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Fashion designer Blacktrash on a location shoot with his models on Aug. 28, 2012 in Gaborone, Botswana.
Fashion designer Blacktrash on a location shoot with his models on Aug. 28, 2012 in Gaborone, Botswana.Per-Anders Pettersson
Fashion designer Blacktrash on a location shoot with his models on Aug. 28, 2012 in Gaborone, Botswana.
Models fit dresses for the Cameroonian, Paris- based, designer Martial Tapolo Couture before a show at Dakar Fashion Week on June 20, 2014, at Hotel des Almadies in Dakar, Senegal.
Fashionistas wait for fashion shows at Fitzgerald Square in New Town for Mercedes Benz fashion week on March 9, 2013 held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Models for the designer label David Tlale during a fashion show at the colored community in Bo-Kaap at the Mercedes Benz Cape Town Fashion Week on July 28, 2012, in Cape Town, South Africa.
Fifteen year old model Favour Lucky poses for pictures during a photo shoot at Radisson Blu hotel on May 29, 2013 in Lagos, Nigeria.
A models reads a fashion magazine backstage before a fashion show at South Africa Fashion Week on Sept. 22, 2011 held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Egyptian designer Soucha prepares his models backstage before his fashion show at Color in the Desert Fashion week on Sept. 1, 2012 in Gaborone, Botswana.
A fashion model has her makeup and hair done backstage before a show at Mercedes Benz Africa fashion week on Oct. 25, 2012 held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Nigerian model Bumni Ademokoya waits backstage to be dressed before a show with Stoned Cherrie, a fashion label, at the African Fashion International Cape Town fashion week on Aug. 13, 2010, at the Cape Town International Convention Center, in Cape Town, South Africa.
Guests arrive during an installation show at the new Klûk CGDT flagship store during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on July 26, 2014, in Cape Town, South Africa.
Models pose in a wedding dressing room during an installation show at the new Klûk CGDT flagship store during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on July 26, 2014, in Cape Town, South Africa.
Waiters wait to serve drinks to guests before an installation show at the new Klûk CGDT flagship store during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on July 26, 2014, in Cape Town, South Africa.
Models for the design label Suzaan Heyns prepare backstage before a fashion show at the Bus Factory location at Joburg Fashion Week on Feb. 16, 2011, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Models walking for the Zimbabwean designer label Intisaar waits backstage before a show at Mercedes Benz Africa fashion week Africa on Oct. 29, 2014 held at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Models at an installation for the designer Naked Ape during a fashion show at South Africa Fashion Week on April 11, 2013 held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Models show the KLuK CGDT label fashion show at the Rand Club at Joburg Fashion Week on Feb. 16, 2011, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Models walk during a fashion show launching ECOWAS fashion week on May 26, 2013 in Abuja, Nigeria.
Models walk the catwalk during a show at Lagos Fashion Design Week on Oct. 26, 2013 in Lagos, Nigeria.
Fashion designer Blacktrash on a location shoot with his models on Aug. 28, 2012 in Gaborone, Botswana.
Per-Anders Pettersson
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Go Behind the Scenes of Africa's Fashion Shows

Nov 14, 2014

During his 25-year-long career, Swedish photographer Per-Anders Pettersson has covered a wide range of international news events: hunger in Ethiopia, civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Botswana and South Africa. His pictures won praise and awards. But it wasn’t until he embarked on photographing fashion shows in Africa that he found his beat.

In the last four years, Pettersson has photographed close to 30 shows in Africa, gaining full-access usually by virtue of becoming a familiar face.

“Partly [why] I jumped into this was because I’ve done so many of the normal African stories for so many years,” Pettersson tells TIME, referring to his previous work on the continent. “The feel-good African story fascinates me.”

Pettersson’s images are not only set to challenge stereotypes in African fashion, which include animal prints and ethnic designs, but are also meant to confront the “Western gaze,” a media misperception in which Africa is but a war-torn continent rampant with poverty, diseases and ethnic conflicts.

Back in 2009, Pettersson had originally set out to photograph Africa’s new middle and upper class, a fast-growing population in recent years that had attracted little media attention. He received an assignment to photograph a fashion show in Johannesburg, where he thought he’d find some subjects for Rainbow Transit, a photo book on daily life in South Africa after the nation's democratization.

Pettersson was immediately drawn to this world of fashion: glamorous models in color-rich fabrics, elegant catwalks, and the people he had come to find: well-dressed locals at fancy after-parties. Ever since, he has been documenting the boom of Africa’s fashion industry.

“I feel the story is not only about fashion but also about the new growth in Africa,” he says.

Although South Africa is the capital of Africa’s fashion scene and runs six fashion weeks a year, Pettersson says that more shows are popping up throughout the continent – a sign that Africa’s economy is developing and people’s buying power are growing.

Per-Anders Pettersson is a Swedish photojournalist who has been documenting Africa for the past 20 years. Read LightBox's piece on his book, RainBow Transit, published by Dewi Lewis in 2013.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at Time.com. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

Ye Ming is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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