Coups, conflicts and corruption... these three words sum up the news themes Americans receive related to social, political, and economic happenings in Africa. These problems typify a pattern of failure that has plagued the Dark Continent in the quarter-century since most of its nations became independent. Indeed, there’s no denying deep troubles beleaguer even the most developed countries such as Zimbabwe, Kenya, and South Africa; the prospects for most of the continent's other places appear bleak.
Nonetheless, another Africa exists, one of promise, beauty, optimism and transition. University of Montana sophomore photojournalist Shaun Bell documented this Africa over the course of five weeks spent there this summer. In fact, he’s got more than four thousand photos to share of hope and healing.
“I had the chance to blend my love of language, international culture, political theory, and photojournalism with the passion and the mindset to see and understand Africa. I’ve always wanted to see the faces, cultures, and people of Africa, and I want to relay those images of another world back here.
“My generation needs to care more about things in order to get things to change in the world.”
Bell traveled to Africa as part of a larger contingent of members of a group called Launch Out Ministries. Upon arriving, he was fast reminded of the land’s wide potential for unvarnished danger.
"I had six vaccinations before I left. There’s known to be malaria all over Zambia, and if bitten there, you can be dead within 12 hours. A mosquito bit me as I was getting off the plane; I was thinking 'okay, God, my faith is in you here.'"
The problems of one African nation, by and large, are similar to those that afflict the entire continent: abject poverty, rampant corruption, gross mismanagement, tribal enmity, uncontrolled population growth. But, in spite of this assessment, Bell feels that the continent can and will somehow break out of the vicious cycle of political instability and moral neglect. And instead of taking the negative route, he tried to photograph the positive winds of change slowly blowing across the dry Saharan plains.
“It’s easy to focus on the pandemics and the genocides and how terrible things are, but people are making changes there in some countries. Yes, it’s a very impoverished and corrupt continent, but change is certainly possible.
“The power of images impacts people, it can move nations. That’s what I love about photography.”
Bell’s photographic images tell the basic human anecdote of smiles, friendship, affection, hospitality, opportunity, and the brazenness of hope.