The Boy From Nima With The World On His Camera

Published 13 days ago
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Ghanaian photographer Emmanuel Mensah Agbeble, who arrived in New York with just $50 in his pocket, is now weaving the Afrobeats genre into the global narrative with his creativity.

Emmanuel Mensah Agbeble was barely three years old when his  father, who owned a photo studio in Ghana, handed him his first camera.

That would have been the obvious choice of career for a young Agbeble, but his sights were set on the basketball court. After his parents relocated from Nima, a slum community in Ghana, to the United States for greener pastures and a better life, Agbeble hoped his dreams of making it to the National Basketball Association (NBA) would materialize.

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But destiny had other plans.

“I was playing basketball and Ghana is a football-[loving] country, so I wanted to go to America to try and be in the NBA. That was my dream. I had a full scholarship to come to America but unfortunately, I didn’t get the visa, so I could not leave. This shattered my dream, I was heartbroken,” recalls Agbeble.

But as the saying goes, when one door closes, a window of opportunity opens. He simply leaned on his innate skill-set.

“I would always shoot pictures of my friends and myself playing basketball and it looked really good. My best friend at the time said ‘why don’t you do this full-time’ and that is when I started taking photography seriously. I was always working with my dad in the studios, developing films, so I saw how the whole process worked. I learned from the ground up, because we didn’t have any photoshop or any editing tools like we have now, so we were always in the red room or dark room developing film,” says Agbeble.

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Little did he know a flourishing career as a New York-based photographer awaited him. But Agbeble didn’t just want to emulate his father, his ambitions for photography went much further.

“My dad wasn’t doing gallery shows… I learned through other people and that has helped me grow. The vision is to be worldwide. I want to build a legacy. I want to tell stories the right way and inspire the world; spark somebody’s brain to be able to do what they love so much. Everything I do has to inspire the world,” says Agbeble.

When he started his journey as a photographer in New York, he only had a capital of $600.

Through his company APMWorld, Agbeble has now led campaigns for global superstars such as Africa’s very own Burna Boy, Davido and Wizkid, in turn, making his own contributions to the surge in global popularity of the Afrobeats genre.

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“Photography has become increasingly popular in Ghana as a way for young people to start earning extra income but very few have actually been trained from the ground up from when they were able to walk. That is what makes Emmanuel unique. He is a true creative and one of the few Ghanaian photographers whose work is celebrated globally,” says Barnard Ashiadey, a journalist in Ghana.

Agbeble also attended the 2024 Grammy Awards, where he says he had a life-changing moment.

“When Burna Boy was about to perform, they put my cover on the screen and that was a wow moment for me because I am a boy from Nima, who had big dreams and got his NBA dreams shattered and came to America with only $50 in his pocket and is now sitting at the Grammys, a show he used to watch on TV. That was bigger than a dream. I don’t know how to explain that feeling.” This year, Agbeble is planning on expanding his story-telling skills by launching two books that will further seek to inspire the world.

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