Monday, July 1, 2013

Photo book: "An Afropean Odyssey" - A Black European Travel Narrative

@Photo by Johny Pitts
I left London on a gloomy afternoon in October to travel Europe for five months, searching for the interplay between Black and European cultures, writes Afropean British writer, photographer and TV host Johny Pitts on his website The Afropean

I came in contact with Black French militants, German anarchists, an Egyptian nomad, Russian Nazis, Cape Verdean favelas, racist football hooligans, the Black Panther party and more, all telling me a tale of an alternative Europe not readily exported to the rest of the world. My journey lead me to the fringes, culturally and geographically, and also became an investigation into my own mixed-race identity. See Facebook.com/afropeans

Text: Johny Pitts *

Marcel Proust is quoted as saying 'the true act of discovery consists not of finding new lands, but in seeing with new eyes'.  I thought of that on the day I left in search of 'Black Europe', on a cold October morning.  I wanted to do both at the same time though- see new places but also present an alternative view of them as that rarest of creatures- the Black European explorer.

 Johny Pitts in Moscow
And so I set out in search of a Europe that isn't always offered in the tourist literature of its great cities...London to Paris, Brussels then Amsterdam, Stockholm over to Moscow, Berlin down to Rome, across the Riviera to Marseilles, Madrid and Lisbon, strangely ending up back in Britain- Gibraltar, where Europe kisses Africa.

 Julia Sarr-Jamois on a rainy day in Oxford Street in London
Initially I imagined flaneuring my way around only taking photographs of cool Afropeans- those artists, musicians and fashionistas who had managed to find some sort of cultural coherence in their Black European identities and created what might be described as a kind of 'post post-colonial' aesthetic.  I wanted to find a diasporic unity that was as solid as African American culture and celebrate this coming together of cultures and races.  Whilst I certainly did find (and photograph) these people, I was naive to think I'd come back with a trendy little coffee table book which offered only a convenient view of Black people in Europe.


Still, resisting cliched depictions that ghettoised or victimised the communities I visited, I let the people I met tell the story of the continent...from Belgian-Congolese artists to Egyptian nomads, Black French militants, Swedish musicians, German anarchists, racist football hooligans, Russian Nazis, Nigerian students and more.

 " Berlin. I visited the famous artist squat Tacheles which this month [September 2012]  lost it's long fought battle to stay open."
Often this meant being led to the figurative and literal periphery of societies, so in many ways my journey became a tour of the outskirts of Europe- the multicultural hinterlands...Clichy Sous Bois in Paris, Rinkeby in Stockholm, Cova Da Moura in Lisbon...

"Last year [2012] I spent time in Lisbon, and visited the European Favela of 'Cova Da Moura', home to a large Cape Verdean community. Described as a 'no go' zone for police, I was lucky enough to be escorted by an ex resident. I saw poverty, and was threatened by a local gangster, but I also felt a strong community spirit and was introduced the beautiful Cape Verdean folk music 'Morna' in a small makeshift cafe."
Throughout my trip the Afro-Europe blog was one of the very few resources I had to help me navigate my way around, and became a second companion when I felt lost in the cold urban wilderness of Russia or the dangerous Banlieues of France.

 "Near Patrice Lumumba University — in Moscow, Moscow City."
And so here I am proud to share this introduction to my story and present some of my photographs before the travel narrative and photo essay is released next year as a book.  I felt it important to write and take pictures, trying to make images with my pen and tell stories with my camera, and let each one fill in what the other couldn't describe.

 "I spent five days alone in the Parisian banlieue of Clichy Sous Bois."
As the underlying cause of the project is to promote dialogue between various Black communities living in Europe, as well as with white Europeans who are curious about, or influenced by Black culture themselves, I invite people to join a Facebook community I set up when I started the book Facebook.com/afropeans – here you will find more of my photographs, but also various imagery from other Afropean artists; music videos, art, and literature that tell their own story.

Johny Pitts, June 2013

Johny Pitts is a writer, photographer and TV host based in London.  Winner of a Decibel Penguin Prize for new writers, his short story "Audience" was included in the anthology 'The Map of Me' published by Penguin Books.  In 2012 he collaborated with author Caryl Phillips on 'A Bend in The River' -a project for the BBC/Arts Council run 'Space'.  in March 2013 he held his first international photography exhibition in Belgium as part of the 'What is Africa to Me Now?' conference at Liege university.  As a TV host he presented for MTV UK and ITV1, and can currently be seen on the BBC.

Video: A photo-montage from my travels around Europe looking at Afropean/ Black European culture with Joy Denalane's 'Vier Frauen' (Sara Tavares, Chiwoniso, Déborah, Joy Denalane) as a the soundtrack.


* Johny Pitts was invited by Afro-Europe to write the last post for the blog. All pictures are copyrighted

A wealth of information about Afropean identity edited by Azizi Powell: What "Afro-European" & "Afropean" Mean

12 comments:

  1. Johnny Pitts, thanks for sharing your photos & comments in this forum. I look forward to your book being published.

    But I'm sad if indeed this is the last post for Afro-Europe.

    I keep hoping that the editor of this blog will change his mind about ending this blog or-if that's not possible, that he would pass the torch on to another or some other Afro-Europeans.

    This blog is much too important to end.

    What will happen now to the archive of posts & comments that people look up, for instance, when they are considering traveling to Spain and have questions about race relations there and the best & safest places that people of some Black descent can vist in that nation?

    And that's just one of the high quality Afro-Europe posts.

    Are there no other Afro-Europeans who can serve as editor/s while Afro-Europe takes the rest he wants or needs?

    This makes me sad.

    ReplyDelete
  2. To me, this photo book is the best of its genre since Afro-British writer, Caryl Phillips', "The European Tribe". The travel memoir by Phillips was a groundbreaking book (without photos), but it was published in the 1980s. This update of sorts, by Johnny Pitts, fills a much needed vacuum! I can't wait to purchase it!!!

    (By the way, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this blog does not close!)

    ReplyDelete
  3. This looks like a great body of work, feels like it's going to offer a up close and personal view of some of the most interesting (and least heard from) people on the planet. I look forward to being able to go out and buy a copy.

    Also, I'd like to echo the views of those that have expressed sadness at the impending closure of this blog.
    I only discovered afroeurope this weekend, but as a UK born African currently living in Spain, I'm already dependent on it!
    I really hope that we can find a way to keep it going.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Azizi, John, Yomi the blog will not be closed, it wil stay open for comments and it will be available as long as Google supports blogspot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Greetings, Erik! While I'm still sad that this is the last post to be published on this afro-europe blog, I'm very glad that the blog's posts & comments will still be available for reading & also more comments can still be added.

      I've lots of reading to do as I just found this blog last year.

      Erik, I took the liberty to posts links & excerpts from three of posts from this blog on this post of my cultural blog: http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/07/what-afro-european-afropean-mean.html

      In addition to those links & excerpts, that post includes definitions that I found for the referents "Afro-European" and "Afropean", other comments, and two videos. One of the links is to this particular afro-europe post.

      Thanks for all that you have done & good fortune for all you will do.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Azizi, very informative post!

      Delete
  5. Hi,

    My name is Martin Okoroego. I am German-Nigerian. I really would like to get in touch with Johny Pitts as I am also about to finish my travel book. I have lived in 5 cities and traveled to over 30. I thought it would be a good idea to talk if you are interested.

    Apart from my book, here is what I do. I am a creative place maker and this is my consultancy: www.event-one7.com

    Here is my email: martin.oko@gmail.com.

    I hope I will be able to get in touch with you somehow.

    All the best

    Martin

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Martin, if you want to get in contact with John it's better to mail him. Check his website.

      Delete
  6. The girl in "Girl on a rainy day in London" happens to be It Girl Julia Sarr-Jamois, editor of Wonderland magazine. Happy coincidence ?

    ReplyDelete



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  9. Thanks for the feedback everyone. For the record I didn't know the woman I shot on Oxford St was famous, so it was a happy coincidence indeed. Some more of my photographs/writing etc are now live on www.afropean.com all best!

    Johny

    ReplyDelete

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