The technological revolution in this 21st century has ensured that almost everyone has access to a camera on their phones.
However, this does not in anyway negate the importance of professional photography. It is, therefore, important to note that when it comes to photography, there is a difference between photographers and picture takers.
In Ghana, notable people like Bob Pixel, Ben Bond, and Twins Don’t Beg come to mind when photography is mentioned, but for the media space, the name that stands tall is David Andoh.
Born on March 4, 1972, at Ekumfi Obidan, a small farming community in the Ekumfi District of the Central Region, Dave, as he is called by close friends, understands that camera angles, lens control, and location all play an important role when coming out with the perfect picture.
Diving into his background, Dave said he was born to the late Sampson K. Andoh and late Comfort Brew on a beautiful Saturday morning. While his father was a teacher and a cocoa farmer, his mother had her own farm too.
Between his father’s three wives, Dave had 18 siblings. His mother, the youngest amongst the wives had four children but one died.
Dave lost his mom in the late 90s, but his father died in June, 2021 at the age of 106 and is yet to be buried.
Early life and childhood
Touching on his educational background, Dave explained that the inability of his parents to sustain their marriage caused him to drop out of primary school for three years. He said after his mother walked out of the marriage, his father refused to take care of him and his siblings.
It was the fortunate threat from a new headteacher who was posted to Ekumfi Obidan/ Potwabin D.A Basic School that forced most parents in the community to return their children to school.
“I still remember that headteacher. His name is Teacher Kingful. I remember that when he was posted to our community, the school was almost empty because a lot of parents had taken their children out. So he called a town hall meeting and said he was going to get every parent who had a child at home arrested. His threat worked. I was immediately sent back to school and I passed my basic school exams,” he recalled.
After that, young Dave gained admission into Ekumfi Asaafa Methodist Junior High School where he had his form one to form four education.
The school which was about 7 miles from his community, meant trekking every day to and fro. He also had to cross a river before getting there. In the rainy season, schoolchildren could get trapped on one side of the river depending on where they were when it rained.
He was however determined to complete school so he could attend a technical institution for training; so while others dropped out, the trekking continued for four years.
After graduating, Dave says life took another turn when an aunty who was resident abroad and had promised to help him further his education died.
With no money to enroll himself into any technical institution, Dave left Ekumfi to engage in some labour work at Prestea Goldfields. This was in the year 1989.
“I remember my days in Prestea. The idea was to make enough money so I can start something for myself. After my aunty came back from the US and died in Ghana, I knew no one was going to help me with school.
“You should have seen the kind of jobs I did. I wasn’t selective. Once the pay is good, I will accept the job and work very hard at it so that next time you will come looking for me."
In that same year, he relocated to Akwatia also in the Eastern Region to engage in illegal mining popularly known as galamsey for about two months.
According to him, he fell sick and almost died. He, therefore, returned home for treatment. Shortly after that, his mother, Comfort Brew died in the year 1990.
"It was my aunty who suggested the galamsey thing. She asked if I was interested so that she will connect me. I agreed. I was introduced to some of the illegal miners and they seem to have it all. Some were living in nice houses, had their own motorbikes and a lot of money. I was happy that I was going to return home rich.
"Every day, we will leave home around 3:00am to the galamsey sites. We will dig for the sand and stones and after 12 noon we will carry the sand to the river side to wash for the diamonds.
"The work was tedious. I was carrying sand in sacks, walking very long distance and I was still not finding any diamonds.
"After two weeks, I just couldn't do it anymore. I was asked to come for money and go home. It was the day I was going for the money that we found diamonds. But by then my interest was gone."
Between 1990 and 1993, Dave had the opportunity to train at Studio 105 De International at Obuasi when his brother recommended him for an apprenticeship. The CEO of Studio 105 De International, Ebow Philip Ainoo-Ansah made sure Dave learnt all the basic things on photography.
It was there that his love for photography and storytelling began.
Moving to the big city
After the three-year training, Dave moved to Dansoman in the Greater Accra Region to stay with his step brother.
It was there that he got access to his first personal camera.
“My brother had a 'provisions' shop and I was taking care of it for him. One day, he came home with a camera for me. It was a Canon AV1. He was the first person to get me a camera and I can never forget.”
Again, he revealed that the location of the 'provisions' shop was close to a hostel being used by students from the Ghana Institute of Journalism.
With his background in photography and his new camera, Dave started taking passport size pictures for the students.
According to him, his first friend was Edwin Arthur, then a student of GIJ who is currently the President of the Private Newspaper Publishers Association of Ghana.
He said when Edwin was leaving GIJ, he introduced him to one Emmanuel Kojo Kwarteng, currently Corporate Communications Specialist at GCB Bank, who was also a student at GIJ. These two men, he stressed, played critical roles in his professional life.
“Kojo Kwarteng was the one who introduced me to Abel Somo Gayvolor who was by then the Photojournalist Lecturer at GIJ. This lecturer gave me my first assignment. When I returned with the pictures, he was impressed. He asked me to go and cover a clean-up exercise for him that was taking place on the Accra High Street. Again, he liked what he saw. So he asked me if I wanted to be trained in photojournalism and I said yes. He mentioned the short courses being organized by GIJ and in 1995, I paid my fees and enrolled for training.”
Dave explains that during his training, he met different people from various media houses already operating in Accra. Sometimes, these students will ask him to accompany them on their assignments so he could take pictures for their stories.
Later, he met two young ladies who had teamed up to run a newspaper - Ruby Ofori, who used to work with the BBC and Efam Awo Dovi, who was working part–time for the Mirror Newspaper. They were operating the Dansoman Newspaper.
“...and because this newspaper was being run by ladies, Madam Theresa Tagoe, who was running as the NPP MP for Ablekuma South around 1996 got a lot of coverage. I was not only covering the campaign for the newspaper but also for her.
"Unfortunately in 1997, the newspaper collapsed. So I went back to being unemployed,” Mr. Andoh said.
But with God on his side, his former friend, Edwin Arthur took him to the Independence Newspaper. Through Mr. Arthur, he met Kojo Larbi who was then the News Editor but currently works with Stanbic Bank as Communications Manager.
“The team loved my work. I made sure I delivered constantly and I was also swift when it came to my work. Those days Dansoman could get flooded a lot and no matter the time or day, I will be out there taking pictures.
"In the morning, I will quickly go and buy a newspaper from the news stand before I get to the office. I just couldn’t wait to see my work. I was always proud when I delivered and very happy when my pictures are used."
Recalling some major moments in his life, David Andoh said one of his most challenging assignments was when he was sent to Sunyani to cover the NPP Delegates Conference which saw former President John Agyekum Kufuor elected as flagbearer.
He said his coverage of the Delegates’ Conference was so intense that he caught the attention of the TV3 crew. A feature on him was put together, giving him his first appearance on national television.
“After this I got another offer from the Financial Post and that was around 1999. Kojo Kwarteng was the same person who took me there for an interview. I was given employment.
"But in 2000, the paper collapsed and I had to start freelancing again. While some of the students I took pictures for gave me money after a gig, others gave me a byline or a mention.”
This according to Dave continued until he got another job with Voice of Students Newspaper in Tema as a photo editor.
“This job was very interesting because mini-skirts were the order of the day. I was tasked to take pictures of people who dressed indecently. To do this, I will go on Legon campus, position myself very well and take good pictures for the centre spread and the front page of the newspaper. Then in the morning, Peacefm’s Sekyere Boateng who was hosting the newspaper review will take my pictures and comment on it. I will listen every morning. But this paper also collapsed and I had no choice but to freelance again.”
Back to the 'provision' shop and unemployed, David said his popularity around Dansoman gave him access to places and made him some money.
He got invited to both public and private events and programmes to take professional photographs of the occasion.
Fast forward in 2005, David Andoh joined a newspaper called the National Guardian which was being run by Mr. Kofi Badu, former Managing Director of Graphic Communications Group.
“When I told Mr. Badu I was a photographer, he did not believe me. I told him I needed a job and I was ready to prove myself. So he asked me to go and take a picture and bring it to him. He said he wanted a picture of Winner’s Chapel because of some scandal surrounding the church back then. The first time I went, I could not get access to the place, but the second time I went there, a friend gave me a place to stand so I could get great pictures. Mr. Badu was impressed and gave me a job after that.”
But in 2006, he quit and went to work for the Business Week Newspaper. There he was given the centre spread and a segment called Weekly Event. He also covered all banking-related programmes for the company.
“When the newspaper is also working on a profile for a company, I was asked to cover it. After one year, the paper asked everyone to reapply, but I didn’t. I became unemployed again and started freelancing”.
In 2007, Kojo Kwarteng again took David Andoh to Global Media Alliance. He was in charge of taking pictures for HappyGhana.com and Sundayworld. Dave says he worked with the media house for just a year.
After that, he was approached by Mr. Isaac Yeboah with another job offer. This time, Dave was to join the campaign trail of former President Jerry John Rawlings as he campaigned for former President John Evans Atta Mills.
This was in 2008.
“We travelled across the country and this was my first close encounter with President Rawlings. I remember that before we set off every morning, he will come and shake everybody’s hand. He will also find out if we had eaten. In the beginning, the soliders and bodyguards did not trust me because I wasn’t a party member but the professionalism with which I discharged my duty brought about trust. I took some very good pictures,” he added.
Working with Myjoyonline and Multimedia
Dave says after the campaign ended, he went back to freelancing and since Isaac Yeboah was then with Myjoyonline.com, a subsidiary of the Multimedia Group Limited, he was asked to freelance for the website.
According to him, he did that between 2008 till 2012, when he was told that the website was in need of a permanent photojournalist.
However, on the two occasion that he came for an interview, he was told to come back later.
He finally had the opportunity to meet Isaac and Malik Abas Dabo for his interview.
“I went home without hope that day. The questions kept coming at me and I knew I did my best. I knew Isaac, but the questions he was asking shocked me. It was as if he didn’t know me. I just gave up. But on April 3, 2012. I was called by HR to start work.
"Isaac said I was to cover every event and make sure we don’t miss out on breaking news. So I will go out quickly in the morning, make sure I am at the biggest events. When I see something, I will call Isaac, then he interviews me and I send the pictures. That is how I joined Multimedia, specifically, Myjoyonline.com," Dave explained.
Best moments at Myjoyonline.com
Having been with Myjoyonline.com for over a decade, Dave says the journey has not always been smooth, but the experience has been worth it.
According to him, his best moment was when he won his first Ghana Journalists Award in 2015.
“The picture I won the award with was not even planned. I had been roaming the whole day looking for a good picture for 'Photo of the Week' but I wasn’t impressed with all I had. I was heading to the National Theatre from the Ministries area when I heard a voice telling me to mount my long lens. I just obeyed. Within 5 minutes I heard a loud crash. Two motor bikes had collided and the riders were on the floor. I just started taking pictures. I took as many as possible and came back to the office to select the good one. That incident got me my first award.”
In 2016, Dave retained his position as the GJA Photojournalist of the Year.
“After the first award, I didn’t slow down. I was out on the streets every day. I was still working with Myjoyonline.com. Mind you, Isaac had left and Malik was now the Assisting Editor for the website. He had also given me enough room to work and operate and I was bringing out great content.
"I remember using the N1 and seeing this moto rider with iron sheets loaded on the bike. It was very dangerous so I just started taking pictures of the man. That became my photo of the week and subsequently won me the next award."
Giving details of his third award, Dave said he was in the Central Region when he took the picture. He said, he was heading to Gomoa for an event when a vehicle overtook his car. The driver, not satisfied with that action decided to overtake some other cars that were also ahead even though there were other cars approaching.
Dave quickly took out his lens and took a picture.
“Lucky for the driver, there was no crush but what he did was very risky. I submitted that photo with a story and won again. This was in 2018.”
For his fourth award, Dave entered the competition with a picture of an okada rider who was trying to pass through the flood even though others had packed by the road side. After the heavy rains, the current was strong and cars had packed to wait out the flood.
But this ‘stubborn’ rider was determined to pass through the floods. Bystanders watched as he slipped into the water with his bike.
“I just took out my lens and started taking pictures. It was still drizzling and everyone was under some kind of shelter. Even the trotro drivers and private cars had packed. Yet this guy kept pushing his bike through the floods. When he fell, we thought the water will take him away, but he was able to get up. I don’t know where he was going or why he didn’t wait like everyone else. Some people are just strange. His (rider) picture won me the GJA award for 2019.”
Aside the GJA awards, David Andoh has also received four environmental awards from the Environmental Excellence Awards scheme.
He is still responsible for producing one unique photo a week for the Myjoyonline website. On a normal day, Dave attends assignments and comes back to work on his photo story.
Motivation, fears and aspiration
Touching on photojournalism in Ghana as President of the Ghana Photojournalists Network, Dave explained that photography and photojournalist do not get the needed support. He also expressed worry about the growing intolerance for photojournalists among the general public.
“Last week, I chanced upon two commercial drivers who had parked carelessly by the roadside. Immediately my instincts kicked in, I started taking pictures and the people around gave an alarm. An unidentified National Security official who had pulled out his handcuff and was trying to arrest one of the offending drivers stopped and heading towards my way. He tried taking my camera but I refused to hand it over. Then he forced me to delete all the pictures I had taken while people stood by and watched.
"The danger was that people supported his action. They had forgotten that my pictures could be used by the Police to assist in their investigation."
Despite this, Dave says he still has dreams of becoming a war photographer.
"I always laugh when I say that. I am not saying there should be war or I love war. What I truly mean is that I want to be where the action is. I want to take the pictures and tell the stories as it is happening."
For his motivation, Dave says he strongly believes that passion and courage have kept him going over the years.
According to him, one cannot also become a photojournalist without developing a love for photography since a story cannot be told with the relevant pictures.
Family and social life
Away from his professional life, 49-year-old Dave is a single father with two beautiful girls. His first born, Amanda Andoh is a trained professional photographer.
She is currently in charge of Global Photo Agency, a company established by Dave in 2008.
His second born, Elsie is 9 years old and in primary school.
On his free days, Dave spends time with his girls or going for long walks. He also enjoys listening to gospel music, and watching wildlife documentaries.
Dave says he is grateful to the likes of Ato Kwamena Dadzie - current Managing Editor of Myjoyonline.com, Elvis Kwashie - General Manager of Joy Brands, Malik - former Assisting Editor, Edwin Appiah - former Assisting Editor of Myjoyonline.com, Nathan Gaduga - former Assisting Editor of Myjoyonline.com, Abubakar Abrahim - Assisting Editor of Myjoyonline.com, and Jerry Mordy - former Assisting Editor of Myjoyonline.com for the various roles they played in his professional life.
Below are some of David Andoh's exclusive photos:
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