The Agora Awards 2019 photo contest was hosted by free-to-use photography app Agora on November 6th and received over 130,000 stunning pictures from 193 countries.

More than 500,000 votes have been counted: the photo ‘Songs of Freedom’ by Ghanaian photographer Michael Aboya was voted Best Photo of the Year and wins Agora Awards 2019 photography contest, awarding the self-taught photographer the grand prize of $25,000 (22,445€).

With creative photos portraying a cheerful and optimistic representation of the life around him, Michael Aboya aims to inspire a change in the way people perceive Ghana and the African continent in general:

“I believe that when BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Colour) tell their own stories, they can present the country and continent differently to the world, showing the love, peace, and harmony, and making the bright side a little bit more, putting the dark side behind it. I created this beautiful photo to emphasize the fact that we have the power to free ourselves from any form of mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional captivity.”

‘Songs of freedom’ – Best Photo of the Year

Image credits:

The photo idea for ‘Songs of Freedom’ came to Aboya while he was at home, listening to Bob Marley. When ‘Redemption Song’ began playing, he immediately wanted to bring the legendary song to life with his camera.

The amazing photo has had a particularly strong impact among the African diaspora, as it symbolizes more than just a photo to them: the end result visualizes an unspoken struggle for freedom and belonging, conceptualized through the violin, which Aboya describes as an instrument of the soul.

Octavi Royo, Agora’s CEO and Co-Founder said: “Songs Of Freedom is a striking image, with strong contrasts and intelligent composition. A topless African child plays the violin under a wide sky that indicates a sunrise or sunset; the beginning or end of an era. Behind him are four more children with their fists raised and their eyes closed, enjoying the melody played by their companion. A melody that sounds like the conquest of a just future, that gives off intellectuality, pacifism, effort, and dignity. It is an image full of symbols that declare that Africa is awake and will be the protagonist of a hopeful future. For me, Sounds of Freedom is an intelligent visual manifesto of current reality and, at the same time, an optimistic and dignified message about the future.”

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Songs of Freedom’: Behind The Scenes

‘Songs of Freedom’ was shot in Labadi, one of Ghana’s oldest neighborhoods located in the coastal part of Accra, the country’s capital. The local kids from fishermen families who live on this beach have always been a source of inspiration for Michael.

In order to bring his vision to life with his camera, Michael gathered the group of kids while a friend of him who had brought a violin taught them the basics. One kid in particular had the most expression amongst them all and became the focus of the image.

Michael said: “Just one day before the shoot, I met Rockson, a friend I had made on the Agora platform who happened to visit Ghana, his home country. Surprisingly, he had brought his own violin with him, so I asked him to bring it along the next day for a shoot I had planned. We got to Labadi the next day where we met the 5 young amazing boys. In order to get the image as real and natural as possible without losing the most important aspect of who they really are, I asked my friend to teach them the basics on how to hold the violin, the perfect hand positions and I saw that one of the boys had the strongest expression with the violin, which was perfectly aligned with my vision for the photograph.”

Michael Aboya: The man behind the camera

Michael is a 24-year-old self-taught photographer from Accra, Ghana. Born and raised in Nigeria, he moved to his father’s homeland, Ghana, when he turned 13.
Michael’s passion for arts and photography unfolded back in 2014 when he was studying software programming. When he abruptly lost his dad to cancer, he realized that life was too short to spend it doing something he didn’t enjoy and therefore decided to pursue his dream of becoming a photographer. Shortly after dropping out of programming school, Michael gathered all the little savings and funds he had at the time (those were meant to pay for his school fees) and got himself his first professional camera.
“After I purchased my first camera, the next step was to join a photography school, but the fees made that impossible. So I invested a lot of time reading about photography and watching YouTube videos on how professional photographers shot and used different kinds of lighting to their advantage. I would then go out with my camera to practice by shooting anything I found interesting, and then go home and do some editing. I kept doing this over and over again until I gradually started getting good at it.”

With his $25,000 prize, Michael plans to invest in getting photography gear, learning videography, and travel through Africa to capture its people and their colorful stories.

Discover below a selection of Michael’s portfolio from his Agora page:

‘From a long line of strong black women’

Michael celebrates the love he feels for his country through powerful photographs that portray a cheerful and optimistic representation of the life that surrounds him.

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Quality not quantity’

His work is mature, simple, yet wonderfully eye-catching: one can almost feel music and laughter in his images.

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Look into my eyes, listen and hear what my mouth is not saying, for my eyes speaks louder than my voice ever will’

With his photos, Michael aims to inspire a change in the way people perceive Ghana and more generally the african continent.

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Smile and Enjoy the Fruits of your Labor’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Kick off, the sunset won’t wait’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘When two or more women gather an economy is built. When there is equality, there is quality of life.’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Big Happy Six’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Listen to what she says with her eyes’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Beauty Circle’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘A Priceless Piece Of Smile’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Gone Surfing’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘You Smile, I Smile’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘There’s nothing more rare or more beautiful than a woman being unapologetically herself, comfortable in her perfect imperfection’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

The Agora Awards 2019

The Agora Awards 2019 competition has been running throughout 2019, where photographers from all around the world – amateurs and professionals alike – could submit their best shots to the Agora free-to-use app.
Unlike any other photo contest, the Agora Awards involve professional and amateur photographers who can submit their images without any pre-established category. As such, the entries are varied and include haunting portraits, stunning landscapes, and incredible pieces of photojournalism.
On September 3rd, Agora revealed the competitions shortlist including 50 finalists and opened the final voting phase. In keeping with the democratic nature of the app, all users could vote on their favorite photograph and have a say in who takes home the ultimate prize.
The Agora Awards winner has been elected as the author of the most voted photo by the Agora users. More than 500,000 votes have been received in the competition where ‘Songs of Freedom’ crowned the Ghanaian photographer with the Agora Awards 2019 Hero title.

(Michael Aboya/Agora)