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The Beauty Of Bricks In Burkina Faso

Before spending time in Burkina Faso in western Africa, photographer David Pace had his own preconceptions:

"There's really nothing there," he says he thought. "It's like the worst tourist destination ever."

And, of course, he adds, "all of my original conceptions were totally wrong."

It may be true that Burkina Faso isn't a tourist destination, but that's exactly why Pace ended up loving it — because "as photographer," he says, "it's incredible."

Several years back, the California-based photographer was invited by some colleagues who run a nonprofit there and wanted him to photograph the organization. He went back twice the next year. And after three years, he and those colleagues started a study abroad program for the students of Santa Clara University, for which he now teaches photography in Burkina Faso.

On each visit, his eye is drawn to different themes and motifs, which helps to visually structure the place to outsiders like him. He's done portraits in the marketplace — a vibrant onslaught of texture and patterns.

He's set up his camera on a dirt road to document people returning home from work at dusk.

And he does little typologies — like his study of village kiosks.

Pace also has some ongoing documentary projects — like scenes of the Karaba brick quarry where, for 30 years, men in guilds have made a living by carving out row after row of brick from laterite stone.

He considers it beautiful — though readily admits that's like a tourist calling American construction sites photogenic. Then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The activity at the quarry, "creates these beautiful architectural spaces," Pace says. "What I love about it is they're always slightly off."

Each time he goes back, the place has changed. And maybe that's exactly why he keeps going back. Unlike his typological subseries, this one can't be neatly captured.

"It's kind of like looking at the rings of a tree," he says.

Just when you think you understand something, you uncover a new layer.

An exhibition of Pace's Karaba photos opens in San Francisco this week and in New York City next week.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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