When David Pace first arrived in the country of Burkina Faso in 2007 for a project organized by Friends of African Village Libraries, his expectations were filled with uncertainty. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what I was doing, but the founders were friends of mine and I trusted it was a good thing,” he tells Slate. Quickly finding himself immersing in the interesting culture of this West African nation, Pace instantly felt at home and let his camera document the colorful facets of African life especially in the rural areas of Burkina Faso. “Most of my time is spent in Bereba, a remote rural village without electricity or running water. I photograph all aspects of daily life in the village”. Among the many fascinating scenes that captured his attention are the ways and means of the locals transporting and getting around from their houses to the farms and from one village to another. The resulting scenes are now part of his “Sur La Route” (which means “On the Road” in French) series. Standing at the front of his temporary house in the village, Pace ambushes each locals passing by with his camera. Shooting photographs of the villagers during the golden hour with filler lighting, it results in a stunning collection of remarkable rural portraiture. In order to learn more about David Pace’s project Resource Magazine chatted up with him.
How did the series “Sur La Route” came about?
The Sur La Route series developed out of a much larger, long-term project. I have been photographing in the small West African country of Burkina Faso since 2007. I spend about two months every year in the farming village of Bereba, where I have been documenting the life of the community for nearly a decade. All of my work evolves from the observation of the rhythms and patterns of daily activities.
Tell us about any fascinating discoveries you had while doing the series?
The house I live in is located at the edge of the village along a narrow dirt path. Every morning my neighbors travel to their farms on bicycles, motorcycles, on foot, or in animal-drawn carts. In the evening, they return from working their fields along the path. They often carry firewood for cooking the evening meal, or corn or cotton harvested during the day. At twilight, I stand by the roadside and photograph them on their way home. During the day, the intense heat and the harsh equatorial sunlight make it nearly impossible to photograph in the open. But about 30 minutes before sunset the light softens dramatically and I am able to make portraits using a fill flash to illuminate my subjects against the darkening landscape.
Describe your understanding of African life today compared to prior to doing the project?
Many of our conceptions of Africa are actually misconceptions. We seldom have the opportunity to see what African life is like on a day-to-day basis. The Western media routinely offers images of conflict, corruption, famine and disease, which breeds fear and promotes mistrust. At the other extreme, we encounter images of exotic tribal cultures and safari adventures. My experience living in West Africa has given me a different perspective. I hope my images express the beauty and complexity of life in a simple village.
How different is Sur La Route from your other series?
Most of my African series are grounded in portraiture and limited to very specific locations and times. A project called Friday Night, for example, documents the weekly dances occurring in a small bar called Le Cotonnier, and a project documenting brick-making is limited to the men who work in a specific quarry near the village of Karaba. In many respects, Sur La Route is very much like my other portrait series. What makes Sur La Route unique are the specific limitations of time and location that I have imposed upon the project: all of the photographs are taken between 5:30 and 6:30 pm, and I stand on roughly the same spot for almost all of the exposures. In addition, it’s the only series that uses fill flash to blend daylight and artificial light.
What are the next photography projects you are planning?
I am continuing to photograph life in the village of Bereba and the surrounding area. I will begin a new phase of the project in the fall. Electricity has just come to the village, which will undoubtedly bring about many changes. I want to document this transition. I have also been visiting two artisanal gold mining towns that have sprung up in the nearby countryside. I see many remarkable photographic possibilities and I anticipate many more years of work in Burkina Faso.
“Sur La Route” was just one of David Pace’s many photography series taken in Burkina Faso. Spending at least a couple of months in the country every year since 2007, Pace has filled up his portfolio with impressive documentation of the culture, heritage and the jovial daily lives of the villagers of this interesting African nation. Shattering misconceptions, his images helps us achieve a new perspective about the real conditions of rural living in this part of the world.
To see more of David Pace’s work on “Sur La Route” and his other Burkina Faso series, check out his website. To be considered for Photographer of the Day, follow us on Instagram @resourcemag and e-mail submissions to email@example.com with the subject line “POTD Submission.”