After 9 months of competition, more than 130,000 photos submitted from 193 countries, it’s time to reveal the Agora Awards 2019 winner!

Michael Aboya, 24 year-old self-taught ghanaian photographer received last week the life-changing prize of $25,000 for his photo ‘Songs of Freedom‘, (see featured image above), crowned Best Photo of the Year. The winning photo conveys a strong message as it symbolizes more than just a photo: it visualizes an unspoken struggle for freedom and belonging.

The official Agora Awards 2019 ceremony took place in Fábrica Estrella Damm, Barcelona on November 6th, where it was live streamed and featured an exclusive photo exhibit sponsored by Fujifilm & Kitoli Laboratory showcasing the competition’s 50 Finalist Entries.

Michael Aboya - Agora award Winner - SLR Lounge
Michael Aboya – Agora Awards Winner

With photos portraying a cheerful and optimistic representation of the life around him, Michael Aboya aims to inspire a change in the way people perceive Ghana and the African continent in general.

PORTFOLIO Michael Aboya'Big Happy Six' Michael Aboya
PORTFOLIO Michael Aboya’Big Happy Six’ Michael Aboya

The vision for ‘Songs of Freedom’ came to Aboya while he was at home, listening to Bob Marley. When ‘Redemption Song’ began playing, he immediately wanted to bring the legendary song to life with his camera.

‘Songs of Freedom’ was shot in Labadi, one of Ghana’s oldest neighborhoods located in the coastal part of Accra, the country’s capital. The local kids from fishermen families who live on this beach have always been a source of inspiration for Michael.

PORTFOLIO Michael Aboya'You never really know what's coming, you just have to be ready when it does, and never get too comfortable, life is soo unpredictable.' Michael Aboya Agora
‘You never really know what’s coming, you just have to be ready when it does, and never get too comfortable, life is soo unpredictable.’ Michael Aboya Agora

In order to bring his vision to life with his camera, Michael gathered the group of kids while a friend of him who had brought a violin taught them the basics. One kid in particular had the most expression amongst them all and became the focus of the image:

Just one day before the shoot, I met Rockson, a friend I had made on the Agora platform who happened to visit Ghana, his home country. Surprisingly, he had brought his own violin with him, so I asked him to bring it along the next day for a shoot I had planned. We got to Labadi the next day where we met the 5 young amazing boys. In order to get the image as real and natural as possible without losing the most important aspect of who they really are, I asked my friend to teach them the basics on how to hold the violin, the perfect hand positions and I saw that one of the boys had the strongest expression with the violin, which was perfectly aligned with my vision for the photograph.

Songs Of Freedom is a striking image, with strong contrasts and an intelligent composition. A topless african child plays the violin under a wide sky that indicates a sunrise or sunset; the beginning or end of an era. Behind him are four more children with their fist raised and their eyes closed, enjoying the melody played by their companion. A melody that sounds like the conquest of a just future, that gives off intellectuality, pacifism, effort and dignity. It is an image full of symbols that declare that Africa is awake and will be the protagonist of a hopeful future. For me, Sounds of Freedom is an intelligent visual manifesto of a current reality and, at the same time, an optimistic and dignified message about the future.

PORTFOLIO Michael Aboya 'Look into my eyes, listen and hear what my mouth is not saying, for my eyes speaks louder than my voice ever will' - Michael Aboya Agora Michael Aboya agora
‘Look into my eyes, listen and hear what my mouth is not saying, for my eyes speaks louder than my voice ever will’ – Michael Aboya Agora

Michael is a 24 year-old self-taught photographer from Accra, Ghana. Born and raised in Nigeria, he moved to his father’s homeland, Ghana, when he turned 13. Michael celebrates the love he feels for his country through powerful photographs that portray a cheerful and optimistic representation of the life that surrounds him.

With his $25,000 prize, Michael plans to invest in his passion and skills to bring his art even further:

With the prize money, I’ll be able to invest into my photography by getting gears i need. I’ll invest into learning videography, putting my visions into moving pictures, visiting new places I have never been to capture the beautiful people and their colorful stories, support my family and give back to the community of youths.

To learn more about the Agora awards be sure to visit their site here, and then check out more of Michael’s incredible work below;

*Images & video shared with Permission from Agora