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Charlie Kwai: Easter Heads

Work / Photography

Charlie Kwai photographs Ghanaians buried in sand to avoid the heat – or just for a laugh

It’s Nice That’s Ones to Watch shines a light on 12 emerging talents who we think will conquer the creative world in the coming year. Over the coming months, we’ll be catching up with creatives from our 2019 selection to see what they’ve been up to. Ones to Watch 2019 is supported by Uniqlo.

Every few months, Charlie Kwai comes back to us with a new photography series somehow better than the last. One consistent gem in his portfolio is his work based in Ghana, where he finds there is always “unfinished business” and so finds himself revisiting again and again. “The Ghanaians keep me coming back,” he tells us. “Considering the massively contrasting circumstances between us, it fascinates me how I share the same sense of humour and outlook on life with so many people I meet and know in Ghana.”

Charlie’s most recent trip took place over an unlikely holiday: Easter. Each year in Ghana, on Easter Monday in particular, crowds of Ghanaians head to the beach and so Charlie was faced with “thousands of people squeezed onto a few hundred metres of sand – complete photographic heaven – so I returned to build the series.”

Charlie’s work from this trip also sees him attempting to try “to get better at describing events,” he explains. Considering Charlie’s work usually features singular portraits and details with a high flash, a style that has become his signature, scale is an element he’s looking to explore further. “I’m always so close, too close to know that there’s thousands of people,” he says, “so going back helps me add depth into the project and communicate better the context around the moments I capture.”

One selection of photographs Charlie shared with us from this trip is a series of portraits, but not as you’d expect. Due to the heat at this time of year, he spotted groups of people burying themselves in the sand in order to escape. “Apparently it’s a remedy for heat rash,” he tells us. “I can’t confirm that fact for myself though, neither does it make any sense. But in all honesty, it’s just for the laughs.” He continues: “Sometimes they can stay buried up to the eyeballs for hours, completely alone while their mates are playing football or swimming – not so fun.” Compositionally, the images demonstrate Charlie’s experimentations with scale in an interesting way. While the series doesn’t exactly display scale en mass, it provides the illusion of a bustling beach through tight crops – and the fact his subjects are burying themselves for a little extra room.

In terms of set up, having your subject already buried, stuck and unable to wiggle around if camera shy, is pretty ideal for a photographer. That being said, “they all welcomed a picture and were keen to pose, not that I really gave them any choice.” However as you’ll see from the photographs, expression is what Charlie captures in each of his subjects, something that took a fair amount of perseverance. “I’d generally sit and chat for a while, get to know one another, exchange numbers and make a picture in between. The credit is all theirs, because they did all the hard work with the burial, I just took the picture.”

Titled Easter Heads this selection of photographs from Ghana is part of a wider project, and Charlie’s now on the hunt for a publisher to collaborate with. The next trip, as always with Charlie, is already in mind and we’re sure he’ll continue to discover unlikely moments to represent photographically. And excitingly, he’s looking to expand into filming this area of the world which has become a consistent source of inspiration.

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Charlie Kwai: Easter Heads

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Charlie Kwai: Easter Heads

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Charlie Kwai: Easter Heads

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Charlie Kwai: Easter Heads

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Charlie Kwai: Easter Heads

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Charlie Kwai: Easter Heads

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Charlie Kwai: Easter Heads