With his striking portraits of Nigerians working and worshipping near the Niger River—a poignant photomontage entitled “Inside Niger”—award-winning 31-year-old Italian photographer Nicola Lo Calzo shines light on the humanity and spirituality of everyday people. Through slaughterhouses, fishing resorts, Catholic churches, tanneries and more, Lo Calzo creates startlingly personalized portraits of local Nigerians. Equally revealing is his 2010 photo series “The Promising Baby,” images detailing the lives of ostracized albinos in Cameroon.
Born in Turin, Italy, Nicola Lo Calzo calls Paris his homebase, but settles wherever photo projects take him in Africa for six months out of the year. Academically trained as a landscape architect at the University of Turin, Lo Calzo instead used his master of visual arts degree to concentrate on reportage and portraiture on the African continent.
On the verge of his next project, “Coast to Coast” (on the Atlantic slave trade), Calzo spoke with Afrik-News on the intentions and inspirations behind his work.
Afrik-News: What inspired you to create the photo series “Inside Niger”?
Nicola Lo Calzo: “Inside Niger” questions the relationship between water and work in one of the most fragile regions of the planet, the Sahel. Especially in Niger, where the economy is entirely concentrated along the banks of the homonymous river, the phenomena of desertification and water pollution are obstacles to economic development.
The reportage, committed by the Paris city council and Conseil Général de Val de Marne, takes place in the region of Tillabéri and Dosso in the Niger. Its main focus is the population that lives and works on the borders of the Niger River, where most commercial activities take place: universities, public work, markets, fishing, slaughterhouses, vegetable gardens, and tanneries.
Afrik-News: Inside Niger depicts a certain reality
Nicola Lo Calzo: During a trip that started at the market of Yahorou and ended at the borders with Mali, I traveled along the Niger River to the city of Dosso in order to meet laborers, craftsmen and farmers who work along the river. That was most important for me, making contact human-to-human.
Once I’d established a relationship with them, it was they who decided how they wanted to be portrayed. They chose the poses. Some of them are very classical, but it was their choice how they wanted to appear in front of my lens. That’s why the portraits convey a certain truth: their gaze, the way they look at the lens. There’s an element of provocation there. It creates a link between them and anyone who will be looking at them.
Afrik-News: Are you planning any specific excursions into Africa again photographically?
Nicola Lo Calzo: Currently I’m working on my new project, about the memory and archaeology of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade: “Coast to Coast.” It is an ambitious project that questions the common history between the Atlantic European coasts and the Atlantic African and Caribbean coasts.
I want to give a face to all this humanity’s heritage endangered. I will work in France, Senegal, Ghana, Benin, Louisiana and the French Antilles. I’m working on financial planning for the photographic mission.
Afrik-News: Tell us how “The Promising Baby” photo series came about.
Nicola Lo Calzo: In some African countries such as Cameroon, to be albino means being condemned to a life of exclusion. Not only from the society, but also from the family. Poverty and the custom of magical practices push the families to remove their albino children, to abandon them completely.
There are two structures in Cameroon for the defense of the albino rights. Veac (Village Enfants Albinos du Cameroon) acts to give medical and social assistance to albino children and their families. These children, torn from the road, live in micro-communities of five to six people.
I photographed several foster homes in urban areas and the countryside, in Douala, in Bafoussam and the region of Centre. “The Promising Baby” is the title of a poster founded in one of these foster homes.
Visit Nicola Lo Calzo’s website