David Pace | Part 1: First Impressions

May 4, 2016 11:40PM

Very few westerners have ever heard of Burkina Faso, and even fewer have ever visited the small, land-locked country in Western Africa. However, for Californian photographer David Pace, it is a place that has captured his heart and his creative passion for nearly a decade. 

Since 2007, David Pace has traveled to Bereba, a rural village in Burkina Faso. His first visits were rocky; he didn't speak the national language, French, and the people, unaccustomed to having their photo taken, were not too receptive to his camera. On top of that, his style to shoot with black and white film didn't accurately capture what he saw—a world saturated in vibrant colors.

Pace returned the following year, this time equipped with a little French and a digital camera. These early studies or impressions mimic the feeling people have when they first begin understand a new place for what it is, not what they expect it to be. Though the medium came with its own issues—the town had no electricity and thus posed some logistical challenges—Pace was unencumbered by chromatic limitations. 

The digital medium also enabled Pace to break out of his own conventions of what made a worthy photograph, and so Pace began to photograph almost all aspects of village life. He would return home with thousands of photographs on his hard drive, many of them portraits of the people he was slowly getting to know. This initiated Pace's process of returning each year with portraits for the villagers—and for many of them, this is the only photograph they own. This process of reciprocity—a photo for a photograph—also allowed Pace to chisel out his own place in village life as the resident photographer. 

Images such as At Work 0742 (a somewhat vague title for an incredibly emotive photograph, which belies Pace's penchant for precision), evokes the moment when you cease being overwhelmed by the difference of a new place, and find intense beauty in it. Similarly, an image of an old poster advertising different haircuts, though not particularly interesting in-and-of-itself, becomes a treasured lens through which to understand an unfamiliar place.  

Burkina Faso rarely enters the Western imagination, and when it does it is usually framed by typical Western conceptions of what Africa is: backwards, war torn, and poor. Pace's photographs work to get outside of these more abstract attributes, rather, there is a level of care and attention to the quotidian goings-on of village life. Though it is arguable that no one ever fully knows a place for all that it is, Pace's early images form the basis of continuously evolving narrative of Bereba as a place full of beauty, diversity, particularity, and people, who at the end of the day, are more similar to us than they are different.   

—Harper Brokaw-Falbo