DYNAMIC AFRICANS: Yannis Davy.
Gabon may not be one of the first countries that pops into your head when you think of great African photographers, or even visual artists, but 19-year-old Gabonese photographer-in-the-making Yannis Guibinga is not one to let this void easily deter him.
Intrigued by his background, the photographs of Gabon he shares with us, and the sense of youthfulness he captures so well, we interviewed Yannis ahead of his instagram takeover for us this week. Here, the young college student shares his life experiences growing up in multiple countries across several continents, as well as his journey as a young Gabonese and African photographer.
How would you describe yourself in a few words?
My name is Yannis Davy Gérard Guibinga but I go by “Yannis Davy” on the internet mostly because it is easier to say and remember. I am 19 and currently live in the Toronto Area (Mississauga) while studying Digital Enterprise Management at the University of Toronto.
I was born in France but lived in Gabon, a small country in Central Africa, most of my life before travelling for university.
I also take photos sometimes.
You’re from Gabon where you traveled to recently and took these photos you’re sharing with us on our blog and on instagram. Can you tell us a little bit about your trip back there, as well as your experiences being a young in the African Diaspora, Canada specifically?
My mother and I moved back to Gabon when I was around 1 and to be honest I don’t really remember what life was like in France. My earliest childhood memory consists of me playing with my toys in my grandmother’s living room. I guess we can’t really generalize about what growing up in Africa or even in Gabon is like since we all have different lives and live in different situations, but as far as I can remember it was nice. I was always surrounded by family and friends so I guess I had a pretty decent childhood.
Though I only have one sibling, a little sister, I grew up around most of my cousins, some of them older; it was nice to grow up around people I could look up to.
Photography is definitely something you enjoy, it’s how you landed on our radar. How long have you been taking photographs? Tell us about your relationship with photography and how you got started pursuing this particular visual art form.
I think I started photography three years ago in high school. Before that, I was mostly into graphic design. As a graphic designer, I started out working with images of my friends and random celebrities to play around with but I quickly realized that using other people’s photographs was extremely limiting in some ways, so I started taking photographs of my own.
My foray into photography began with a small and inexpensive camera that I used to take random photos of my friends around school, which I would use later for graphic design purposes. I quickly realized that I was better at taking the photos than I was at editing them to create some sort of visual art piece so I eventually dropped graphic design and focused solely on photography. A friend eventually taught me how to use a DSLR and from then on, my confidence built up and I began organizing “photoshoots” with friends.
As much as I enjoyed this, I felt a need to expand my horizons and find other ways to express myself through photography. In order to diversify my work and try new things, I’m hoping that with time, my work will continue to develop as I’m still a young photographer. I can only be excited by what is next and thankful for my journey so far.
What role, if any, does being Gabonese or being African play in your creative process? Are these parts of your identity something you’re aware of as a photographer?
I think being African plays a part in everything I do – especially since I am currently living in a country in which I am a minority. Whether I am aware of it or not, being African is a part of my identity. I think my creative process is greatly influenced by culture and experience; I don’t believe the way I think while taking photos and the way an occidental photographer thinks would ever be the same because we have different perspective on life. We come from different backgrounds, have seen different things and have a totally different culture. But Africa is a huge continent so I think that even among African artists the creative process might be different for the same reason.
To me, your culture shapes the way you see and experience things and ultimately, it shapes what you do and how you do things.
Do you think of yourself as a ‘photographer’ or an ‘African photographer’, or perhaps a mixture of the two?
I really believe that I am African (and Gabonese) before I am anything else. I may stop being a photographer one day but I was African when I was born and I will be African when I will die. So yes, I guess I think of myself as an ‘African photographer’ more than anything else.
Are there any particular photographers that influence or inspire you?
Mert & Marcus, Alice Kong, Tamara Lichtenstein, Dennis Auburn, Jorden Keith, David Urbanke, Grant Legan and David Bellemere are fashion photographers whose work I really admire.
When it comes to African photographers I admire and am inspired by “Quazimotto On Wax”, Omar Victor Diop and of course the late and great Seydou Keita.
Also, shout out to Solange Knowles’ extremely inspiring instagram account, lol.
As a young African creative at a time when African photographers are celebrated more than ever, do you plan on pursuing photography as a career? Are your parents supportive of your foray into the arts, we all know that stereotype?
If I have the opportunity to pursue photography as a career I think I will but I don’t think this will be the only thing that I’ll end up doing. I truly love what I do but I also like what I’m studying right now and I’m thinking about possibly going to Law School after my bachelor’s degree. Honestly, I don’t think my parents would be too thrilled about me ending up as a photographer when they spent that much money in my education. But it’s always nice to know that I have something I still can go back to, just in case.
Thanks so much for a brilliant interview Yannis!
If you’d like to see more of his work or connect with him on social media, you can find him on his Tumblr photography page, instagram, twitter, and personal tumblr page.
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