Danny Wonders: Griot Artist Filmaker
Updated: May 30
Ghanian-British director Danny Wonders captures Ghanian culture in its purest forms. Often paring perfectly normal situations with common people he manages to relate to a bigger audience. This is Ghana is more about the people's stories then it is about his. While exploring his culture outside of the white gaze the resiliency of blackness is realized.
A young girl walking outside of a slave castle, a man taking a nap after a long day, these are the people who often get ignored in society. His photographs detail their lives and their stories.
His work explores the cultural elements of tourism, beauty, and resiliency. As an artist capturing these moments the stories are kept intact and the people are left identified. Black subjects emerge as people fully represented in his art.
Danny's style as an artist is very much similar to that of a griot. In traditional West African culture griots were considered the storytellers and were the ones to pass down the oral knowledge of their community.
"I felt that the images represented Ghana in its best light because I was using the locals and telling a story through them and I felt like I didn't really dress them up or customize them. It was just people I just saw in my everyday life in their natural habitat so I felt like it's the most authentic form of what it was so I called it This Is Ghana and it correlates with my documentary which I'm currently working on now.”
Because his work features people in his community he doesn't have to go out of his way to find any models or play dress up. The work is already there. It's simply a matter of asking and taking the shot.
He wants to capture the moment as it is happening in real-time often stopping to get a glimpse of something that interests him. He's seeing something before it happens or recreating a scene in his mind. The person he photographs doesn't quite understand what's going on but somehow he manages to get them to stand there and he shoots. He rotates between different angles trying to capture the perfect shot and in very subtle ways try to bring out their best sides. He edits the work but very minimally since most of it was already captured on the spot. The perfect moment as he saw it.
Danny's work exhibit these themes
The White Gaze
The Hustles of Back People
This is Ghana is a documentary exploring Danny Wonders's home country. It exists as a visual key for people interested in learning more about the country or returning as part of the Year of Return. He released the trailer for his film back in November before the pandemic hit. It was very fun and lively and the kind of story that celebrates authentic Ghanaian culture.
"It's kinda about the same thing but the documentary is about showing Ghana in it's the best light. If you go online you don't really see any updated documentaries on Ghana as a whole. The images you do see are more like Year of Return based where this one is more like the entrepreneurship and just the positivity that we don't see in Ghana away from the politics and stuff and the aim of the documentary is whoever is a diasporan to come and work here and live and whoever is a local to be prideful of where they're at and know there is an opportunity here. I don't necessarily have to leave to become something. You can do something here."
Opportunities are available in Ghana. Opportunities to work, create, navigate, and network with other like-minded creatives exist. The common myth is that people of the diaspora can only find it when they leave or study abroad. Danny wants to dismantle that myth.
“You know I always say you can do anything, be anything in Africa. Because when I see what's going on this Christmas with Afronation and all these other things even me to have the exhibition the process was so much smoother than how it would've been in London. In London there would've been a limit or a time. They would've overcharged me... I felt like I was delt as if I was family and not like a client. It's a different vibe. They just want money and get out and it's 11 you need to get out. If it's 11 here and the event is still lit they will allow it to go on"
In the background of his trailer for This Is Ghana, Damian Marley's song Roar is playing. The video is mostly set in Accra and feature's prominent friends of Danny such as PJ Kev and locals sharing personal anecdotes of life in Ghana.
The white gaze has always told our stories. By refocusing that energy Danny tells it from his point of view as an artist. The Griot from Ghana shares his truth.