This Nigerian Photographer Is Capturing Lagos As Homes Sink Into the Sea

George Osodi photographs the largest city in Africa with all of its contradictions, beauty and tension.

Oct 7 2016, 1:00pm

Lagos. Image: George Osodi

When George Osodi enters Nigerian slums to take pictures, he sometimes gets mistaken as a government agent.

"My job is very dangerous," he said, while attending a recent exhibition opening of his photography in Lyon, France. "Nobody likes someone with a camera."

Osodi, a photojournalist-turned-artist has powerfully documented the environment in Nigeria—from oil spills to the flooding shantytowns of Lagos, a city built on islands. He's using his lens to document a city, and people, in flux.

Osodi worked as a news photographer for a Lagos newspaper called The Comet in 1999 before joining the Associated Press news agency in 2001. But he always dreamed of being an artist. So in 2003, he started shooting the oil spills in the oil-rich delta region of the Niger River, an area riddled with conflict and corruption. His work has shown at international art exhibitions and the Smithsonian Museum.

Lagos. Image: George Osodi

In Africa's biggest city, with a population of over 20 million people, reports claim that two thirds of the population lives in slums, or low income areas, where people get basic necessities like water and electricity by paying for makeshift cables and hoses.

These neighborhoods are not just financially insecure, they're also vulnerable to the rising sea level. The slums are built on swamps and wetlands, so 70 percent of homes are prone to heavy floods. As a result, the residents use layers of rubbish to solidify the ground.

In Osodi's series "On the Waterfront", one image has two chilled out cows sitting amid a sea of plastic bags, bottles, wood and cardboard. The livestock live with the nearby residents and roam freely, which causes a problem with the lack of proper sewage and poor hygiene.

The two cows in "On the Waterfront". Image: George Osodi

And looking at the surroundings you can forget this is a residential neighborhood—it looks like a landfill. "These were swampy, unused spaces and they made them habitable by landfilling," he said.

With rising rents, and islands reserved for luxury condos, many locals in Lagos are also being pushed to the margins of the city, where it's even more difficult to survive. The residents are no stranger to having bulldozers come with riot police to evict them. And the homes in the Okobaba and Ijora-Badia slums are built on stilts to avoid the rising waters, but are regularly chainsawed by private developers the government sells the land to for building new housing.

"The area is attractive to the super rich and the government for housing," Osodi said, looking at one of his peaceful photos of the wooden slums in Lagos' Okobaba area at night. "They've all been marked for evictions to bulldoze the slums and build skyscrapers for the middle class."

The Nigerian government has received money from the World Bank to develop housing estates, but they are also selling land to private developers. The residents refuse to give in.

George Osodi. Image: Courtesy of George Osodi

"I don't have a problem with urbanization," he says. "My question is what happens to these people? Nobody cares."

In another one of Osodi's photographs, a stylish woman saunters barefoot through the empty slums in a peach-colored outfit. The young woman looks like an out-of-place runway model, suggesting that life in Lagos for the locals could be far better. And that's the kind of hope that keeps Osodi coming back.

"The disaster of the people mismanaging the resources, the politicians, will fade away," Osodi said. "A new, younger generation will come in and make the system right. When that happens, the sky is the limit."

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.