Patrick Willocq: „You cannot pick a stone with one finger”

Finalist 2017: Patrick Willocq

The ‘You cannot pick a stone with one finger’ series by French photographer Patrick Willocq was produced with the Dagomba, an ethnic group in the north of Ghana. Working in close collaboration with the people, he created six decorative sets that reflect the past, present and future of the Dagomba.

“The biggest challenge for my type of photography is the building of the sets. Everything is built from scratch, using locally available materials. No Photoshop collage or montage. This takes much more time and requires more resources than conventional photography, but the end result is far more rewarding I think, if only for the human experience, as my approach is really about trying to decipher local culture and depict it visually in a way that is the most artistically appropriate. This requires building close relationships with people.

“I listen to people, because I want to decipher and depict their local culture in an artistically appropriate manner.”

A local proverb of the Dagomba, who established their kingdom in the north of Ghana in the 12th century, says that, ‘one finger cannot pick a stone’, which means you have to stick together to move forward. The six scenes elaborately staged for the ‘You cannot pick up a stone with one finger’ series, bear witness to this saying and to the Dagomba’s rich cultural heritage, and aim to help understand how history and traditions have shaped present-day realities and the challenges ahead.

For this project, I interviewed the overlord King Yaa Naa, various paramount chiefs, court elders, musicians, university academicians, an Islamic scholar and a traditional land priest. Although Dagomba culture is heavily influenced by Islam, many also still believe in and worship traditional spirits and gods. Based on what these people told me, I developed six performative photographs. To ensure a culturally accurate visual iconography, local artists and artisans helped to build the large decorative sets, using locally sourced materials. On these stages, the protagonists were able to perform like actors.”

Patrick Willocq

Born in 1969, Willocq taught himself the craft of photography. He has spent the larger part of his life outside of France, and today he is at home in Paris, Hong Kong and Kinshasa. In 2014, Willocq was already a LOBA finalist with his ‘I am Walé Respect Me’ series. With his work, the photographer wants to show an image of Africa that goes deeper than the one the public media focusses on. ‘You cannot pick a stone with one finger’ is a commissioned work for the Noorderlicht Foundation and the African Studies Centre in Leiden, Netherlands.