Imagine how heartbreaking it will be when people who you regard as a family come tearing you apart with hurtful words that seemingly made you feel “useless” just because of a career you chose to follow to the latter. But amidst all of this, he has risen above mediocrity and what society says to blaze the trail in the photography space.
Although his face might not be out there, his breathtaking works speak for itself. Throughout the country, his work with MTN, Nestle, Samsung, Afrochella, Wilmar as well as Star Beer, FranIce, Orijin, Accra Mall, and others sits comfortably on Billboards throughout the country.
Today, Franklin Gyan JR. continues to shine a bright light on the many young creatives who look up to him as a beacon of hope for excellence.
A: During my National Service period. Right around the time, I was about ending my stint with Innova DDB. It was either I stayed and be a graphic designer or move into photography full time. During my national service, occasionally I was given the opportunity to shoot some of the brands because they saw the potential in me. With time, I realized my passion for photography was fast overshadowing my design prowess so I just had to switch.
A: Initially, what I wanted to do was architecture, because I loved interior designing but unfortunately, I don’t know where it passed, it just vanished.
A: Yes, my mother was, but my father was skeptical. He didn’t understand it. But yeah, he couldn’t do anything about it. He was just skeptical, he wasn’t sure if this was what I wanted to do. But someway somehow as time went on and things started developing, they warmed up to it. I once remember an uncle of mine rubbished everything telling me I am wasting my time with art and design. He really made me feel useless and that is why I am trying to improve upon my work to prove a point to him. He has apologized for a couple of times and regretted his action.
Q: Professionally, how did you land your first photography job aside Innova?
A: (Sigh) This is a question o! I think that will be Brommon. That was through a friend of mine, I think somewhere in 2015 or 2016.
Q: How was the feeling like for you at the time, looking at the caliber of person you had to deal with?
A: Honestly, I didn’t know who he was at that time, so it was more of do your good work, you know! Just pay attention and get the work done because, at the end of everything, it is your work that is going to make them come back. So my whole mind at the time was to get the best work out. Before I shoot any project, I first look at how similar stuff is done on the international scene because I always want to put out my very best. That’s how I push myself constantly beyond the limit.
Q: Generally, do you think creatives in Ghana are being appreciated for what they do?
A: Errmm, initially it wasn’t but it is picking up, I won’t even lie. It’s actually picking up because the presence of social media makes our work important or relevant. People are actually realizing that you can be a doctor or business owner but if you don’t have a creative on your team nobody is paying attention to you. You might be selling the most expensive thing but if you don’t have a creative on your team, it’s not going to work. Initially, that wasn’t the norm, things have changed. I’ll attribute it to the presence of social media especially because right now some old folks who didn’t appreciate art appreciate it now. You can see that more people are not having problems being entrepreneurs in the art industry because they’ve realized that being on your own even within the art sector, can fetch you money. It is being appreciated but it can be way better.
Q: Which professional photographer aside your mentor has influenced your life and how have you inculcated that into what you do now?
The bob pixel in the early stages and it shifted to Joel Grimes.
A: In Tech, I used to look up to Bob Pixel. I used to have his pictures saved on my laptop. He is one of the biggest shots in the industry but along the line, it shifted to Joel Grimes. And like I said, I’m more endeared towards the western world so initially, it was Joel Grimes because my mentor at the time, before he died, also regarded Joel Grimes as his mentor. But then I realized that as time went on with the world developing and everything, people’s art sense started shifting from his style because I realized people weren’t appreciating his style as much.
Q: What was his style?
A: It was a grungy dark type of photography and not everybody was appreciating it so I gradually had to re-adjust and try and do something that will be more appreciated both in the commercial, lifestyle, and fashion space. So I came across one guy called Eric Almas who is a commercial photographer based outside and honestly, his works still keep me on the edge. He’s the benchmark for me.
Q: But have you tried reaching out to him?
A: Eric Almas, I’ve reached out to him a couple of times but he doesn’t reply so, yeah. It is understandable. He’s a busy guy.
Q: What makes your work stand out particularly to you?
A: Am I the best person to answer this question? I don’t think so. I think it should be the people who view it. My work etiquette is what I can talk about because I always want to make sure that the client is happy, regardless. In whatever I do I want to make sure the client is happy. Doing good work and getting it on time, is very professional, not following the crowd or popularity; those are my guiding principles. Some people are clinging on to the thirst for popularity so they’ll practically do anything to make them popular. For me, I’m not like that. Because I have an advertising background it is more about how to sell a product or service. So if I’m able to execute this successfully, it’s more like a gain, for me.
Q: Arguably, you’ve built a huge brand for yourself, looking at the kind of people you work for. What do you think you’re doing right that others aren’t doing?
A: (Sigh and Laughs) Eei chale, these questions, errm, I think it’s being professional and the way you carry yourself. The fact that you are a photographer does not mean you cannot wear long sleeves, you can’t drive a nice car, you can’t wear a suit, you can’t have some type of conversation with some people, you get me? I feel like people have narrow-minded or boxed themselves so much that they think because they’re photographers they can’t express themselves in a particular way, they can’t do this or be here. Personally, I think I can attribute it to the way I carry myself. Your branding and presentation, your work ethics actually, make you stand out.
Q: You’ve worked for huge brands like MTN, Nestle Ghana, Star, Sarkodie, Brommon, etc, the list goes on and on. How does working with these brands feel like?
A: It feels good, it’s a good feeling to know that your work is that good that they trust you with their business. So it’s a good feeling, seeing it on a billboard. Initially, when I see my work on a billboard I’ll be crazy, jumping, take a picture and show it to my mom. But in all, it kind of avers my mind to the fact that there is some level or standard I have to keep raising. Because If these big brands trust you with their work, that means you’re doing something right. That means you’re on the right track and definitely, to reach bigger brands, you need to do better each and every day.
Q: Back to that, you talk about doing something right. What do you think you’re doing right that makes them come back? Because like you said there are equally other guys doing great stuff?
A: You need to treat your client as a priority. If the client is not there you’re not there. Artists have this ego when it comes to their work which I think you need to put aside for some time to be a business-minded person. If the client is not there your services aren’t needed. So make the client happy and you’ll be good. Some people will argue with me and say that what if the client is doing something… You need to come to an agreement, I meet you halfway, you meet me halfway, sort of thing. When the client is happy, you’re happy. Before any execution of work, let the person know how you work if possible. Give them what they want, if there’s any way you can actually reshoot some work you did that they weren’t happy about, do it. It might be your loss but it might go a long way to take your name further.
Q: You shot King Promise’s ‘As Promised’ album cover, how did you come up with the concept?
A: So King Promise wanted an Afrocentric approach to his album cover so that was what was the focus when deciding on the set design and props that will be needed and he brought the ladies on set with him and I think GG Bespoke, the lady designer, also brought the cloth and styling.
Q: Coming to the creative side, how long did it take for you to come up with that?
A: Once he said it, as I said, it was something the client wanted, so I did it for him. The client has a desire so he came to me that he wanted an Afrocentric design to his album, he gave me a couple of pictures as his inspiration. From there, I went to Art Center to get the props. I did all the gathering, put them together and it came out the way it did.
Q: Any awards so far?
A: No award. The only award I’ve had wasn’t in photography it was in Mfanstipim where I was an overall best student in ceramics. (Laughs)
Q: Any Reason?
A: I still believe I have a long way to go and yeah, I’ve not even accomplish half of what I want to do so definitely I have a long way to go.
Q: You seem not to be the outing type, are you?
A: I’m an outing guy, I go out a lot. But because sometimes work comes in the way, you get tired and you’re unable to go. I’m not that type that wants to be inside, no. But I don’t like letting people know where I’ll be, therefore, making noise about it. Mingling with people is good, some type of people I must say. I like to go out because I want to meet a lot of people, I introduce myself to people, show my work to people. I do that a lot. So I go to events, meet prospective clients, and engage them in conversations that they are interested in not what I’m interested in, share a card, etc. So yeah, I do go out.
Q: Aside from recommendations from others, how do you get your clients?
A: I send DMs a lot. I do this because I have this advertising approach to things, I see business and I can tell what they’d need and how it will help them. So I move to them and I tell them, I’m Franklin and this is what I do, I can do this and this for your business, we schedule a meeting if you’re interested in what I have, I can tell you more about what I can do for your brand with my services. Secondly, I think social media. People see my work on social media, link up and that’s it.
Q: What should upcoming creatives be doing to reap the full benefits of their craft?
A: I’m a commercial photographer, I also do celebrities and fashion as well. First and foremost you need to know what you want to shoot. You need to find your space, some people are very good at weddings, they know how to capture moments. I might not be able to do that, but once you find what you want to do, nail it and nail it very well. Also, you need to know your target audience and work for the target audience. You don’t just do it because you want to be popular, you’re doing it because you’re trying to satisfy the people that come to you with their work. So whichever aspect you find yourself, you just need to do it to the level where the client will be happy. So don’t get complacent, I think our problem as Ghanaians is complacency. You look at Nigerians, they are constantly pushing the bar higher every single time. I don’t think complacency is in their dictionary and that’s our problem as Ghanaians. It is not just in the art industry, the problem is everywhere. So basically, find your space, find the audience even if they’re not in Ghana, be resilient, and make them happy with your work. Photography is a problem-solving tool, solve it with your camera. It is not just about taking nice pictures. There’s more to it than just that.
Q: You talk about complacency, has that in any way limited the growth of creativity in Ghana?
A: I’ve worked with a lot of creatives and I realized that most of them get complacent because a few people in Accra know them, they’re good. For others, once they get a lot of followers they feel they’re on top. Followers aren’t money, you can’t buy a Benz with followers. Their whole mind is that when they get into the space of popularity, then that’s all, they are good. But that’s not the case and that’s where the complacency sets in. When they get some fame, they’re like oh, I’ve made it, I’ve done a few, after all when they need me they’ll come and call me. You’ll be forgotten because guess what, every year there are new sets of creatives coming into the industry. Every new year there are new sets of creatives bringing in new ideas. So if you constantly put yourself in that space of complacency, you’ll be out of business in a blink. When I started I was doing shoots that people thought it was a paid job. I’ll take a product and shoot but I wasn’t getting anything. But in the long run, people saw that, came to me and said, I saw that product shoot how much did they pay you, for it? And looking at how that shoot was done it gave me the opportunity to charge more.
Q: Has there been any moment where you felt humiliated for the work you did?
A: Yes, my second shoot with MTN. (Laughs) Oh my God! The work didn’t go on well. I think that was when I started. I didn’t understand strobe lighting, I didn’t understand a lot of things but they trusted me. It wasn’t the major job but it was one of those jobs that were going to be featured in a Newspaper so they asked me to handle it. But when I went in, my lighting wasn’t working and the shots that came out were horrible. Everybody in the agency blasted me, my competency just dropped. I had to build it up again.
Q: How did you build that up again?
A: I wasn’t directly working with MTN it was through Innova because they are the agency. So with that, I had to prove myself and because I was undergoing my National service then, I had to keep shooting till I won their trust. So once in a while, I’ll shoot and show it to them. They gradually realized it was a mistake. I convinced them, worked on some free shoots, then eventually, it worked.
Q: In the next five years where do you see yourself?
A: As a business owner, an entrepreneur running a huge multinational production company operating in and outside Ghana. Back in school, we used to produce Bissap drinks, I’m looking at going into the drinks business again not necessarily the same thing but the whole point is to be a business owner.
Q: Are you expensive?
A: I’m very affordable for those who can afford it. To some people it can be very expensive, for others it can be very cheap.
Q: You’re not married, are seeing someone?
A: I’m not married and yes I’m actually seeing someone. I will surely get married soon and well, everything is in God’s hands.
Q: Do you see yourself more as a business-oriented or a family-oriented person?
A: The thing is, there should be a balance between both. If I am not happy at home it definitely will affect my business as well. The more reason why I was pushed to work hard was mainly to escape hardship and other personal problems. I gradually started making myself happy when I realized I could work and work well for big clients to accept and even display it on huge billboards.
Q: You appear to be very friendly, is that who you are?
A: Yeah, I’m very friendly but people say I’m not. I’m always a happy person. Most people see me and they think I’ll be very difficult to approach but I’m actually a nice person. I think the reason why people see me as such is that I always have a serious face but that doesn’t mean I’m strict or not friendly. We are human and we certainly need human beings to move forward. You wouldn’t know where your next blessing will come from and who exactly that person will be. That’s why I respect everybody.
Q: On a typical day, how is it like for you?
A: Let’s say on days I have a shoot, I prepare myself very well the previous day with my team and plan on how things will go. And if I have some free time on my hands, I usually like to sit alone mostly by water or where there is cool music. I sometimes do that at Kempinski by the pool and get myself a drink and if I can link up with friends, I do. Mostly on Thursdays, we go for game nights but aside that I go see my girlfriend. I also use that period to research, and meet clients and edit my works.
Q: If you had the chance to start your career all over again, what would you have done differently?
A: I would have done real estate and architecture. As I said, I want to be a business owner.
Q: How do you define success?
A: My definition for success is being the best at whatever you see yourself doing. Being comfortable and not having the stress of purchasing what you want and helping people. Basically to encapsulate everything it’s just financial freedom with no problems.
Q: Who would you like to work with?
A: I would want to work for an airline company as in shoot for them. I’d want to work for KLM or Emirates, I’ll be very happy to work for a brand like that. I want to work with Nike one day or any Hollywood celebrity where the whole movie cast will be shot by me. I’d be glad to work for any reputable multinational company outside Ghana, for my work to transcend to all parts of the world.
Q: You haven’t reached out to any yet?
A: It is a matter of time, it is a building process. I don’t want a situation where I’ll go and pitch for a job and there will be a question and I don’t have what it takes. It will hurt me, and it hurts me when I lose jobs. Initially, I’ll even cry! When I lose a job that I know I’m competent for, I’ll either keep quiet and stay somewhere but if I’m not able to control myself, I’ll cry and be sad for a very long time.
Q: Has there been any case like that?
A: Oh yeah, there are jobs I lose, I don’t get it and I cry sometimes. I’m a very strong person but when I get emotional, I get very emotional, unreasonably emotional. I hate myself sometimes when it happens that way.
Q: When all is said and done what would you want to be remembered for?
A: My excellence, my work, and my ability to change the industry to prove to the people who didn’t think arts can fetch people money. And also prove a point to the parents whose kids have the desire to study arts and are being denied. Mind you, not everyone who read arts is failing. There’s a problem, most people think art students are the shallow ones. So if you don’t do well in anything, go to the arts and guess what they are the same people who come out to be the fashion designers, etc. Apple, the richest tech company in the world works with arts. The aesthetics, design, and everything. There needs to be a mind shift.
Thank you so much for your time.
Guest: Thank you too, I’m grateful.
Interview by: William Lamptey
Editor: Joshua Quodjo Mensah