September 23, 2023

Photographer combines love for Africa with communities in Wales

Tendai, from Zimbabwe, at her graduation party in Newport

Tendai, from Zimbabwe, at her graduation party in Newport

Glenn Edwards has had a passion for photography ever since he borrowed his father’s camera on a trip to Tenerife in his mid-twenties.

Since then he has completed more than 100 foreign assignments, most of them in Africa.

The photographer and teacher from Newport feels a special connection to the continent.

Now based in Cardiff, he captures the thriving African communities across Wales.

Glenn Edwards is holding a camera

Glenn’s passion for photography has taken him all over the world

Glenn was in his mid-twenties when he borrowed his father’s Topcon RE Super.

He was a steelworker at the time, but felt he hadn’t found his true passion yet.

“I found myself entering markets or unusual places in Tenerife where tourists probably wouldn’t go,” he said.

“I felt I had found what I wanted to do with my life.”

He got his lucky break while taking a photography course in his hometown.

A local doctor named Theodore Griffiths spoke about his work in India and Glenn was invited to attend.

Glenn asked him if photos helped promote aid to developmental causes and Dr. Griffiths said images helped raise awareness.

He was invited and described the experience as “life-changing”.

“I feel myself getting emotional because I’ve never experienced it before and haven’t since,” he said.

“Something happened to me there.”

A man cycles through the streets of Calcutta in the 1980s

The streets of Kolkata, now known as Calcutta, India during Glenn’s first overseas assignment in the 1980s

A Sierra Leone waves a peace flag while standing on top of a truck

Glenn’s favorite photo – capturing Sierra Leone’s first free election in two decades in 2002

The 1992 food crisis in Somalia caused great suffering and more than 23 million people needed help.

Glenn was working there and it led to him questioning himself for the first time.

“It was an open truck where people would go and pick up families’ bodies and just throw them on the back. I was photographing people’s grief and I felt guilty,” he said.

“I was walking in a tent in a refugee camp and there was a woman holding her husband and he obviously died.

“I could have gone in and taken pictures, but I couldn’t because it was so personal. That’s when I realized I wasn’t sure I was capable of going too deep into the hard news.”

Glenn's trip to Somalia led him to question his moral judgment

Glenn’s trip to Somalia led him to question his moral judgment

He now photographs African communities in Wales, and some of his images have recently been featured in an exhibition at the Aberystwyth Art Centre.

“There was a man from Uganda walking around. He was so proud to see himself on the walls of a gallery,” he said.

Such moments give the photographer the most pride.

A group of men play dominoes in an African café.  in Newport

A group of men play dominoes in an African cafe in Newport

Glenn has focused his work on many other groups.

The successors to The Mandingue will host the first Dathliad Cymru-Africa (Celebrate Wales-Africa) Festival in Bethesda, Gwynedd next weekend.

Founders Cathryn McShane-Kouyaté and N’famady Kouyaté founded it in 2019 ‘as a celebration of the wealth of diversity in Wales.

“There weren’t any West African musicians my husband could join, so we started working together,” Cathryn said.

Covid was tough for the creative couple, but they made the best of it.

“We’ve done some online projects and once the restrictions ended, we really took off. We’ve built so far,” added Cathryn.

Cathryn McShane-Kouyaté and Tijesunimi Olakojo laughing in Cardiff city centre

Cathryn McShane-Kouyaté (left) and Tijesunimi Olakojo are part of The Successors Of The Mandingue

Cathryn is optimistic that the festival can continue to grow in the future.

“I see us moving to reach out to other communities. We’ve had interest from other locations. We’re celebrating Africa and Wales and the bonds we have,” she said.

Tijesunimi Olakojo is a community stage c
oordinator for the festival. She came to Wales in November 2020 after moving to the UK from Nigeria.

A Red Cross counselor told her to pursue what she enjoys.

As an artist, she and the successors were a match made in heaven, she believes.

The Cardiff-based group offers an African interactive music experience and a cultural exchange of percussion, music, drumming, singing, storytelling and dance.

“I love it. I feel like it’s my home because I’ve never seen anything like it in Wales before,” she said.

“People welcome outsiders here and that’s very important to me. I like the sense of community.”

N'Famady Kouyate with his balafonist in Cardiff

N’Famady Kouyate with his balafonist in Cardiff

Martha Musonza Holman is the founder of the Love Zimbabwe charity.

She lives in Abergavenny after being forced to flee her home country in 2001 and has worked tirelessly to create links between her adopted country and her native country.

“I’ve been very lucky because Abergavenny is a community-based place. So a lot of people have welcomed me. We have so many people from different parts of the world,” she said.

Her role as a teacher gives her the chance to bring a piece of African culture to schools in Wales.

“We work with children, teach them African songs and raise money for charity. So I’m part of the community and I love it. When I’m in Abergavenny I can go anywhere,” she added.

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