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Ghanaian photographer Michael Aboya beats 130000 contestants from nearly 200 countries to win best photo of the year award

Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon is an investigative journalist and publisher of TODAY NEWS AFRICA L.L.C. based in Washington, District of Columbia, U.S.A. His twitter handle is @simonateba and his email is simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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Ghanaian photographer Michael Aboya has beaten more than 130000 contestants from 193 countries to win best photo of the year award.

The 24 year-old self-taught photographer from Accra, Ghana, received his award and life-changing cash prize of $25000 at a high profile event at the Fábrica Estrella Damm in the Spanish city of Barcelona on Wednesday November 6.

Ghanaian photographer Michael Aboya

Mr. Aboya’s photograph ‘Songs of Freedom’ gathered more than half a million votes to win the Agora Awards 2019 competition. The competition was hosted by free-to-use photography app Agora.

‘Songs of Freedom’ by Michael Aboya (Michael Aboya/Agora)

The event was live streamed through Agora’s Instagram page and featured an exclusive photo exhibition sponsored by Fujifilm and Kitoli laboratory showcasing the competition’s 50 finalist entries.

Inspiration for Mr. Aboya, who was born and raised in Nigeria before he moved to his father’s homeland, Ghana, when he turned 13, came one day while he was listening to legendary music icon Bob Marley.

Ghanaian photographer Michael Aboya

As ‘Redemption Song‘ began to play, the words spoke to him so personally he knew he had to do something – bring the legendary song to life with his camera.

Songs of Freedom‘ was shot in Labadi, one of Ghana’s oldest neighborhoods located in the coastal part of Accra, the country’s capital.

The local kids from fishermen families who live on that beach have always been a source of inspiration for Mr. Aboya.

To bring his vision to life with his camera, Mr. Aboya gathered the group of kids while a friend of him who had brought a violin taught them the basics.

One kid in particular had the most expression amongst them all and became the focus of the image.

Songs of Freedom’ by Michael Aboya (Michael Aboya/Agora)

“Just one day before the shoot, I met Rockson, a friend I had made on the Agora platform who happened to visit Ghana, his home country,” narrated the Agora Awards 2019 winner.

“Surprisingly, he had brought his own violin with him, so I asked him to bring it along the next day for a shoot I had planned.

“We got to Labadi the next day where we met the 5 young amazing boys. In order to get the image as real and natural as possible without losing the most important aspect of who they really are, I asked my friend  to teach them the basics on how to hold the violin, the perfect hand positions and I saw that one of the boys had the strongest expression with the violin, which was perfectly aligned with my vision for the photograph”.

Michael said he celebrates the love he feels for his country through powerful photographs that portray a cheerful and optimistic representation of the life that surrounds him.

Michael’s passion for arts and photography unfolded back in 2014 when he was studying software programming.

When he abruptly lost his dad to cancer, he realized life was too short to spend it doing something he didn’t enjoy and therefore decided to pursue his dream of becoming a photographer. Shortly after dropping out of programming school, Michael gathered all the little savings and funds he had at the time (those were meant to pay for his school fees) and got himself his first professional camera.

And now, after nine months of competition and more than 130,000 photos submitted from 193 countries, free-to-use photography app Agora has named him as the Agora Awards 2019 winner.

“After I purchased my first camera, the next step was to join a photography school, but the fees made that impossible. So I invested a lot of time reading about photography, and watching YouTube videos on how professional photographers shot and used different kinds of lighting to their advantage,” he said.

Michael Aboya receiving his award and life-changing cash prize of $25000 at a high profile event at the Fábrica Estrella Damm in the Spanish city of Barcelona on Wednesday November 6.

“I would then go out with my camera to practice by shooting anything I found interesting, and then go home and do some editing. I kept doing this over and over again until I gradually started getting good at it”.

With his photos, Michael aims to inspire a change in the way people perceive Ghana and more generally the african continent. As a photographer, Michael’s main point of focus is the storytelling through his images: the purpose is to inspire, empower and reach the emotions of the viewer, in ways they can relate to.

His work is said to be mature, simple, yet wonderfully eye-catching: one can almost feel music and laughter in his images.

“I believe that when BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Colour) tell their own stories, they can present the country and continent differently to the world, showing the love, peace, and harmony, and making the bright side a little bit more, putting the dark side behind it,” he said.

“I created this image to emphasize the fact that we have the power to free ourselves from any form of mental, physical, spiritual and emotional captivity”.

With his $25,000 prize, Michael plans to invest in his passion and skills to bring his art even further:

“With the prize money, I’ll be able to invest into my photography by getting gears i need. I’ll invest into learning videography, putting my visions into moving pictures, visiting new places I have never been to capture the beautiful people and their colorful stories, support my family and give back to the community of youths”.

The Agora Awards 2019 competition has been running throughout 2019, where photographers from all around the world – amateurs and professional alike – could submit their best shots to the Agora free-to-use app.

Unlike any other photo contests, the Agora Awards involve professional and amateur photographers who can submit their image without any pre-established category. As such, the entries are varied and include haunting portraits, stunning landscapes, and incredible pieces of photojournalism. 

On September 3rd, Agora revealed the competition’s shortlist including 50 finalists and opened the final voting phase. In keeping with the democratic nature of the app, all users could vote on their favorite photograph and have a say in who takes home the ultimate prize.

The Agora Awards winner was elected as the author of the most voted photo by the Agora users. More than 500,000 votes were received for ‘Songs of Freedom’, crowning the ghanaian photographer with the Agora Awards 2019 Hero title.

“Agora is built between all: we want to empower people all over the world, because we believe that every point of view is important. We’re creating a global democratic system where everyone can create, vote and enjoy the best creations of Humanity,” said Octavi Royo, Agora’s CEO and Co-Founder 

Agora is a free-to-use photography social network that gathers a community of more than 3.5 million users from 193 countries.

Over the past couple of years, Agora has transitioned from being a social photo market to a digital channel where people create, vote and curate the best images made worldwide. 

Every week, the universal concepts launched through Agora’s Hashtags such as #Women, #Aerial or #Hope, are being illustrated by thousands of creators who are sharing their best points of view on the concept.

Creators can vote for the best photos in the world while curating quality content, for a chance to win awesome cash prizes (from $1000 to $25000), photo gear and other life-changing experiences. Agora won ‘Best App in Spain’ prize at TheAwards2018, recognizing the app’s efforts as a disruptive, scalable and global idea. 

Agora says it empowers people everywhere, inspiring them to learn and to showcase their work.

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