
Eric’s recent work has focussed on Ghana’s queer spaces and community (“responses are mixed and reflect more or less the current public opinion”, he says of this work); and a camp for alleged witches in Gambaga, northeastern Ghana.
However, in early 2017 he collaborated with Moses Sumney – who he met through a pair of mutual friends – on the cover art for debut album
The image was shot in Accra, where Moses – who was born in suburban Los Angeles to Ghanaian parents – lived from the age of 10 to 16. Over a brief exchange of emails, Eric discussed the impulsive moment that led to the image. Incredibly there was no post-production to achieve the headless effect.
Did you receive a brief for the album cover of
Moses had a clear sense of what he wanted the album cover to communicate. Finding the right visual language to express that became the task. We hard a few ideas we wanted to continue working with, especially the theme of horses, which has been a thread in lots of our collaborations over the years. Incredibly intuitive and responsive, we both set out over the course of a period to connect.
We felt out spaces and things and waited for what they would say to us. I remember us making photographs for sometime in this particular garden for about two hours and finally deciding that it did not want us photographing it. We just had to experience it and let it be. So in essence it was similar, these backs and forths between spaces and things.
We tried to reach, for the most part, some quiet to see where we would find ourselves. We wondered, drove around, sang
“He was quick, acting almost in a trance. He took off his black tank top, and sat, knelt, stood, jumped.”
On one of the days, during one of our wanderings, we came to The Museum of Science and Technology in Accra. (The space that holds the annual contemporary art exhibition for mostly College of Art graduates from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.)
I knew about the horses that usually loitered the back of the building and so we decided to pause and look for them. We did not find the horses, but we did find the amphitheatre just adjacent to the main museum.
Moses immediately asked to be photographed there. It was almost like he had been there before. Something about the white stage against the big black backdrop bounded by trees on either side excited us.
He was quick, acting almost in a trance. He took off his black tank top, and sat, knelt, stood, jumped. And then he wanted to jump some more. And then more, and more. He was reaching out; dancing, but praying almost. And then his hands moved from the front, to the back, clasped; another act of prayer but this time almost as punishment. It was a difficult position, he struggled.
He was not talking anymore, just jumping. I did not stop him. We went on for a while; me moving in and out, forward and backwards, he moving up and down, falling, rising. The photograph from the amphitheatre would end up as the cover art for Aromanticism.
Did you shoot your portrait of Moses in the same location?
No, both were made in different places and time.
What were your first impressions of the album?
The honesty with which he deals with himself, his feelings, the contradictions inherent in both and the coherency with which he articulates that with sound and words and sometimes the absence of both. Allowing the emptiness to take up form, to have a place.
Did you hear the album before taking the shot of Moses?
Yes, I did.
What were you trying to convey with that headless image?
We are transporting a certain experience from one moment in time and place to people from and at different times and places. What does it mean to remove the experience of Moses Sumney, struggling and jumping in an amphitheatre in Accra in March 2017, frozen and compressed into a 2D/otherwise image, and presented to someone in Oslo or Nairobi, who may be single, happy, or white?
How did you achieve the effect of Moses seemingly floating in the air?
He jumped and bowed. This was all achieved on stage, in camera, with no post-production to alter the head. We only cropped to get the stage of the theatre and did some colour balance.
"Moses immediately asked to be photographed there. It was almost like he had been there before. Something about the white stage against the big black backdrop bounded by trees on either side excited us."