Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Juju represents something beyond our shallow understanding of life, something mysterious. It is a belief system in a lot of African cultures, which incorporates the use of masks and amulets and is supported by various rituals and dances.
When it comes to visual storytelling, artists label their brands with unique epithets. Yann Lapnet isn’t any different. He refers to himself as a ‘digital alchemist.’ He is indeed one, perhaps the reason we were taken by the charm of his images to make him our spotlight star for this week. Jokes apart, Yann steadily overthrows the ugly images the rest of the world have about Africa and the Black race, through the magical coalition of his lens and his aesthetic direction.
Yann is a spotlight star worth celebrating, and this is his story...
I am a very curious storyteller, fashion enthusiast, and digital alchemist based in the Bay Area. I am originally from Bali-Nyonga, a town located in the North-West region of Cameroon. I grew up in Yaoundé, Harare and now, San Jose.
One can argue that our ability to rekindle memories through photographs really influenced my passion for photography. In addition to this, my family members and friends are the people I hold dear to my heart, and the opportunity to immortalize them with the optics of a camera is truly magical. My passion for photography gave birth to my visual art brand, juju studio, a vessel dedicated to the edification of Blackness.
I want my images to convey the plenitude and versatility of Black Culture. Juju represents something beyond our shallow understanding of life, something mysterious. It is a belief system in a lot of African cultures, which incorporates the use of masks and amulets and is supported by various rituals and dances. I could not think of a better word to describe my artistry and what I stand for, as I consider myself to have a mysterious personality.
In the video “Welcome to pgLang” used by Kendrick Lamar and his team to unveil his multidisciplinary media company to the world, there is a particular scene that struck me. At around 2:30 minutes into the video, Kendrick is filmed listening to a man who says, “When you are identified with something that you are not, it always leads to suffering and unhappiness”.
I hope that the stories I tell through juju studio can help overthrow most, if not all of the preconceptions which have been deeply instilled globally, not only among non-Africans, but also within the African population, both at home and in the diaspora.
There are a plethora of beautiful instances which make up the Black experience, and in a society that is built to constantly tell Black people who to be, it is important to create and tell stories with Black Culture at the forefront to keep us rooted. Not only do these stories keep us rooted, but they also prevent the erosion of this mesmerizing culture for generations to come. My greatest fascination with Black culture is how each subculture is very niche and unique, but also shares many similarities.
I must say, the African continent as a whole is, indeed, my favourite place in the world to create fun memories and it’s not even close. In addition to home being where the heart is, there’s something about the culture back home that I cannot convey with my words, it is something to be experienced, from the weather to the food and the people.
I enjoy shooting on-the-go from time to time, but such sessions are really used to sharpen my technique in a given setting, whether it be outdoors or in a more controlled environment such as a studio. For the most part, my workflow follows the pattern of the 4 Ps (Pick, Plan, Produce, Promote). I try to remain present every second of everyday, because you never know when your brain will bless you! To pick a concept, inspiration is literally everywhere; we just need to be more attentive. In the planning phase, I use Pinterest and Tumblr a lot, to really pinpoint the exact looks I am going for, down to the smallest details.
The production phase consists of executing the plan. It is where an idea is proselytized into reality through photography and post-production. “Promote” has everything to do with how my work is reaching the audience, because our work is as good as its presentation. Presentation is especially important in a day and age where we are literally competing for people’s attention. While in the field, music is a prime source of inspiration. Afrobeats was my favourite genre of music to listen to this year, followed by Hip- Hop and R&B. I like to play music which vibrates at the same frequency as the mood of the concept during a photoshoot.
Things always fall in place in due time, and while I enjoy the journey, looking back always allows us to gain some perspective of our growth. 5 years from now, when I look back at the work I created, I will be proud of my determination to tell memorable stories with the resources I had at the time.