The first time I visited New York was a real eye opener for me. In my early childhood, I saw many classic movies from Hollywood’s golden age and I had an image in my mind of what the city and its citizens would be like. Nothing prepared me for the real deal. From that experience, I began to understand that images and reputations can be artfully assembled to look much more alluring than they actually are.
Similarly, when I visited Rio, I had preconceived notions about beautiful bodies gliding on the beach at Copacabana. There are many photogenic people from that city, but not necessarily more than there are in Lagos, or Harare perhaps.
More recently, I have worked in Ealing. Again, there are certain sorts of images that come to mind when I think of this London suburb. Sid James, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor and others evoke very different images in my mind to the ones I imagine when I think of New York or Rio. I attended a function in Ealing where opinions were expressed about how costly it is to buy properties in the borough. Perhaps because of the image conveyed by the Ealing comedies, I couldn’t understand why this is the case.
At the end of my commitment in Ealing, I had to deliver some documents back to the people I worked for. Seeing Ealing Broadway after nightfall, around Christmas time, it became clear to me that it is a rather plush part of London. This made me reflect on the power of storytelling, especially with visual images.
People of African descent have to take charge of our narratives. This is the moral of the story.