George Osodi, Oil Spill Near Farm Land Ogoni, 2007

George Osodi (1974 – ), Oil Spill Near Farm Land Ogoni, 2007, digital ink print. Middlebury College Museum of Art. Purchase with funds provided by the Foster Family Art Acquisition Fund. 2012.028. By permission of George Osodi c/o Z Photographic Ltd.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1974, George Osodi has made photographs related to his homeland for over two decades. In 2011, he published Delta Nigeria: The Rape of Paradise, a book of photographs about the dramatic effects of oil extraction on the people and landscape of the Niger Delta. Combining documentation with artistic vision, Osodi explores the complex human and environmental dynamics of the region, especially in photographs recording the oil well fires and pitch-black clouds of smoke that mar the skies of Ogoniland.1

Osodi’s photographs of the environmental devastation of the Niger Delta straddle the divide between disturbing facts and aesthetic beauty. “I think it’s my responsibility as the man with the camera to find a way to represent this [situation], so that it becomes appealing to whoever sees it,” explains Osodi. “At first sight you’re like, ‘what a beauty’, but then behind it is a huge Armageddon. It’s like hell on earth.”2

Using the aesthetic appeal of his images to spur social and political action, Osodi offers perspectives on the actual atmosphere, with its black clouds of smoke, as well as the social atmosphere of a paradise that has been devastated by unbridled resource extraction. Art historian Giulia Paoletti writes, “In juxtaposing the global dynamics of the oil industry with the daily experience of inhabitants, Osodi puts a human face onto this ‘paradise lost.’ Notwithstanding the literal explosiveness of the situation, Osodi does not indulge in provocative, shocking snapshots. Rather, the photographer plays on the ambiguity that arises between the subject and its visual representation.”3