What did you get up to during lockdown? For Ghanaian New Yorker Paul Ninson, it was all about amassing a library of 30,000 African photo books.
Ninson started his hobby of collecting photography books with images taken in Africa or by photographers of African descent shortly after arriving in New York on a photography scholarship in 2019. When lockdown was imposed, he went into over-drive, as struggling bookshops offloaded their inventories at reduced rates.
He acquired around 15,000 books that way, working odd jobs and taking out personal loans to cover costs. Ninson has doubled his collection since then, travelling up and down the east coast of the United States in search of new acquisitions. Amongst many other treasured items, the collection now includes every issue of National Geographic from the last 40 years.
Ninson believes that he now owns the world's largest collection of Africa themed photography publications. And his plans for a library are falling in to place beautifully thanks to a $1 million crowdfunding windfall, so he has already started shipping the trove to West Africa for a library he hopes will inspire the next generation of photographers back home.
"For so long we've let other people tell our stories and distribute our stories," Ninson told Reuters from one of his 16 New York storage units, crammed with ceiling-high stacks of books.
"That is the space I want to fill, to be able to give the tools and resources to African photographers and to black people to be able to tell our own stories," Ninson said.
His dream of using the books to set up Africa's largest photography library in Ghana became a reality after popular blog "Humans of New York" promoted a crowdfunding campaign for his project that raised $1 million in a single day.
The funds will help build the library in the capital Accra. Named after the word for 'Take the Lead' in his local language, the Dikan Centre will also offer workshops, equipment hire and studio space to aspiring African photographers.
"There are a lot of people in Ghana who are desperate to be photographers, to tell the stories of Africa," Ninson said. "These books are going to be the backbone."