Human Subjects and “Green” Protest in Black African Photography at the Ninth Rencontres de Bamako

Spring Ulmer


The photographs of George Osodi, Abdoulaye Barry, Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo, and Mário Macilau exhibited at the ninth Rencontres de Bamako photography festival, which had sustainability as its theme, featured humans living amidst environmental degradation. Documenting communities affected by oil extraction, fishermen in the face of climate chaos, as well as lives of diamond and granite miners and e-recyclers, these black African photographers’ human-centered focus—a trend identified by Cajetan Iheka as also common among most black African ecocritical authors and scholars—may eschew a more African cosmology-inspired gaze that ideally twines human and nonhuman implications of environmental tragedies. Yet such a human-centered focus, this paper argues, unlike the leading Western visual environmental discourse—the toxic sublime, obsessed as it is with an unpeopled landscape, ultimately, implicates the consumerism of privileged viewers in environmental degradation in ways environmental photography that resists assigning blame to corporations and consumers doesn’t.


Keywords: African photography, neo-colonisation, toxic sublime, green protest


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