Yagazie Emezi is an artist and self-taught documentary photographer from Nigeria (she spent her adolescence in New Mexico) whose work seeks to counter the often tragic narrative currently being retold about the African continent. She’s also somewhat of a social media star – with 141K engaged Instagram followers. Much of her work up until how has focused predominately on stories surrounding African women – their health, sexuality, education and beauty standards, but it’s her recent work for The Weather Channel, a body of work called Exodus: The Climate Migration Crises. Forced Out that focuses on climate change in Nigeria that we’ve asked her about today:
PDN: Tell us a little more about the commission. What is the story about?
Yagazie: The work tells personal stories of how climate change (whether its shrinking lake waters on Lake Chad or the threat of flooding in the capital city of Lagos) in Nigeria is causing displacement among populations already destabilized and vulnerable from poverty.
PDN: This body of work is quite different from the rest of your work. Are you slowly moving towards a more documentary approach? Is climate change in Africa a subject you’re specifically interested in?
YE: I believe it’s simply different in the topic area and timeline as most of the stories I have worked on are far shorter-term assignments and focus predominately on women, beauty and health. I have been developing a documentary approach in my work for over two years now, but this is the first I have been commissioned to ‘complete’ one so far. Climate change and our environment is something I have been building an interest in, ever since last year when I started working at sea, focusing on illegal fishing and its impact on certain African communities. We have amazing environmental activists spread across the continent and a deeply rich history of their work through the years. I simply care and in a way, hope I can play a role in active change for the better.
PDN: Do you have a favorite frame from the series? What makes this photograph stand out to you?
YE: Of course I don’t have a favorite! But my favorite story is the one Kayis shared with me of his journey. (PDN – See Image 3 in the slideshow) Despite the haunting of Boko Haram, the terror and everything that followed, he spoke with such love for his life as a fisherman, his wife and best friend. Selfishly, I loved watching him talk. He used his hands a lot and always talked softly, like he was treading water.
PDN: What was the hardest part about producing this body of work and how did you overcome it?
YE: I was very fortunate to have worked with two amazing fixers on this and without them, literally nothing would have been achieved. Personally, the hardest part as it always is, is witnessing people having to live in the conditions that they do. Growing up in Nigeria, scenes like this are not completely unfamiliar and as a child, it was easy to walk or drive past these lives, cementing our desensitization to our own environments. Now, it’s not something I can overcome. I constantly think about the places I work in and the people I encounter. I am still fighting the guilt of my presence and purpose in them.
See more images and read more stories from this project on Yagazie’s website.
– By Samantha Reinders