Another factor that drives her practice is the desire to photograph her subjects with sincerity. She connects emphatically with those she lenses, meaning that she’ll often find a place of comfort between them and avoid any awkward or intrusive moments. Because of this, her image-making evokes a sense of vulnerability and closeness: “In that moment, we’re both blind to what is being captured,” she explains. “But for the most part, I like to give people the space to tell their own story, and present themselves as they truly feel.” It’s a collaboration of like-mindedness, and a shared goal of creating something honest and beautiful.
Take her Skate Gal Club project as an example. Shot last year, Abena had reached out to the subjects months before she landed in Ghana. Before meeting anyone in person, she spoke to Sandy on the phone, who runs Surf Ghana and Skate Gal Club, and she knew instantly that she had a “personal affinity with them”. She adds: “There was just a very genuine and natural interaction and connections and you can’t fake that. So I just allow myself to be open to what people give me.” The imagery represents this wholeheartedly, where the angling of the lens and cropped, up-close framing places her subjects centrefold, which gives a sense of strength and familiarity to the work.
Another of Abena’s most favoured projects is the work shot in Ghana – The sea in between. The series kicked off in 2018 as she returned to her family’s country, “and saw it for the first time with adult eyes,” she says, before being struck by how much beauty there is. “Africa’s always presented in a way that makes it feel really loud and I was more drawn to the moments of quiet and stillness, because Ghana was a place I felt a sense of peace in while I was there.” Through a mix of landscapes, candid shots of people and snapshots of life, the project delves into her own identity and cultural duality, alongside thematic explorations into the sea, coast and water.
Although still in the early days of her photographic journey, Abena’s portfolio presents itself with maturity and style. She recently read a poem called Risk a few months ago, written by Anaïs Nin, which she feels summarises her creative journey in its totality. It reads: “And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful that the risk it took to blossom.” So, if you’re like Abena and you’re considering a re-jig of your career and pursuits, then now has never been a better time to do it.