Cristina de Middel’s Ghostly Photographs

Cristina de Middel’s ghostly photographs from her project “This is what hatred did” feature scenes from the streets of Makoko, a slum outside of Lagos in Nigeria. In a mix of documentation and fiction, de Middel shows a different part of contemporary Nigeria by re-enacting a book from the 60s, resulting in captivating photographs.

The re-enactment comes from the book My Life In the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola. The book is written from the perspective of a 5-year-old boy who is forced to escape into the bush after an attack on his village. In Yoruba culture, the bush is a place of magic and spirits where humans are not allowed. The story centres on the boy’s adventures in a mix of reality and fantasy. De Middel describes how she was captured by one of the last lines in the book: “this is what hatred did”, which gives an entirely new perspective to the 5-year-old’s fantastic adventures.

De Middel decided to do the re-enactment in Makoko, a Yoruba centre where spirits and humans co-exist. She describes how Makoko was important as a location for the project, since it’s a contemporary version of the bush, where not just anyone is allowed to enter. Makoko has its own rules and is run by kings and community leaders. Most of its inhabitants are paperless and without citizenship. It is a place where souls are trapped and outsiders are not allowed. By doing the re-enactments in Makoko, de Middel is not just recreating scenes from the book, but also telling a story of a contemporary Nigeria that has suffered hard from African stereotypes. She explains how this was the very reason why the king granted her access to the neighbourhood in the first place; to show a side of the country different from the stereotypical description of Africa that the western world is used to.

The magic can clearly be seen in the photos, whether it’s the light leaking in to the camera, the strange and surreal imagery inspired by Tutuola’s world, or the isolated Makoko inhabitants. De Middel has just published a book where her photographs are combined with Tutuola’s original script. The book itself becomes a grey area between fiction and reality, an area that also happens to be where magic and spirits live.

Story by Helena Calmfors

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