Barack Obama’s image has become ubiquitous across Africa. Coinciding with the 45th US Presidential Election on 6 November 2012, this series of photographs by Harry Hook express Africa’s affection for Obama.
‘Who is your father?’ This vitally important question in most parts of rural Africa means Obama (born of a Kenyan father) is seen as an African son. ‘Claimed’ by the continent, Africa’s passion for Obama seems more enduring than mere support for a political candidate. Some of the subjects of Hook’s photographs suggested that the US President is not simply a role model. Instead, wearing Obama’s image holds an almost totemic power for them: although unlikely to ever meet him, they can look up to him and believe that he, in turn, will watch over them.
When Obama entered the White House many pundits anticipated that his influence would cause America’s approach to Africa to be vigorous, transformative, and pro-active. In fact, he has spent just three days and a single night in Africa since becoming President, surprising political commentators and strategists. The expectations of some African governments may have been dashed, but for most rural Africans Obama’s record in Africa is not an issue – the dealings of their own governments with foreign powers is something entirely remote from the reality of their everyday lives. Obama’s heroic status remains undiminished across rural Africa. For most of the population Obama is, like them, an African, who just happens to hold the most powerful job in the world.
Harry Hook is an award-winning writer, director and photographer, best known for his work in Hollywood film and British television drama. Feature films he has directed include the 1989 adaptation of William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, and his television work includes drama such as ‘Silent Witness’ as well as documentaries. Brought up in East Africa, Hook went on to study Photography at The London College of Printing and Film at the National Film School. Much of his work in film and television explores his love of Africa, and he returns regularly to capture the continent on film.
Never previously exhibited, these photographs were taken in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burkino Faso and Mali, and show the face of Obama adorning walls, clothing and jewellery.