London-based sports and documentary photographer, Sebastian Barros ventured further afield for his latest exhibition, travelling to Lagos, Nigeria to capture the cities diversity and the people who make up Lagos.
Chaotic, polluted and overpopulated, Lagos in Nigeria is an economic and cultural powerhouse. To some, Lagos might be avoided due to its high crime rate and its bumper-to-bumper traffic jams, but to Sebastian Barros, it was the perfect place to capture the secrets hidden in the city’s vibrant towns. The Idle Man caught up with Barros to hear all about his trip and his upcoming exhibition.
Taking his work in a new direction, Barros was inspired to take his camera to Lagos, he explains, “[I] had this desire to go somewhere a little crazy and extreme. This was partly inspired by my friend who at the time was going between Iraq and Syria reporting on conflicts. When we chatted about her experiences there, it really blew my mind and gave me lots of ideas about the series I wanted to create. Knowing heading off to a war zone would be a little ambitious and completely crazy, I started my research into other places”. Barros continues, “I would spend a lot of my free time watching documentaries and came across one titled ‘Welcome to Lagos’ it was a few years old, but it painted a picture of a city that was chaotic, sprawling and dynamic, and from that moment I knew this is where I had to go”.
Learning about Lagos only made the idea of going seem more adventurous and appealing for the thought-provoking photographer, with the region being so densely populated Barros explains, “Lagos is a place of extremes, when you have 20 million plus people living and working in a city only designed for half at best it makes for a pretty chaotic environment that offers up so many moments to capture”.
The Nigerian capital has always had a cultural buzz with a history of political revolution in the city, deriving from the political music by Fela Kuti. Lagos didn’t fall short when it came to meeting interesting people. Barros said, “I don’t think I ever met anyone who wasn’t interesting the whole time I was there, shy and boring are two things you wouldn’t associate with Nigerians”. One person which Barros particularly connected with was Timothy, his fixer. “For those of you who don’t know what a fixer is it’s someone who acts as a translator and guide and helps you get access to places or people that would otherwise not be possible. Most of the work I created out there wouldn’t have been possible without his help, so I really owe a lot to him”. Barros goes on, “I can’t count the number of times he got me out of dodgy situations mainly with Area Boys (local street gangs) demanding money for me to shoot in places. There wasn’t much you could do out there that wouldn’t involve some kind of ‘fee’ which Timothy helped negotiate”.
Barro’s also hit the local hangouts after meeting another local resident. “I met Duro on my second trip out to Lagos at a place called Bogobiri House where he was performing that night. Bogobiri is the place to be if you’re an artist or musicians or just someone like-minded, it’s a pretty special place, and I loved hanging out there whenever I could. The next day Duro took me on an artist tour of Lagos Island showing me all the great music spots and cafes. It was then he would tell me a little more about himself, he was part of the Fela Kuti’s youth movement called Young African Pioneers back in the early 70’s and went on to play music with him in the early 80’s. We finished the day at the local radio station where Duro’s was meeting one of the producers to plug his music, the next minute we’re both live on air giving an impromptu interview together, it was a very surreal moment and one of the most fun and crazy days I had in Lagos”.
Whilst out in Lagos, Barros encountered a lot of children and teenagers that were living rough on the streets, “I decided to put on an exhibition because I wanted to give something back. It was after researching charities that worked with children in Nigeria that I came across Street Child and reached out to them. They were really enthusiastic about working together and had lots of ideas for fundraising for the exhibition, so we made a perfect team”.
Always trying to convey a strong emotion in his work Barro had to look past getting too involved with his work, “I felt in my mind I wasn’t going there on a humanitarian mission to help every person I encountered who was in need, I wouldn’t have made it past the airport in that case. But I always offered to help where possible”
Over the past two years of documenting daily life in Lagos, Barros has finished his work and now has so many wonderful memories he will never forget. One memory that stands out for him is something he wouldn’t have been able to comprehend before his trip. “I was on my way to meet some Area Boys for the first time, to my surprise, I was told Uber operated here so I opened the app and one turned up straight away. I just remember sitting in the back and thinking I’m in an Uber listening to Drake on the way to meet a load of Nigerian Gangsters that have a reputation for kidnapping Westerners”.
You can go and see Barros exhibition at Ely’s Yard in London on the 11th and 14th October, there will be entertainment during the exhibition from 8 pm till 11:30 pm. A percentage of the proceeds from all print sales will be donated to Street Child in Nigeria. For more information and contact details, you can see the ‘Lagos by Sebastian Barros‘ Facebook events page.