A Ship Called Dignity: Makoko, Lagos, Nigeria

A Ship Called Dignity: Makoko, Lagos, Nigeria

is a complicated place. It is refined and mannered in
some areas, but dangerous and lawless in others. The neighbourhood
of Makoko, a floating community in Lagos, leans heavily towards the
latter. Some have named the area the “the Venice of Africa”, but
this label is largely ironic. Edward Burtynsky, the celebrated
Canadian photographer, perhaps more aptly described it as “the
hyper-crucible of globalisation”.

This project started behind a desk many months before we entered
Nigeria. In order to secure access to the area we made contact with
the local authority, Chief Aladaton, and upon our arrival we were
invited into his home. The hour-long conversation in his modest
house on the edge of Makoko was one of the most surreal meetings of
my life. Eventually, by showing charm, respect and a sum of money,
we were given his blessing and support. At a time when everyone is
a photographer, it is this kind of access that has become the key
to producing ground-breaking content.

By looking at images that others had taken of Makoko, it became
clear that the angle used to capture the crowded canals would
determine the structure of the photograph. We toyed with the idea
of an aerial view, but ultimately decided that I would need to
photograph from as low a point as possible. In order to create the
sense of place that I was after, I would need to get chest-deep in
some of the filthiest water in the world.

The lead image from the series “A Ship Called Dignity” has
attracted a great deal of comment because of its cinematic
composition and lighting. I have sought to offer strong facial
aesthetics and dignity as an alternative interpretation of a
marginalised community. Distant analysis of less-developed areas
such as Makoko can often take on a patronising tone. While my
interpretation is reductive, the simplification emphatically makes
the point – there is no self-pity in Makoko. During my time there I
witnessed pride, physical strength and great beauty. This is what I
wanted to convey.

This story is also featured in Vol. 19: The Wild

@davidyarrow |

Discover More
Beauty in the Everyday: Abuja, Nigeria