What does the new wave of African photography say about us?

In this piece of powerful images you will find the work of eight of the 25 photographers short-listed for the Contemporary African Photography (CAP) Prize for 2018.

It’s a bright and dynamic competition that’s not without its problems – the prize is open not just to African photographers, but any photographers working in Africa, which can sometimes result in a parachute approach to issues on the continent.

That said, each year the short list offers a dazzling and depressing visual representation of the stories our photographers feel compelled to tell.The new generation is reframing the grand traditions of African photography. 

While documenting social uprisings and injustices gave way to the lens being turned on the self – and the personal as political – our photographers are returning to photojournalistic documentation, but are doing so in a more stylised way.

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And portraits abound, as they always have in African photography history, often informed by street and studio photography.

But here displays of wealth and fancy make way for sometimes brutally poignant images of dignity in suffering.

Five of the 25 artists will be awarded the CAP Prize 2018 and their work will be shown at top photo exhibitions around the globe. The announcement will be at Photo Basel in June.

Jenevieve Aken's Monankim (2017)

Jenevieve Aken's Monankim (2017) is a startling black and white study of the young women of the Bakor people, a group of minority tribes from Cross River State, Nigeria. They are undergoing circumcision as a rite of passage to womanhood, emerging from the ‘fattening room’ as potential brides. Aken herself underwent the ritual and her camera refuses to judge.

Jason Florio's In Destination Europe (2015–2016)

Jason Florio's In Destination Europe (2015–2016) UK-born, Malta-based Florio documents an NGO rescue ship set up to save the lives of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Europe. A burning issue is presented with empathy, drama and an epic scale of composition, making the human subjects appear as flecks in an ocean.

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Anna Boyiazis's Finding Freedom in the Water (2016

Anna Boyiazis's Finding Freedom in the Water (2016) is a potent and visually rich series by this US-born photographer working in Zanzibar, where it is common to see boys and men swimming, but hardly ever women and girls. Boyiazis documents a class teaching Muslim women how to swim, opening doors that have been closed – even though they must wear full-length bathing suits. It is easy to read into the swimming class ritual the meaning of a baptism.

Amilton Neves Cuna's Godmothers of War

Amilton Neves Cuna's Godmothers of War / Madrinhas de Guerra (2015–2017) is a series by this Mozambican photographer. It “tells the story of the Mozambican women who took part in the National Women’s Movement from 1961 to 1974. These women were sponsored by the Portuguese government to provide moral support to the soldiers fighting on the front line during the Mozambican War of Independence.” While restoring their dignity, Cuna’s lens also offers the terrible sense of displacement that independence would bring to many.

Akpo Ishola's L’essentiel est invisible pour les y

Akpo Ishola's L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux (2014) is a powerful work about a grandmother – a common thread through the work of many of this year’s finalists. Ishola, born in Ivory Coast and working in Benin, offers an intimate look at the remaining objects from the dowry of her grandmother’s marriage. They place the matriarch at the fore, leaving her husband’s memory to emerge through his dowry.

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Yassine Alaoui Ismaili's Casablanca Not the Movie

Yassine Alaoui Ismaili's Casablanca Not the Movie (2014–2018) is a rich, celebratory and often surrealistic series from this young Moroccan photographer who references the famous movie Casablanca, shot in a Hollywood studio. “It is both a love letter to the city I call home and an effort to nuance the visual record for those whose exposure to Morocco’s famous city is limited to guide book snapshots, film depictions or Orientalist fantasies.”

Phumzile Khanyile's Plastic Crowns (2016)

Phumzile Khanyile's Plastic Crowns (2016) is a lurid and powerful series by one of three South Africans on the shortlist, and the only woman. In the work Khanyile reflects on being a young woman at odds with her grandmother’s strict morality. Refusing to be slut-shamed or judged, Khanyile says: “I wanted to unveil the dysfunction [in my family] and speak about what really happens behind closed doors.” 

Patricia Esteve's Out of this Life (2015–2017)

Patricia Esteve's Out of this Life (2015–2017) is by Spanish-born Esteve, who lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya. The series explores the stigma of suicide in Kenyan society, homing in on what happened when her friend Anita’s father took his own life and the family were shamed. It is an appeal to understand the burden of depression and mental illness.

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