‘I wanted the focus to be on their smiles’: Brunel Johnson’s best phone picture

There’s a strong Premier League following in the Gambia: just like Brunel Johnson, 14-year-old Musa is an Arsenal fan. The London-born photographer was on his way to lunch when he noticed the teen, in his favourite football shirt, huddled with friends. They were on the grounds of Spot Academy, watching game highlights on one of the older kids’ phones.

Brunel had been living alongside the boys for two weeks, documenting the work of the charity, which serves as a community school while providing boarding places for orphans. He’d left his digital camera in his room and knew the moment would pass if he went back for it. So he reached for his iPhone. The photograph’s angle was a spur-of-the-moment decision, chosen simply to fit as many faces in as possible; he added the black and white “Noir” filter later.

“I wanted the focus to be on their faces as they saw themselves on the screen, and their smiles. Many of the boys are orphans: all have lost at least one parent, like Musa. But there is rarely a moment when they aren’t smiling,” Johnson says. “As a Black photographer of African heritage, it’s my responsibility to authentically document the reality of Africa, in all its beauty and in its poverty. And you can show poverty while still maintaining human dignity.”

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