︎︎︎ Homepage        2020_06_25        Interview


Carola Cappellari speaks to Anne Alagbe, co-founder of No! Wahala Magazine, about the process that led her to create Africa’s first contemporary photography magazine dedicated to African photographers.

In this conversation, Anne Alagbe shares her experience of starting and running No! Wahala Magazine, after graduating in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography in London in 2019. Addressing some of the continuing challenges that African photographers face in getting international exposure, Anne talks about the potential of the magazine and the importance of collaboration and teamwork to push initiatives forward.

CC       “What were the thoughts and context that led you to start a magazine that focuses on photographers based in Africa?

AA        I moved to Nigeria in January to join my partner, a photojournalist who covers West Africa, who helped me get the idea. The first thing I realised is that at large, there were no platforms or photography magazines in Africa or Nigeria. I realised that many African photographers were not really getting the recognition they deserved. I saw that there was still a correlation, a recurring issue of photographers flying into African countries to carry out assignments, flying in and out, getting their work published, and winning awards.

I then thought “hold on”, there are so many amazing photographers here in Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda. If you have a budget to fly in a photographer to go to those countries, why don’t you use that budget to hire a photographer who is based in that country, based in that community, someone who could even get a lot more access to the story? I was also constantly seeing photographers from the West taking pictures that misrepresented the people they were photographing.

If we had someone from the country who can tell the stories themself, it would help to eradicate this misrepresentation. So that’s when I thought: “why don’t I start a magazine? Why don’t I start a platform that showcases authentic visual stories by African creatives that can be seen by important industry people, photo editors, curators? All of these people can then commission them to cover the stories themselves.”

AA        You work both in London and Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. How would you say the art scene in Abuja differs from the one in London?

BB        London is literally the capital of art, but here in Abuja, Nigeria at large [the art scene] is different. A lot of Nigerian parents don’t take art seriously, there’s also a lot of pressure on those who want to get into arts and want to enter the creative industry. Photography is not considered a credible profession and so the magazine is an example of another way that you can enter the creative industry. It’s a resource hub for people to get creative and inspired by photography. I share a lot of resources that talk about ethics: how to photograph people ethically and get to know your subjects. Simple things like writing an email or how to submit work for a competition. So that’s what inspired me.

CC         What would you say are the benefits of actually being in the capital of Nigeria and operating from there?

AA         The benefit is that I can relate to photographers here. It’s one thing for me being in a comfortable house in London saying “Hey, I am starting a magazine and I want to help you guys out”, and another thing to be in their environment where I am seeing their struggles first-hand and experiencing them myself. I am more privileged than a lot of them, but it’s just nice to operate from their environment, being closer to them. I do think it was really important for me to start in Nigeria because people will listen to you more if they can relate to you. It also affects the way I make content, because in London while at University we learned about how to find a part-time job to fund our practice, there are apps to see if jobs are available in the next couple of hours. There is not such a thing here in Nigeria, so now when I am talking I have to find a way to stick that out.

CC         We both come from a background in Photojournalism and we’re not necessarily trained in publishing. Practically speaking, how did you start the magazine, both in terms of its structure and content?

BB         First of all, I spoke to two people I knew who had created magazines, one was Max Ferguson, the founding editor of Splash & Grab Magazine, and Luke Archer, founder of Loupe Magazine. I just sent them an email saying “Hi, I want to start my own magazine. I know you started a magazine before and I need advice please”. I chatted with Max on Facetime and literally just asked him a list of questions. I wasn’t generic with the questions, I was straight to the point, talking about fees and money.

With Luke, I asked technical questions such as what type of paper he uses and who he prints with. We started by getting our website and Instagram online because in order to have a magazine we needed to have followership. I then was going through lots of magazines, researching the paper types with the help of Max. I used InDesign to make a mockup to apply for funding to get our magazine printed because the magazine is self-funded and right now, times are hard. You need to know how many copies you want to print and the price, as this affects the funding you are applying for. There was a lot of research, a lot of writing down notes - the organisation is key.

CC         You highlighted the importance of reaching out to contacts you knew who went through a similar process to yours. When you arrived in Nigeria, you probably didn’t have as many contacts in the local art scene: how did you manage to get in contact with many people, and how has No! Wahala Magazine been received in the African and European art scene so far?

AA         To be honest, the magazine has been well received here [in Nigeria] because it’s new. It’s something that people haven’t really done yet. There is something new and more authentic in something owned by someone who is black, who is Nigerian - it’s a bit more credible. Everyone that I know here in the industry is through my partner. He’s spoken to lots of other photographers who have jumped on board.

The creative industry here in Nigeria is like a community, everyone knows each other and because [the magazine] is something new, everyone is looking forward to what's to come.

In terms of London and the UK, it has been well received at large because at the moment everyone is looking for something that is founded by Africans or people of colour. The whole aim is to champion African creatives as Africa is a continent where many photographers have benefited from depicting suffering and poverty. Unfortunately, there is an image of Africa that depicts poverty and suffering and that’s obviously not the only thing. So people are really happy that we are trying to show another aspect which changes that ingrained narrative, [it tries to show] that this poverty and suffering are just a small fraction of the truth.

Of course, the media makes it seem as if that’s the only thing, but there is so much more. Let us tell our stories for you instead of them being told and misrepresented for us.

There is a lot of anticipation, people are looking forward to seeing what we produce and the benefits that will come from it.  

CC         In the last few weeks the topics of representation and diversity have been particularly recurrent in the media. Many renowned publications have addressed the cause and declared their intentions of making a change.

It is interesting to observe the contrast between the inclusivity these organisations are aiming to achieve compared to the exclusivity that No! Wahala Magazine intentionally sets in place. There are already some publications focusing on African talents, however yours is committed to drawing attention to photographers working and operating in the African continent. Are you also interested in featuring African photographers living and working outside Africa, and how do you manage to reach all these people?

AA         Yes, we have featured people who are based in London but are from the African Diaspora. I grew up in the UK and so I am a bit more privileged than someone who grew up here [in Nigeria] who may not have had so many opportunities. I went to school for free, here people have to pay and some don’t have money to go to school; these are the kind of privileges I am talking about. We do try to emphasise stories by creatives who are based in Africa, but we are also open to people who are from the African Diaspora. It can be really challenging [reaching people], I go through Instagram and search using the hashtag “African photographers” or through the African Photojournalists Database, a World Press Photo initiative.

CC         Do you find the same amount of possibilities in terms of connecting to photo editors in Africa? What kind of audience would you like to reach?

AA         In Abuja and Nigeria there are not many photo editors, most of the photographers are actually being employed internationally by CNN or The New York Times. There are not many photo editors in Africa at large to be honest. When I say the creative industry here is difficult, I mean if you are looking for people to hire you then you have to go international as there aren’t many home-grown, local photo editors or publications that can commission you to do a job. Our audience is industry people and we focus on [promoting] young documentary photographers. Based on our insights on Instagram, our audience ranges from the ages of 18 to 45.

CC         How do you see No! Wahala Magazine evolving in the future? Do you have any goals that you aim to pursue?

AA         Definitely. Right now our magazine will be distributed in Nigeria, Lagos and Abuja, but we want it to be distributed throughout the whole of Africa as well as in the UK and Europe where the Diaspora is quite large. We really want to expand as a platform, hosting workshops, exhibitions, portfolio reviews and becoming a household name for the African creative industry. We want to get to the point where if a photo editor is looking to commission someone in Ghana, then they can come to our platform and see which photographers are available to work - this is the aspiration of our magazine. We will try to publish the magazine twice a year so that we can make sure to feature a good amount of content and work. There are so many logistics behind making a whole magazine, it’s very important to pay attention to all the details”.

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Carola Cappellari (1995, Italy), is a visual artist that alternates autobiographical and documentary approaches to investigate themes of identity and belonging. She graduated in Documentary Photography from the London College of Communication. (www.carolacappellari.com)

Anne Alagbe is a British-Nigerian visual artist and the founding editor of No! Wahala Magazine, a print photography magazine that champions authentic visual stories by African creatives. She graduated in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at University Of The Arts London. (www.annealagbe.com)