ED KASHI
ArchiveCategory
April 15, 2009

Thank you Adam Frye for joining your fellow U of M essayists. Your photographer’s eye provided some unique interpretations of images from Curse of the Black Gold.

Adam: “[The photo]…successfully share[s] many ideas without the need for words. The canoe looks [like]…[the] same type that have been used in Africa for hundreds of years; nothing about it suggests it has any industrial or Western influence. …in contrast to the clothing of the three locals….the canoe and the attire represent the conflict of influences occurring in Nigeria. …people wish to convey a sense of modernity and Western savvy, yet they are still grounded in their African tradition…” Adam continues his comments regarding the “struggle between modernity and the African tradition” as observed in this image: “While the three people communicate an idea of wanting to Westernize, the pipeline and the contaminated water put across the idea that Westernized industry is being forced onto this village with grave repercussions….the complicated relationship between African and Westernizing forces.”

Adam: “…with one short paragraph this image [right] becomes a powerful story. [It]…illustrates many of the maladies of modern Nigeria only when…coupled with the words explaining the situation. …the process of roasting…on the burning tires. A combination of industrial pollution and over population is forcing this teenager to prepare food over a fire that, ‘produce[s] a lot of smoke, which often carries toxic chemicals from the breakdown of rubber compounds while burning.’ This practice is not only unhealthy [b]ut clearly perpetuates the pollution that helped put him in the situation to begin with. The combination of text and photograph narrates the story of Nigeria’s lack of infrastructure and resources to meet the rapid population growth and how it has forced this youth to poison the very food that sustains his people and himself.”

Adam, we thank you for your remarks and input.

To read all of Adam’s essay, click below.


Adam T. Frye
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
History

The book Curse of the Black Gold by Ed Kashi and Michael Watts uses many techniques to communicate the dire situation in Nigeria. A collaboration of stunning photographs and various types of literature work together to inform the ignorant of the impact fifty years of oil exploitation has had on the Nigerian delta. The following two examples demonstrate two different ways this message is articulated.

The photograph spread out on pages ninety-three and ninety-four successfully share many ideas without the need for words. The image depicts two young African girls and an older African gentleman in a traditional boat/canoe in one of the rivers of the Bayelsa State. The canoe looks as if it were the same type that have been used in Africa for hundreds of years; nothing about it suggests it has any industrial or Western influence. This canoe stands out in contrast to the clothing of the three locals. One girl is wearing a horizontally striped blue and yellow shirt with Capri pants and the other is wearing what look like bell-bottom pants and a sundress, all pink. The man does not differ from the style of the girls, a striped bottom-down shirt and khaki pants . The sundress was popularized by Lilly Pulitzer in America during the 1960’s, the Capri pants were made fashionable by Mary Tyler Moore during her time on the American Dick Van Dyke Show, and bell-bottom jeans became popular as part of the United States hippie counterculture during the 1960s . The clothing of the three locals clearly has no African influence thus the canoe and the attire represent the conflict of influences occurring in Nigeria. Fashion tends to be a well thought out image inherently combined with a message the wearer wishes to express. This three people wish to convey a sense of modernity and Western savvy, yet they are still grounded in their African tradition, represented by the boat. This struggle between modernity and the African tradition is raised once again within the very same photograph. The three in the boat are in the left foreground of the picture and the dominating image to the right is the large oil pipeline in the background. The tube emerges from the water for what looks like fifteen meters and submerges again, most likely being some sort of inspection point for the system. The pipeline looks very dirty and unnatural compared to very traditional looking thatch huts located directly behind it. To further the idea of the presence of the oil line is the rainbow in the water caused by oil that has clearly leaked into the river . While the three people communicate an idea of wanting to Westernize, the pipeline and the contaminated water put across the idea that Westernized industry is being forced onto this village with grave repercussions. This idea is unnecessarily explained by the caption that informs the reader that the huts belong to a fishing village called Nembe and that the pipeline, belonging to Shell, is polluting the water and killing the fish . Thus this photograph by itself vividly represents the complicated relationship between African and Westernizing forces.

The photograph taken on page hundred and twenty-five ofCurse of the Black Gold illustrates many of the maladies of modern Nigeria only when it is coupled with the words explaining the situation. The photo is of a young man, possibly even a boy, in a garbage heap with tire fires burning all around him. The ground is covered with black soot and there are other people carrying on with various activities in the background. The boy is bending over and clearly working with the pile of slaughtered goat that is located directly in front of him. Blood oozes from the pile of dead livestock and the deep red hue is strikingly vibrant due to its contrast with the black ashen ground . This image alone, though graphic, does not carry a strong message (except maybe for vegetarians). Yet with one short paragraph this image becomes a powerful story. The caption explains that this area typically relied on fish for food but that oil pollution and over-population has dried up the fish stocks. The Hausa and Yoruba Muslims imaged are forced to eat different foods and the lack of resources forces them to prepare the new cuisine any way possible . Now the significance of the photograph is revealed. The boy is in the process of roasting the goats on the burning tires. A combination of industrial pollution and over population is forcing this teenager to prepare food over a fire that, “produce[s] a lot of smoke, which often carries toxic chemicals from the breakdown of rubber compounds while burning.” This practice is not only unhealthy put clearly perpetuates the pollution that helped put him in the situation to begin with. The combination of text and photograph narrates the story of Nigeria’s lack of infrastructure and resources to meet the rapid population growth and how it has forced this youth to poison the very food that sustains his people and himself.

Ed Kashi a
nd Michael Watts understood that the situation in Nigeria is truly a crisis. They decided to utilize the influence of both photography and literature to relate to the world the environment of the modern Nigerian delta and their work Curse of the Black Gold is a powerful success to this end.

Kashi, Watts. pg. 125
Kashi, Watts. pg. 120
“Tire Fire” found at (April 6, 2009)

Categories: Educational, Studio News

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