The wonderful world of African photography – Africa is an exceptionally diverse place, but you wouldn't always know it judging from how it's depicted in photographs. For too long, the same stereotypes -- swinging between safari and slum shots -- have plagued the pictorial record of the continent.
Berlin-based media artist Benjamin Fuglister wanted to change all that. The editor and founder of piclet.org -- an online, international directory of hand-picked photographers -- found he was unaware of much of the talent documenting the region.
"I started to notice that a lot of the photography coming out of Africa over the years was coming from the same pool of people," he says.
Eager both to discover new talent from within Africa, and get that talent recognized by the international photography community, he launched the POPCAP prize for contemporary African photography. Though the contest is open to anyone, regardless of age or nationality, all photographs must be taken from either within Africa, or from one of the African diaspora communities abroad.
Now in its third year, POPCAP received over 720 submissions from 88 different countries. Last week, the five winners of this year's competition -- picked by a panel of 26 internationally-sourced judges -- were announced.
Patrick Willocq, I am Walé Respect Me
In his series "I am Walé Respect Me," the DRC-based photographer explores an initiation ritual for young mothers -- or Walé -- in the Ekonda pygmy community.
By Daisy Carrington, for CNN
Patrick Willocq, I am Walé Respect Me – New mothers live in seclusion with their parents for two to five years, and ultimately return to celebrations marked by dancing and ritual. During this celebration, they sing the story of their loneliness. For his series, Willocq asked a number of Walé to pose in staged photographs. Each image is a visual representation of the song sung by the participant.
"I've always been fascinated by native tribes because I feel they have a wealth that we have somehow lost," says Willocq.
"Today, many initiation rituals in the Congo are disappearing. The ritual of the Walé woman has resisted the pressures of modern life -- but for how long?"
Patrick Willocq, I am Walé Respect Me – "These photos are so elaborate, and Willocq showed a great technical skill," says Fuglister.
"The photos are just a very different way of dealing with the topic."
Joana Choumali, The last generation – Joana Choumali, The last generation
Joana Choumali was born in the Ivory Coast in 1974, at a time when scarifcation -- the practice of making decorative incisions on the skin -- was already on the decline in the region. Her portrait series, "The last generation", is one of the few contemporary explorations of the diminishing ritual.
Joana Choumali, The last generation – "I had trouble finding scarified people to photograph because of their rarity," admits Choumali.
"The practice is disappearing due to pressure from religious and state authorities, changing urban practices and the introduction of clothing within tribes."
Joana Choumali, The last generation – For Choumali, her subjects represent more than a dying practice, but the complicated issue of identity in modern Africa, which she sees as "torn between its past and its future."
"This series leads us to question the link between past and present, and how self-image shifts depending on environment," she says.
Joana Choumali, The last generation – Fuglister says the judges were impressed with Choumali's skill and her approach to the topic.
"This was definitely one of the best technical submissions we received. Through these portraits, she was able to tell this story about the past and about the history of the tribes and their role in modern-day society," he says.
Léonard Pongo, The uncanny – Léonard Pongo, The uncanny
Léonard Pongo has been working on "The Uncanny", a documentary project set in the Democratic Republic of Congo, since the 2011 presidential elections. He captured family members, political figures, religious leaders and local TV personalities in order to depict the collateral impact of the wars and infighting that destroyed vast stretches of the country.
Léonard Pongo, The uncanny – The project, says Pongo, had a personal objective as well. Though he was born (and still lives) in Belgium, his roots are Congolese.
"I wanted to try to understand Congolese society, and recover a part of my own identity," he admits.
"This story brings a vision of the country, as experienced from within."
Léonard Pongo, The uncanny – Fuglister notes that one advantage African photographers have over their Western colleagues is better access, a point he says Pongo's work demonstrates.
"It's something you can't really photograph if you're an outsider and don't know the people," he says.
Ilan Godrey, Legacy of the mine – Ilan Godrey, Legacy of the mine
In "Legacy of the mine", South African photographer Illan Godrey decided to examine the complicated role that mining has played in the political and economic make-up of his country. His photos, taken in a journalistic style, are subtle, and capture the everyday lives of those living in the "forgotten communities" (as he calls them) that have been impacted by the mining industry.
Ilan Godrey, Legacy of the mine – "Irrespective of the particular minerals extracted, 'the mine' is central in understanding societal change across the country," says Godrey. His images also look at how the mining industry has contributed to the pollution of South Africa's air, water and land, and how that, in turn, has affected the health of its people.
Ilan Godrey, Legacy of the mine – "These photos are great because they're actually telling a very big narrative. It's not just about the fall-down of the mine industry after apartheid. Godrey actually tells quite an elaborate story," says Fuglister.
Steketee & Blankevoort, Love Radio – Steketee & Blankevoort, Love Radio
Photographer Anoek Steketee and journalist-filmmaker Eefje Blankevoort take a documentary look at Rwandan radio soap Musekeweya ("New Dawn"), which was created by NGO Radio La Benevolencija 10 years ago in an effort to reconcile the Hutu and Tutsi population in the wake of the Rwandan genocide.
Steketee & Blankevoort, Love Radio – The radio soap -- broadcast on the same frequency that in 1994 was airing hate speech aimed at inciting the Hutus -- takes place in the fictional, conflicting villages of Muhumuro and Bumanzi. Two main characters -- Shema and Baamuriza -- are star-crossed lovers caught up in the tide. The show -- which attracts an estimated 80% of the population -- is meant to teach listeners how violence is formed, and how it can be prevented.
Steketee & Blankevoort, Love Radio – The photos -- which have a slightly tongue-and-cheek romantic sheen to them -- explore the effectiveness of NGOs and fiction in dealing with complex issues in the African continent.
"In a way, they're both supporting the role of this radio soap, but at the same time they criticizing the work of NGOs that come in from the outside to try and make a better world," says Fuglister.