After making plans to visit Ghana for a vacation, photographer Adrian Morris just couldn’t help but put his camera to work. From east to west, along the coast, Adrian captured candid and ethereal moments that aren’t easy to come by.
In early 2018, Australian photographer Adrian Morris traveled to Ghana. Initially, he went to chase waves—Ghana’s coast is home to great surf—and take a break from his working life. But as he began to research his trip, his interest in the region grew, and he couldn’t help but take his camera along for the ride.
In what is one of Africa’s most overlooked travel destinations, Adrian found himself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of photo opportunities Ghana afforded him. “The first thing I noticed was the color,” he says. “The colors of the clothes the women wore, of the small wooden houses, of the shops, of the hand-painted fishing boats. And there was this smoky haze that never seemed to disappear—even on a sunny day. It gave the place a real atmosphere and energy.”
Adrian’s short trip turned into a month-long stint while he worked on a couple of personal photography and video projects. He spent most of his time on the eastern half of the coast, close to the border with Togo, and passed through Ada Foah and other small villages along the mouth of the Volta River.
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He visited the Songor Salt Lagoon, where he stopped for a while to get to know some of the local workers. Salt has been harvested at Songor for hundreds of years, but recently, workers have been fighting to keep the land from the clutches of private corporations, who want to start harvesting the salt on an industrial scale—a potential disaster for the local people and the environment.
Adrian also ventured into Ghana’s Western Region, tracing the length of the coast and enjoying his time between the towns of Takoradi and Beyin the most. As he traveled, he noticed how much the country changed—culturally and topographically—from place to place, region to region.
I always think it’s important to try and take photos of the way something makes me feel rather than just take photos of what something looks like, if that makes sense.
“East to west, south to north, it’s all completely different,” he says. “Totally different languages, traditions and landscapes. I thought that was incredible. On the coast, I sometime felts like I was on a remote island in the Caribbean. Other times, it was like being in the heart of a busy African city. For a country that’s nowhere near as big as others in Africa, I thought that was pretty unique.”
Adventure.com: Adrian, tell us a little about yourself, your work and how you came to be a photographer.
Adrian Morris: I became interested in photography when I started to travel in my early 20s. I had a small film camera that a friend gave me. I took it with me everywhere and I gradually became obsessed with trying to document the places, cultures, people and stories I was experiencing. I now work as a photographer full-time, but I’m still constantly trying to develop the art of portraying a moment.
From a photographic point of view, what was special about Ghana?
I was drawn to the people and the way they do things, the way they live, the stories they have to tell, and their culture and beliefs.
Your Ghana collection features lots of photos of people. How important to you is it to develop a relationship or a rapport with your subjects?
Respecting the people and culture I’m photographing is very important to me. I try and walk around, meet and talk with people first and establish some sort of connection. I try and show them I have good intentions before I start taking photos.
It’s hard to do that sometimes, especially in spontaneous street scenes, but I try to judge the situation as best I can without being too invasive. I had lots of brief, intimate connections with people in the streets. They were so curious about why I was there and what I was doing.
In the Volta Region [the most easterly region of Ghana, bordering Togo], I traveled to a small town called Dzita and visited a fetish shrine. The leader of that community was a woman known as Mama Mamishie Rasta—she’s a powerful person in her region, and I had to gain her trust before I felt comfortable taking any photos. It was the same story in the salt fields.
If you look past the way things look at first glance and spend more time looking at the details, sometimes it’s surprising how beautiful a place can become.
A lot of these photos have a whimsical, almost other-worldly quality to them. Is that something you set out to do intentionally, or something that just happens?
I guess I’m drawn to details that I find beautiful, even in situations that wouldn’t normally be considered ‘beautiful’. I try to focus on light and texture, movement and color and try to create a certain atmosphere from what’s in front of me.
I always think it is important to try and take photos of the way something makes me feel rather than just take photos of what something looks like, if that makes sense. If I don’t have a particular story or project in mind, then I just try to capture what I see and feel, and let things happen organically.
The salt lagoon wasn’t that beautiful to look at, but I focused on the things I found interesting—the color of the salt in the water, patterns and shadows made by the sunlight, the movement of the workers, and the way those movements created a composition. If you look past the way things look at first glance and spend more time looking at the details, sometimes it’s surprising how beautiful a place can become. I think you can always find the beauty in things.
Is there a particular photo in this series that you can look at and think, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly the feeling I was trying to capture…’?
Maybe the photo of the kid running his hand through the river. It’s a simple photo, but it was a really nice moment that I remember clearly. We were sitting on a small wooden boat and crossing the river at the end of a very hot day; the sun had already gone down and the sky was almost pitch black.
The water was completely still, everyone was quiet, and you just make out the trees and plants around us and the small huts in the distance. This little boy in front of me was trailing his arm in the water and splashing it on his face to cool down. I feel like the movement and light in the photo captures how I was feeling and observing that moment.
Where were your favourite places in Ghana?
I really loved the eastern coast of Ghana from a photography perspective, and that of someone who loves to dig deep, experience the culture, and get to know the people. And if you’re after deserted tropical beaches and incredible landscapes and nature, I’d definitely recommend Ghana’s Western Region.
From your trip, and the photographs you brought back from it, what is your lasting impression of the country?
At that fetish shrine in Dzita, the locals were practising spiritual rituals—some of them pretty questionable from an outsider’s perspective. But it was interesting to step into a world so different to my own, and go into it with an open mind. Mama Mamishie Rasta and the rest of the community welcomed me in and were so kind to me.
Different cultures have different beliefs and none are necessarily right or wrong—as long as we respect each other and be kind to each other, I think that’s the kind of thing traveling somewhere like Ghana really brings home.
And just in general, it’s always interesting to see the way people do things with the tools and materials they have. I guess in some poorer areas they don’t have access to the same things we take for granted, but they find other ways to make it work.
I remember a bunch of kids playing with these toy cars they had made out of bottle caps and tin cans with string tied to them—they were having just as much fun, if not more, than any kid I’ve seen in Europe or Australia playing with an expensive toy from a shop.
Oliver is the Australia editor of Adventure.com. Originally from the UK, he's lived in Melbourne since 2011 and writes for a range of international travel and music publications.