The intimate and introspective photography of Hady Barry

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As the final photographer selected for the Malala Fund’s Against All Odds commission series in collaboration with 1854, Barry will document 13-year-old Aïssatou – one of the few girls in her rural village of Tolo, Guinea, who is set to pursue a secondary education

Hady Barry was born in Conakry, Guinea. Growing up, her father would tell Barry and her sister, Aicha, stories of the obstacles he faced in order to get his education: systemic barriers to school enrollment, quality, and equity, which still affect much of the area today. “When I applied for the Malala Fund commission,” says the photographer, “I knew immediately that I wanted to tell the story of a girl from my father’s village.”

Barry is the final photographer selected by Malala Yousafzai and her Malala Fund team as part of the Against All Odds commission series in collaboration with 1854. Over the course of three months, three women photographers have been commissioned to create new work celebrating the strength and determination of girls around the world. In Barry’s case, she will turn her lens to 13-year-old Aïssatou from Tolo — “one of few girls in rural Guinea who attempt to pursue a secondary education.” 

Since the year 2000, through national campaigns and programmes, Guinea has made significant strides towards a more equitable education system. But 49 per cent of young people aged 15-24 currently have no formal education. The average classroom hosts 80 children with only one teacher. “And as difficult as it was for [my father],” continues Barry, “I know there are challenges that only a girl experiences.” 

©Hady Barry

As Barry highlights, across sub-Saharan Africa, a complex host of factors impedes girls’ access to education in particular: insufficient facilities to manage their periods; a higher likelihood they’ll be kept at home to help with domestic duties; the threat of gender-based violence, or early marriage, for example. Per the most recent estimates from UNESCO, only 17% of women in rural Guinea completed primary school. 

“It’s a nation that’s only 63 years old, after all. And it’s too early to stop striving towards a better tomorrow”

– Hady Barry

“[Guinea] is where my people are from,” says Barry. “It’s a beautiful place that has been pillaged by French colonial rule and greedy regimes after its independence… On my good days, however, I remember that it is only nascent. It’s a nation that’s only 63 years old, after all. And it’s too early to stop striving towards a better tomorrow.”

In many ways, Aïssatou – and, by extension, Barry’s upcoming project – is an emblem of that better tomorrow. Aïssatou is the eleventh of 14 children. “She has a strong, quiet personality,” describes Barry, “which can come across as shy.” But there is a fire within her; a determination to one day study medicine, and become a doctor, so that she can help people.

In Tolo, middle school ends after a few grades. Girls who want to continue their education have to move to Mamou, a city two hours away. Barry will document Aïssatou’s life as she prepares for the move, as well as her first days of 7th grade. “But I didn’t want to just show up to Tolo, take photos of Aïssatou from my limited perspective, and then go on my merry way,” Barry explains. Rather, central to the project will be Aïssatou’s voice: she will carry a Polaroid camera, and shed light on her life through her own eyes. “By also putting the camera in Aïssatou’s hands, Hady is creating space for audiences to see a girl’s take on her own experiences,” adds Noreen Plabutong, Communications Associate at Malala Fund.

©Hady Barry

Though born in Guinea, Barry was initially raised in Abidjan, Cote D’ivoire. After the First Ivorian Civil War broke out in 2002, when Barry was 13, her family moved to Dakar, Senegal. She moved back to Abidjan in 2018, pulled by nostalgic memories of her childhood — but ‘home’ remains a complex question for her. “‘Home’ is where my siblings are,” she says. “We don’t have strong attachments to places.” 

For much of her life, Barry employed photography simply as a means to capture moments and scenes she found beautiful. It was only in 2020, after she left a high-pressure job, that she began approaching it as an artistic practice; one to “interrogate and sooth myself,” she describes. Her first foray into storytelling was podcasts, which she used to explore how we relate to each other, and how we navigate who we are. Now, a photography portfolio probing connection, identity, and memory has taken shape: images that are contemplative and introspective; influenced by the intimate work of Elinor Carucci, Pixy Liao, and Siân Davey.

©Hady Barry

Wearing the Inside Out, for instance, is a frank and delicate exploration of Barry’s ambivalent feelings toward motherhood. Upon returning to Abidijan in 2018, she moved in with a friend (“a sister, really”) named Azi, along with Azi’s husband, child, and dog. Barry and Azi turned 31 within months of each other, and Azi soon became pregnant with her second child: “her life is a mirror to mine,” remarks Barry, “and a reminder of the markers I haven’t hit.” The project compounds black and white vignettes of the life they shared; delicate projections of Barry’s simultaneous fear of, and fascination with, pregnancy. 

Meanwhile, her ongoing project Nostalgia UItra, which also began after Barry returned to Abidjan, grapples with notions of home. After convincing her sister, Aicha, to come and visit her, the pair revisited places from their childhood – their neighbourhood, elementary school, the beach town they used to go to on Sundays – in seek of some kind of “catharsis”; a sense of belonging. The resulting series – a mix of new photography, archival imagery from family photo albums, and Aicha’s journal entries – interrogates a catharsis that never came.

“It is an immense privilege to be welcomed into the life of a young girl”

– Hady Barry

Ultimately, the Malala Fund x 1854 Against All Odds commission is a chance for Barry to build on the same collaborative approach to photography she has been cultivating for the past year.

“I’m approaching this project as a gift to the viewers,” says the artist. “It is an immense privilege to be welcomed into the life of a young girl. My goal is to give them a glimpse into what it is like to be Aïssatou… What it is like to be a young girl with a desire to learn in an environment where that can be unlikely.”

The Against All Odds Commission Series is a collaboration between Studio 1854 and Malala Fund. Want to work with major brands and NGOs on compelling, cause-conscious campaigns? View our current commission opportunities.

Flossie Skelton

Flossie Skelton joined British Journal of Photography in 2019, where she is currently Commissioning Editor across awards, Studio and partner content. She does freelance writing, editing and campaign work across arts, culture and feminism; she has worked with BBC Arts, Belfast Photo Festival and Time’s Up. She is also an illustrator, with artwork published in Marie Claire, ES Magazine, Sunday Times Style and the Guardian.