On Tuesday evening, George Osodi gave a talk at Foto8 in London then had a public conversation with Julian Stallabrass. I discovered Osodi's amazing photos at the last edition of Documenta and there was no way i'd miss his presentation.
The Nigerian photographer is one of those rare photo-reporters whose work is shown in newspapers as well as in art galleries around the world (you can check his photos right now in the Oil Show at HMKV in Dortmund). He was in London to discuss the Oil Rich Niger Delta series and his new book Delta Nigeria - The Rape of Paradise on the oil exploitation in the Delta region of his country.
Nigeria is West Africa's largest producer of crude oil but years of corruption and poor governance has left the southern Niger Delta desperately poor, its environment devastated by oil spills and gas flares and other environmental hazards as a result of activities of the oil companies in the region.
The story of Oil Rich Niger Delta started almost 10 years ago when Osodi decided to leave his well-paid job as a banker to buy a camera and teach himself photography. It didn't start too well. First of all, no one in Nigeria, he said, takes photography seriously and he received no encouragement from neither his friends nor his family.
To him, the Delta region, where he grew up is an endless source of wonder and stories of pollution, conflicts, greed, danger but also hope. However, no matter how hard he looked, every piece of documentation about it had been made by foreigners. He thought that the fact that he grew up 'inside' those issues would give him a perspective no foreigner could have.
The beginnings were hard. He worked with films and all his money was spent on materials, he didn't have internet at the time and would stay for hours in cafés and do research about photography online. At first, people recoiled in horror when they saw his photos. They were too harsh, too disturbing and raw. But bit by bit, he learnt to "make beautiful the most difficult issues." He worked on the aesthetics of his photos so that the onlooker would first see the beauty of the images before realizing they were portraying important and uncomfortable issues.
Taking these photos is risky. Oil companies and their security forces don't him to document the impact that oil exploitation has on the environment and on the inhabitants of the region. He's been arrested several times and has even been kidnapped by Delta militants who thought he might be a spy.
Despite the dramatic situations he encounters, Osodi has hope for the Delta region which he says is one of the most beautiful on the planet and has a lot more than oil to offer. The photographer also expressed his faith in the ordinary people he meets, "they are not passive victims, all they need is a fair ground to realize their potential but right now it's still difficult."
Ultimately, he hopes that his photos will make us think about the origin of the oil we consume without even paying much attention.
The book Delta Nigeria - The Rape of Paradise by George Osodi is published by Trolley Books. For more than five centuries the fortunes of the Niger Delta have been closely tied to that of the global economy. For its slave ports, then palm oil industry, and most recently, through the discovery of crude oil in the 1950s. Oil multinationals soon came to the fore, working in alliance with a local elite to strip the region of its wealth and despoil it. At the receiving end are the region's impoverished inhabitants: left with a poisoned environment, faced with a government that never cares and victims of rival armed militant groups laying claim to territories.
Yesterday i went to The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2011 at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The title says it all: a law firm is sponsoring a competition of contemporary portrait photography and 60 of the best entries are exhibited in London.
There are cute kids and celebs (sadly, there were no mature men in speedo this year) but because i'm drawn to documentary photos, that's what my quick selection will be about:
Anastasia Taylor-Lind's looked inside the first Cossack school to accept female cadets as full time boarders. Cossack people from Crimea and Caucasus, Southern Russia are relearning their warrior traditions and cultural heritage, which were suppressed so virulently by Soviet leaders that the policy got its own name: the Decossackization.
Nowadays, children sent to Cossack military style schools divide their time between regular academic lessons and learning traditional Cossack skills, such as horse riding, martial arts, folk dancing and Shashka performance, as well as the more contemporary soldiering necessities of shooting and parachuting.
"Anna and Roberto got married in October 2004 aged 78. They go on holiday, they pray a lot, love makes them feel younger and they still enjoy having sex."
For nearly twenty years the women of Benin City, in Nigeria, have been going to Italy to escape poverty. Most are found along the roads working as prostitutes. They live in sub-human conditions and send the little money they can save to their families in Africa.
The success of many Italos, as these women are called, is evident in Edo. For many girls prostitution in Italy has become an entirely acceptable trade and the legend of their success makes the fight against sex traffickers all the more difficult.
One concern is that the anti-trafficking crusade is causing effects opposite to its objectives. What presents itself as a campaign to protect migrants from harm is actually making their efforts to flee home, to find work, to make the most of their lives in often difficult and unforgiving circumstances, much harder.
Men who die on the battlefield in Southern Afghanistan are tended to by a small group of dedicated soldiers. Their responsibilities include the retrieval, identification, preparation, preservation and transportation of the dead back to the United States.
Rebecca Martinez's preTenders explores the world of the makers and adopters of dolls that look, smell, weight and feel like real infants.
The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2011 is on view through 12 February 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
I arrived in Warsaw yesterday to participate to a panel mysteriously titled Culture as a space of freedom and anarchy. After which i braved the cold and visited a couple of art spaces. If ever you're in town in the coming weeks, don't miss Where Is the Green Rabbit? which explores the relations between art and science in a remarkably sensitive and humourous way.
One of the most stunning work is Steven Pippin's Point Blank, a series of photos made by cameras recording the precise moment of their own destruction by a gun. I couldn't find many pictures online of the final shots. There are two below but i can't say that they represent the series adequately since the images of the 'death' of a camera looked surprisingly different from one another.
The action takes place in total darkness with the flash being triggered just as the bullet breaks open the analogue camera and hits the negative inside it.
Steven Pippin began the series Point Blank, comprising twenty photographs to date, in Wisconsin, USA, in 2010, and continued the series with several experiments in London. Despite the great technical precision that the project requires for its realization, it is ultimately the uncontrollability in the moment of the apparatus's destruction that gives it its special charge. The color prints show abstract shard forms, broken structures, that are somewhat reminiscent of organic ramifications, yet through their artificial chromaticity they also refer to the chemical process used for their creation. In some of the pictures, it is possible to make out the bullet piercing the camera; sometimes in blurred motion, or, as in Deep Field, as an isolated planet in a universe of shattering particles. (via)
Looking through articles about his work, i realized that Pippin's relentless investigation of the medium of photography is quite brilliant. He spent years turning mundane objects (a refrigerator, bath tub, wardrobe, etc.) into pinhole cameras. He even spent a 55 minute train journey transforming the train lavatory into a photographic studio.
Back in 1997, he converted a row of 12 front-loading washing machines in a New Jersey laundromat into as many cameras. Activated via trip wires, Pippin photographed himself moving through the launderette. In suit, without trousers, with a horse, running, walking backwards, etc. The photos are an homage to Muybridge's explorations of motion through photography. This wasn't Pippin's first use of the domestic device. He had previously developed photographs in the wash and rinse cycles of the machines.
An article in The Guardian explains that Pippin first looked for a suitable laundrette in San Francisco: He discovered that most of the establishments big enough for what he had in mind were run by the Mafia, who used them to (literally) launder money, and they were not interested in this persistent, soft-spoken Englishman bringing them publicity. Eventually, though, after two years of looking, he got permission to use a 4,000sq ft laundromat, as long as he did not get in the way of the customers.
If you find yourself in Amsterdam, don't miss the retrospective of sculptor and photographer Scarlett Hooft Graafland. Her stunning photos of landscapes installations are on view at Huis Marseille until mid-December.
As surprising as it may appear, Scarlett Hooft Graafland takes analogue photographs, prints them straight from the negative and never uses Photoshop. The artist is fascinated by remote, unusual and sometimes even inhospitable locations. She went to Salar de Uyunu in the Bolivian Andes, the largest salt desert, she travelled with the Inuit across the sea ice of Igloolik on the Arctic plains of northern Canada, moved around Southern China and the lava fields of Iceland. Her interventions on the landscape are temporary and leave no trace behind them.
Some of the works allude to masterpieces of art history. The balloons floating on water for example, are an homage to Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty. However, many of her works also arise from her deep concern for the natural environment. How could the words 'global warming' not spring to our minds when we see her Polar Bear?
The lemonade igloo was made by Nathan Qamaniq, one of the few traditional Inuit still able to hand-build an ice igloo. It took weeks to prepare the lemonade blocks but one day only to build the igloo itself.
The exhibition unfolds over several floors of the Huis Marseille and some of the photos can even be found in a small building at the back of the garden:
Vous êtes ici has the perfect slideshow to see more of Scarlett Hooft Graafland's work.
LABoral Centre of Art and Industrial Creation is opening today the exhibition Experimental Station which explores how art and impossible science draw together and intertwine. The show is remarkably interesting and refreshing even for someone like me whose job is to see art&science exhibitions, read (or even write) art&science books and discuss with the art&science crowd on a daily basis. It's very garage science with artists i had never heard about before and others whose work i had only encountered in art fairs and small galleries so far. Proper report will follow shortly --it will be enthusiastic to say the least-- but before i head back to Laboral for the opening performance by O Grivo, here's just a few words about one of the works i discovered in the exhibition.
In his b&w series Demonstrations, Caleb Charland used everyday objects or materials he found in surplus and salvage yards to explore the laws and wonders of physics. The stupefying images are the only traces left of the many exposures, the long trials and errors the artist had to go through before he managed to make the perfect portrait of a physical phenomenon. The admiration for his tenacity and curiosity increases tenfold when you remember that we live in the age of photoshop.
Raise your hand who'd like to try this at home now!
Estación experimental [Experimental Station], a coproduction between Laboral Centre of Art and Industrial Creation and CA2M Art Centre Dos de Mayo, remains open until 9 April 2012 at Laboral in Gijón, Spain.
It's Photomonth in East London and i'll be running around the area this week to catch up with as many shows as possible. My two favourite exhibitions so far are as different from each other as it is possible to be.
The first one was at Amnesty International UK's Human Rights Action Centre. It's a rather small event, only 5 to 6 photos from each of the three shortlisted entries in the Photojournalism category at the Amnesty International Media Awards. The awards recognise excellence in human rights reporting and acknowledge journalism's significant contribution to the UK public's awareness and understanding of human rights issues. There's a total of ten categories, including a student award, but this exhibition is dedicated to photojournalism.
Robin Hammond's winning entry, This Girl, meets the women victim of rape and sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sexual violence has become part of modern warfare and The UN Security Council regards it as 'a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in and forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.'
Each portrait is accompanied by the story of the woman:
The blackboard behind 16-year-old Leonce reads: 'The family is composed of the father, the mother and the children. The father is responsible for the family.' Leonce is holding the baby she gave birth to as a result of rape.
Basamae Maombi recognized one of the men raping her. She called out his name and begged him to stop. He reacted by holding her down, pulled out his dirty knife and gouged out both of her eyes.
Maombi Elizabeth was raped by three armed men. Her 4-year-old child stood witness to the entire attack. As the men left the tent they set the canvas and grass construction alight. Neighbours ran to save the occupants. Elizabeth survived. Her daughter did not. Elizabeth is now covered in the scars from 3rd degree burns.
The Nubian community has lived in Kenya for over 100 years. Brought to Kenya by the British in the late 1800s, Nubians served for the British during WWI and WWII and were vital in the development of East Africa. Unable to return to their homeland, they were assigned over 4000 acres of land by the British to settle on. The Nubians named the land, which is located outside of what would become Nairobi, Kibra. After Kenyan Independence in 1963, the Nubian community has been denied recognition, excluded from Kenyan society and any claim to the land of Kibra has been denied. Over the past 40 years, hundreds of thousands of rural migrants have flooded into Nairobi in search of work and Kibra has been the land where they've been encouraged to settle.
Robin Hammond had a second photo essay shortlisted. The Price of Gold follows the men who have fled violence in Zimbabwe to become gold miner in Mozambique.
Zimbabwe has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, the discovery of gold can literally save lives. But the search destroys lives too. The diggers handle toxic mercury to extract gold from the red earth. They risk suffocation at the bottom of fragile mine shafts that collapse burying occupants all too often. A few will find enough gold to change their lives, but most will not. Many will become ill and some will pay the ultimate price in their search for gold.
The second exhibition i particularly enjoyed today is Simon Roberts - We English at Flowers, a gallery where i keep going again and again (their other ongoing show, at the same Kingsland Road address, Aesops Fables, is stunning.) The photographs are the result of a tour around England in motorhome to portray the English at leisure. Some will find a bit of Martin Parr's love for the slightly absurd but there's also a genuine tenderness and no trace of cultural satire. The focus is the English and the way they embrace their landscape, the beaches, the picnics in the park, the family visits to National monuments, etc.
Amnesty International Media Awards Winners 2011 is up until November 8 at Amnesty International UK's Human Rights Action Centre and Simon Roberts -