These photos boldly confront stereotypes about Africa

Photographer Dawit N.M. challenges western media's perceptions about Ethiopia with his book 'Don't Make Me Look Like the Kids on TV'

Published On
Feb 25, 2022
20220225_BHM_Dawit_NM__3x2.jpg

Editor's Pick

Yet another inspiring talent joins our Creative Excellence Series for Black History Month. Dawit N.M. is a director and photographer based in New York, represented out of Eleanor for commercial projects. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, he moved at the age of six to the U.S, planting new roots with his family in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Since then, he's been passionately exploring and honing his visual craft. His work, which has been exhibited at The Chrysler Museum of Art, reflects tensions of identity, blurring the lines between self and stereotype, with subjects who invite viewers into worlds of innocence, loss, devotion and intimacy. His projects include evocative films, music videos and ads for singer/songwriter Mereba, Charlie Puth, Curry Brand/Under Armour and more.

"Dawit is a very gifted director and photographer with an adept eye for creating beautiful imagery with a unique perspective," said our guest editor, Sophie Gold, who represents Dawit out of her production company Eleanor. "What initially drew me to him was his photo series, 'Don’t Make Look Like the Kids on TV.' Not only were his photos beautiful, but I loved how he used them to counteract the reductive associations and stereotypes about children in Ethiopia. He's a unique talent and I feel very fortunate to be able to work with him."

Here, Dawit shares the story of that very series, and the innocent, astute comment from his young cousin that inspired it.

Dawit
Dawit N.M. as a child
 
 

There have been quite a few milestones in my career that have changed a lot of things for me. From the short films I made with Mereba, to my first commercial for Steph Curry's Global Campaign launch, or even my first solo exhibition held at The Chrysler Museum of Art, all these moments have propelled my career in ways unimaginable. However, my self-published photobook "Don't Make Me Look Like the Kids on TV" takes the award.

The photo book is a collection of family photos and photographs I made in Ethiopia back in 2017. Initially, I set out to make photos to show my friends back in the States who were trapped in the Western way of perceiving Ethiopia. Things changed when I took a portrait of my cousin Fitsum.

As I was getting ready to take this portrait, Fitsum jokingly told me in Amharic, "Don't make me look like the kids on TV."

Dawit stamps

At that moment, a flood of rage hit me. And with that rage, I took the photos I made of my family, friends, and Ethiopia and compiled them into a book. Its message was unmistakable and directed at the big western media outlets that have gained so much from the single-story narrative they pushed on Africa. 

Dawit-girls

Before I released the book, I did my rounds of sending photo editors of various publications a synopsis of the project. As expected, none of them responded. So, as my 22nd birthday was coming up, which also happened to be my launch date, I didn't have much time to sob over not being heard. I had deadlines to meet.

After the release of the book, I was feeling good. Little did I know that it would eventually become the centerpiece of my career. It was the reason Mereba and I would connect. It was the starting point of my conversation with The Chrysler Museum. I didn’t think it would be seen by so many important people.

Dawit-embrace

But then, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the “special issue” of a prestigious magazine.

To my disbelief, everything from the cover image to the issue's central theme was from my book. One of my images was an obvious inspiration for the cover, from the subjects to the wardrobe choice. It even had similar blocking.

The main theme was acknowledging how the magazine’s past coverage of “non-white cultures” was racist. The magazine, whose name will go unsaid, was one of the publications I had emailed about the book.

This moment was pivotal in my life and my career because it gave me unlimited courage to pursue image-making as a lifelong profession. The way I saw it, this “coincidence” was a sign that I was on the right path, and if I can make this happen this early in my career, imagine what I'll do when all is said and done. 

Dawit Samson

Dawit sport

Credits

Date
Feb 25, 2022
Photographer :
Dawit N.M.

Need a credit fix? Contact the Creativity Editors