Kobby Blay: the portrait of a ‘healthographer’
Amid concerns about the potential spread of Ebola in Ghana due to the scanty education about the virus spread, most Ghanaians panicked and started scavenging the news wires for precautionary tools good enough to help them avoid coming into contacts with any suspected virus carrier.
That was back in March 2014. And, in the midst of the confusion, a young Ghanaian health professional and blogger took it upon himself to educate the public about the potential signs, and how to avoid it.
His name is Kobby Blay, who specializes in mental health. He carries with him a reservoir of knowledge on the country’s health industry and on regular basis, shares life-saving information on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, where he has a huge following.
He also runs the digital health agency, Ghana Health Nest (GHN), and offers vital tips on mental related health challenges and how one can identify symptoms. Kobby, who describes himself as a “man with a heart to serve,” tells the B&FT Weekend he tries to “influence healthcare through blogging, medical and documentary photography.”
Caring for sick persons is a craft that requires enormous gift and compassion and for Kobby, who says he took up the profession out of curiosity, almost a decade ago, is motivated to stay in, despite the existing challenges, because of the chance to “fix the untold pains and gains” of patients.
Technology is such a beautiful gift to this generation and especially for Kobby, it remains a platform where he does not only blog but a special interest for “creating health stories and contents to influence decisions. “
“I always thought of building a dedicated media for health. I used to write on latest health trends like and paste on the notice boards back at school for other students to read, I had made arrangements with some friends to design a magazine for trainee nurses.It couldn't materialize,” he said.
A member of Blogging Ghana, a group of writers who share their thoughts in the digital space on different subjects, Kobby says the thought of using the digital space for storytelling did not appeal to him that much until a friend advised him to give it a try.
The rest, as we say, is history. Controlling his own storytelling means he is able to address the subject without giving space to the often sensational way of crafting ordinarily simple stories by the traditional media-which pays little attention relevance-something he says makes him uncomfortable.
The social media space has equally come under fire for doing little to address the increasing strength of fake news competing alongside the real news. But despite this, Kobby tells the B&FT Weekend that social media is a gift for a generation that is increasing gravitating towards technology.
“Blogging took me to an unknown world and has increased my networks and learning. Having been nominated a couple of times and acknowledged as the best blog in 2015 in Ghana, the first runner up, best public health blog in Africa(under a Gates sponsored blogging awards), Kobby is still as modest as ever.
Despite these recognitions, he says nothing is more rewarding than sharing useful health tips with people who are generous enough to acknowledge the information he provides saved a relative of themselves.
Away from both the usual wailing of patients in pain at the wards and sharing information in the digital space, Kobby has adopted photography as part of his work. He captures the sacrifices most of his colleagues make under strenuous challenges in STILLS.
Every single portrait tells its own story; mostly giving the public insights into what they, as nurses and doctors, experience trying to get patients back to the road of recovery. His lenses also capture images of patients whose once healthy bodies are taken over by pain, while making sure never to strip them of their dignity.
His pictures often elicit empathy or much pain, whichever way you look at it. While many are dejected, selected few are heart wrenching- but still providing hope
Though he was offered science in school instead of visual arts, the latter which he desperately wanted, he tells the paper he is able to fulfill that “failed dream” as a visual artist by working behind the camera-and a single image has the ability to summarize words filling the pages of a print newspaper.
“But in all there are times you can’t write better than a single photo, which sums up everything; emotion, mood and expression.”
The first image he shot, a collapsed building which claimed precious lives, was with a Nikon Coolpix about four years ago and the feeling he got ignited his passion. He has never looked back, years after that.
“I am motivated more by the passion, limited challenge in my practice, the people I care for and meet in my travels and also some professional photographers like Nana Akofi Acquah(a well-known freelance photographer).”
Years of practice has turned the mental health nurse from an amateur photographer into a professional and his skill, focusing primarily on health and medical documentary storytelling, continues to attract other people outside her profession.
“Though I get to shoot other special contracts and events and occasions, my focus is same as my practice, been made public through photography, so it's very easy for me,” he reveals, adding: “There are big challenges each day; you travel to somewhere on a personal assignment and you have to struggle to cope with the budget, or limited time since I use my off/leave days from work to do so. But gradually it’s almost becoming a full time job.”
The challenges are there but once he captures a good image, he knows it; he lets out a faint smile in appreciation of the subject.