Everything Is Alright with Civilization in Burkina Faso: David Pace Discovers Modern Day Africa
Lives in San Francisco. Has been teaching photography in different colleges for 20 years. His projects about Burkina Faso were published in National Geographic, LensCulture, and The Huffington Post.
My first visit to Burkina Faso was in 2007. A non-profit organization called “Friends of African Libraries” (FAVL) needed photographs for promotional purposes. I found that Bereba, the remote village where the first library was founded, was fascinating. I could see photographic possibilities everywhere. My first trip was very difficult – there was no electricity or running water, the heat was oppressive and I did not speak the language. The national language in Burkina Faso is French, but most people speak Mossi, Gourmanché or Mande. However, I was determined to return. I have gone back at least once each year for a decade.
In Burkina Faso, community and family are important. As I became trusted as a photographer and a member of the village I had access to events that an outsider might never see.
I had always wanted to chronicle “real life” as an invisible observer. I quickly realized that this was impossible in Africa. The only way to take the kind of pictures I envisioned was to become part of the process – to become so familiar that I nearly disappeared.
Interacting with people in Burkina Faso is easy. They are wonderful. That is perhaps the main reason I keep returning. I always work with a guide and driver. I speak French with them and they are able to translate if necessary into one of the six major language groups in this small country. Virtually no one speaks English.
Everything is alright with civilization in Burkina Faso: most villagers have cellphones today and many use Facebook. I have many email and Facebook friends. I hear from someone almost every day.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Burkina Faso is how connected the people are with the rest of the world. There is very little tourism or infrastructure, but they are very aware of international politics, sports and global culture.
I am interested in showing all aspects of daily life in the village of Bereba. Some themes are easy to organize into photographic projects and stand on their own – like the Friday Night dances and the Market Day portraits. Others are more difficult and require more background information. I am still struggling with some of the material I have gathered – like the fortune tellers, shamans and religious rituals I have photographed.
The future of Burkina Faso is an intriguing question. Gold has very recently become the major export, surpassing cotton, which was for decades the main cash crop. This increases the GNP, but puts tremendous strain on the society, which has been agrarian for generations.
We have a lot to learn from Burkina Faso. Africa in general is portrayed by the Western media either as a place of catastrophes or as an exotic location for safaris and romantic tribal rituals. But it is a huge continent of tremendous diversity. Most people live meaningful and fulfilling lives, even though they have fewer possessions. The simple, beautiful aspects of daily life seldom get portrayed.
My goal is to present Burkina Faso in a positive light and to show that even in a remote and traditional village like Bereba the villagers are connected with and part of modernity.
I used to tell people I would work on the Burkina project for 10 years, thinking that would be enough time to finish the project. It has now been a decade since I began and I know there is more to learn and more stories to tell. I’m not sure if a project like this is ever completed.