Google “Africa” and you’re likely to see photographs of safaris and sunsets. For businesses hoping to market their products across the continent, that lack of realistic images of the continent can present a challenge. New start-up Picha, founded by Josiane Faubert, hopes to disrupt the way consumers and companies think about Africa one image at a time. Ayiba’s Akinyi Ochieng spoke to Faubert about the business and its potential to empower Africans behind and in front of the lens.

Josiane of Picha

Josiane Faubert, Founder, Picha

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself—where are you from and where are you based?

I’m from Gabon in West-Central Africa, where I was born and raised until I moved to France and the U.K. before settling in the United States, where I live now.

In 2006, while I was living in London, I started working as a photographer. Before that, I worked in marketing research. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and be free to make my own hours, so I jumped into freelance photography.

In 2011, I moved to Washington, D.C., where the photography market is very saturated, and started to think about starting something new. I went back to school to complete a certificate in social media management.

While I was trying to find my way in that field, I realized that every time I looked for a picture of Africa for a social media post, I either couldn’t find one or they were too expensive.

Although stock image libraries of Africa do exist, the content is primarily safaris or sunsets. It wasn’t representative of the Africa that I know, which is very diverse. That frustration helped me come up with the idea of Picha, which helped me combine my background in photography with my knowledge of social media.

How many photographers are currently contributing to the platform?
We have about 100 photographers subscribed on the platform, but only about ten photographers who regularly submit now. That’s largely because we request release forms, which most photographers typically don’t request. Even if we submit a great picture of someone, if they don’t have a release form, we can’t accept it unless it’s an editorial image like a protest, for example.

Why did you decide to use release forms?
We sell images for web and editorial use. For editorial use, you technically don’t need anything because you’re trying to educate or teach people. If you want to buy an image to use in something you’re going to sell – for example the huge billboards you’ll often see in African cities – you risk a lawsuit if you don’t have consent. We want to make sure that if something is sold for commercial use, the subject of the photo knows that they might be on a billboard, for example, one day.

Why PICHA_

A more experienced photographer would understand that and already collect release forms, but we have to educate younger photographers on these nuances if they’d like to sell images for commercial use, which have more value.

What’s the price range for photos on Picha?
The pricing is competitive. They go from $10 for a small image that you could use on social media, for example, to $100. Depending on the use and the type of license, you’ll add anywhere between $100 and $500.  

Photographers receive commissions when their images are sold on the website. We start with a forty percent commission. For photographers who commit to understand the market and submit images that buyers want on a regular basis, we will begin offering over fifty percent as a commission.

Are there any legal or intellectual property issues that African photographers commonly face?Intellectual property is a concern everywhere.

In Africa, there are many official buildings that you’re not allowed to photograph. We’re working on putting together a list for photographers so that they know to avoid capturing images of those buildings, but it’s a challenge to assemble as the information isn’t always readily available. There are also sometimes copyright issues. For example, a common one is the image of a Coca-Cola bottle.

Stock issues are completely unbranded. When we’re putting things on the website, we’re also conscious of things like branding. If you’re working a Nike shirt, we need to remove the label. Or if you’re using a Mac laptop, we’ll take off the Apple symbol on the screen.

You often use the hashtag #KeepItReal to promote Picha. What does that mean to you?
#KeepItReal isn’t about the real Africa versus the one portrayed in the media. It’s about opportunities. I’ve seen a lot of African websites and social media campaigns from predominantly black African countries where you’ll see a white hand holding something or white people on all the billboards. #KeepItReal is about finding the resource to help you talk to your people. Picha wants to help African companies and organizations find images that reflect their audience.

What’s your vision for Picha in the near future?
Everyone needs images these days.  We’re trying to be a bridge to help connect creatives with buyers like ad agencies. You may need an image for a presentation or a website, so we want to be a marketplace to bring together people who are searching for representative images of Africa. Our goal is to have photographers and buyers across Africa.  It’s hard to make a living out of photography in Africa, so Picha helps improve the income of talented people across the continent.