An elevator in a government building in Abidjan. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A Congolese immigrant at her home in Abidjan. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
An office at the UN headquarters in Abidjan. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A man walks through the Librairie de France bookstore in Abidjan. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A salesperson in a mobile phone store in Abidjan. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A girl in Dabou. Image by Austin Merrill. Ivory Coast, 2012.
Car mechanics in Dabou. Image by Austin Merrill. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A woman at the front desk of Hotel da Vinci in San Pedro. Image by Austin Merrill. Ivory Coast, 2012.
In San Pedro, a manual laborer rests amidst sacks of cocoa at Saf Cacao, the largest nationally owned cocoa exporter in Ivory Coast. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A man loads sacks of cocoa for export at the port in San Pedro. Image by Austin Merrill. Ivory Coast, 2012.
Shipping containers at the port in San Pedro. Image by Austin Merrill. Ivory Coast, 2012.
Fishing boats in the harbor in San Pedro. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
Men read newspaper headlines about a new prime minister in Soubre. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A young girl in her parents' roadside shop in Duekoue. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A man wipes a child's nose in Pinhou. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A young girl at the Nahibly refugee camp outside of Duekoue. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
Four local men stand amidst the recent ruins of Zibablu Yeblu. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A man in a hotel in Duekoue. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
The Ivorian side of the Ivory Coast border with Liberia. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
Refugees who have not been home in a year purchase DVDs while they wait for a UN convoy in Toulepleu that will return them to their villages. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A woman reacts to seeing a destroyed home in a village near Blolequin. Image by Austin Merrill. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A young girl stands amidst the rubble of a destroyed home in a village near Blolequin. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
Three men share a seat in Niambli. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
Helene Maimoura stands amidst the rubble of her former home in Niambli. Image by Austin Merrill. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A young man in Niambli. Image by Austin Merrill. Ivory Coast, 2012.
Children reach for the first mangoes of the season in Niambli. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.
A driver waits for his passenger in Abidjan. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ivory Coast, 2012.

It begins on an elevator, as we ascend through a government building to pick up our press passes. I suppose part of the beauty of photographing with a phone is that you can start working before you’re issued a press pass.

For each project I photograph, there is always one image that makes everything click in my brain; one image that makes me realize what the story or theme is. In this case, the epiphany was that there need not always be a theme. Often my work as a photojournalist seems surprisingly, even dangerously, predetermined. We know the story we have been sent to cover, and we edit ourselves to tell that story even as we shoot. In this case, for example, I was in Ivory Coast to dig deeper into a conflict whose conclusion I had witnessed one year before – and the cocoa trade that feeds it, and uncertain steps being taken to resolve it. Subconsciously or not, I looked for photos that told that story.

And so it seemed that the other photos I was making simultaneously – on a silly phone with a silly “app” – began to feel more honest in their experiential nature. Sometimes we shoot without a theme. I notice the man on the elevator, the symmetry of the men around him and their reflections, the row of lights above his head. The picture is interesting in its mundane-ness, and therein lies the truth. Africa can be the place of extremes that we in the West see so often. Inundated with images of incredible poverty, we also occasionally see vast wealth. But Africa can be familiar. It can also – thankfully – be boring.

In this context, everything becomes important. The blur of a man in a bookstore, the row of young men lined up to read the daily paper. One morning, with an egg sandwich in one hand and a phone in the other, I snap a photo of a young Guinean girl walking through curtains. Her parents own the breakfast joint we frequent. Two hours and ten minutes later, a man wipes the snot from a young boy’s face. I can’t understand his language but I know what is being said: “This visitor is photographing you. Look your best.”

As we line up waiting for the UN to return the refugees to their homes, I’m torn. Which to photograph, the sad faces peering through the windows – so reminiscent of the forlorn images I’ve come to expect from this corner of the world – or the men standing, laughing, poring over DVDs for sale, deciding which Hollywood film they will purchase with the UN readjustment allowance they have been given. Which shoot-em-up blockbuster should be the first that they watch after they get back to their village and rebuild their homes.

It’s jarring. Sometimes I don’t think we let it jar us enough. We find the palatable in these situations. Refugees, we think, should be heavy with the terrible burden of all they’ve seen, weary with the miles they’ve walked to flee this place – not smiling and posing with the foreigner who appears with a camera.

I’m wandering in a village that was only recently destroyed. Burning through rolls of film to make evidence that the conflict may not yet be over – and then four young men come by laughing, and they stand with their arms crossed in the shade of a tree, and they make a camera motion with their hands. Snap snap snap. Later I scrawl into a notebook, "We may never understand this place."

I’m wandering in a shopping mall, a plantation, a border crossing, a harbor, an airport terminal. As a photographer, it seems to exist all for me to point at and snap. But it’s not for me. It’s Africa, everyday.

Peter and Austin will be continuing to live blog this project during their travels at EverydayAfrica.tumblr.com

Project

In Ivory Coast—the world’s top cocoa producer—cocoa farmers bore the brunt of a civil war that killed thousands and displaced more than a million. A year after a power transfer, has anything changed?

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