John Passah: The unparalleled cinematographer

A graduate of the National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI), John Passah is arguably a true asset in the world of cinematography and his works and creativity clearly needs no further introduction.
The man behind some of the greatest productions seen on TV, the award winning cinematographer gets up close and personal with online journalist Nana Afrane Asante (NAA) and this is what ensued between them.
NAA: Who is John Passah?
JP: John Passah is a half Ghanaian, half Russian and a renowned cinematographer in Ghana and officially works with TV3 Ghana.
NAA: What motivated you to get into cinematography?
JP: Back in secondary school just before I completed Form 5, I had this mate who was a photographer and he was doing what we called ‘Two for Five’ on campus where he takes snap shots and sell them on campus. This was just around the time when the monochrome photography – the one we used to call black and white – was fading out to colour. I was so much enthused and was following him on campus until he completed.
NAA: How did it all start for you?
JP: Back home in Accra at Abossey Okai, there was this new photography shop operated by one Peter Owusu Mensah and out of curiosity and continuity because of the earlier experience I had in school, I showed interest and was visiting him, following him, asking questions and trust me money wasn’t my priority at all. So everywhere he went, I went with him and gradually he fed me into the stream and as a trainee, I caught up quickly and then so fast I was doing stuff on my own for him. Gradually he introduced me to other friends of his and I was working for people until it became big.
NA: How much support did you receive from your family?
JP: My uncle always told me that if I wanted to do anything in life then I should do it to the highest point so if I wanted to do photography then I had to go to school for photography which I agreed to. In 1989, filming an engagement or wedding ceremony fetched me some good money which was about old ¢2,500 and it was a lot of money so two shows fetched me around ¢5,000. He kept insisting that I should go to school and I agreed. It became a tug of war and when the results came I had to go to the sixth form against photography. So it was classes, photography, classes, photography but not professional photography at the time. During the exams I think something messed up and he later realised I didn’t write that particular paper and I told him that I didn’t pass it so I had to go back and rewrite the paper. He then realised that my interest was in photography and even threatened to take me back to my mum in Togo if I didn’t go to school, and at that time the only photography schools in Ghana were the Still Photography School in Tema and the National Film and Television Institute.
NAA: What happened after school?
JP: Tv3 came on a year on and it happened that they were employing, so I was one of the few people from then Gama films to TV3. The core people were about three, me, Schandorf and Saddick in the camera department. I came to TV3 and then again everything I do or everything I shoot was gaining recognition all over. I had the opportunity to go to NAFTI which I took on. I remember during those times I used to walk from NAFTI to TV3 and ask for ¢10,000 which is now GH¢1 from Emma Morrison and Osei Boakye and after I got the GH¢1, I would walk to the next person and ask them to take the GH¢1 and give me GH¢2 and by the time I left TV3 I would have about GH¢10 on me and would pass by Osu and do some little shopping and go home and cook for the week.
NA: What’s your motivation?
JP: There is one thing in me and that is team spirit. Team spirit is gained and not bought and I can tell you the team spirit I won at NAFTI made me a lot happier than winning the best photography because everybody can win best photography. When everybody is tired and the production is falling, that is when I have that energy to revive everything back to life.
NA: What does the award you recently won mean to you?  
JP: The award is great and has brought me a lot of joy. I believe in what I do and feel it’s also having a great impact across the movie industry. This has also brought joy to family and friends. I remember Mr. Dickson calling and saying “John, this is for us all” and I appreciate the support given to me by TV3. The award has added more to me because those who didn’t know me will look out for me in addition to those who knew me already.
John has worked on movies such as Candle in the Wind, Ghana Must Go, Shirley Frimpong Manso’s Perfect Picture and all the Adams Apple series, A Sting in the Tale and many more
Credit: Nana Afrane Asante||Ghana
Twitter: @afranenine

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