Three street photographers, three perspectives. London collective Tripod City’s new book and exhibition Gold Dust take Ghana head on.

Like many burgeoning creatives, Tripod City’s Charlie Kwai, Chris Lee and Paul Storrie found one another at the tail end of college. Initially harbouring ill-advised dreams of indie rock dominance (quashed by an inability to play any instruments) their band eventually transmuted into a photographic collective after graduating from London’s Central Saint Martins. Their premise is beautifully simple: “We document people and places from three perspectives to form one story,” explains Kwai. “Our common interests unite us. Whether it’s in film, design or photography, people have always been at the centre of the concept and the fascination persists.”

Their different photography styles and personalities are magnified by how closely they work together. “Chris captures wider scenes, Paul takes intimate portraits and I focus on energetic moments, which is a recipe of contrast. And if that contrast didn’t exist then the collaboration wouldn’t work. By working together like we do, we’re forced to be extreme versions of ourselves and that dynamism is reflected in the work.”

As Tripod City, their first major ‘assignment’ was flinging themselves over to China. The Made in China print edition was a dizzying array of everyday life in the country: confounding, fast paced and fractured. Then last November they set their sights on Ghana. “China was very much a street photography project. But for Ghana we wanted to go beyond the street. We could delve deeper, form relationships, converse and explain things easier because there was no language barrier.”

"We were welcomed with respect and
peace wherever we went. Ghanaians are
proud to be Ghanaian. It was important to
establish this through our photographs"

For team Tripod, arriving in Ghana was a blank canvas. “It was our first time in Sub Saharan Africa. We arrived optimistically open minded. Experience tells us that expectations are too often wrong.” Without reliable internet access during the month-long trip, an industrious hive of texting set the guys on a SMS journey, making more and more helpful connections, leading them through various towns and shooting in spaces such as sporting events and universities.

They were constantly greeted by young kids chanting ‘Obroni, how are you?’ “We were welcomed with respect and peace wherever we went. Ghanaians are proud to be Ghanaian. It was important to establish this through our photographs,” Kwai says. “A few Ghanaians we met voiced their opinion on the West’s negative portrayal of Africa and how the image of Ghana is misinformed and taken out of context. People were right to be skeptical of us and of our motives, which meant we had to gain their trust.” From sea through to desert (“Attempting to walk 20 miles in 40 degrees was stupid.”) Gold Dust edges closer to everyday life, Ghana style. The resulting limited edition book offers a cohesive visual narrative of the country in all its glory.

Kwai returned to Ghana this April. While most encounters throughout the initial shoot time were fleeting, he did manage to catch up with Papa Row, ebullient hip hop star on the rise, around whom Tripod City assembled a short film piece. “Papa invited us into his life and opened up his heart, telling the story of how he went from drinking 52 shots a day to using music and dance to inspire positivity among the up and coming kids of Ghana. So when I went back, I was passing his house and knocked on the door. I thought he’d seen the film because his reply when I’d sent it to him in January was, ‘Wow, it looks very professional!’ But it transpired he hadn’t seen it because the clip never loaded. Before I knew it, I was sat in front of the family loading up YouTube and hoping for the best. Thankfully he loved it.”

Watch Papa Row - Rising Star

With a selection of images from Gold Dust currently being exhibited at London’s Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes, what’s next for Tripod City? “Exploration is at the heart of it. Each project needs to challenge expectations and inspire new ideas of places through its people. We're attracted to places that are developing. Places with stereotypes. Places that we know only through what we hear. The places we choose need to make a project that can change opinion and inspire an audiences imagination to re-think what they thought they knew.”

Gold Dust by Tripod City is on show at Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes, 32-34 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DA until August 16th. The book is published by Village.

Words Will Larnach-Jones
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