Since he first read about Lagos, Nigeria in a New Yorker article by George Packer, Samuel James has been drawn to the country. A Synaptic Scholar at the IGL, he first traveled to Lagos with three other Synaptics during the winter of his sophomore year in 2006-07. Since then, he has returned to Nigeria for at least several months each year, first recording the urban challenges of Lagos, especially for those removed from formal government and economic structures, and then, over the last couple years, spending significant time in the Niger Delta.
This past spring, Harper’s Magazine contracted James to explore the illicit fuel trade – oil bunkering – in the delta. James said, “The story is fundamentally about how those shut out entirely from the multibillion industry pumping oil directly from their land, are risking everything, including the future of the river upon which their lives depend, to survive. Rogue syndicates are engaging in industrial-scale crude-oil theft and selling the stolen oil in remote creeks and swamps, where makeshift refineries distill it to diesel fuel. The freshly-cooked fuel is then shipped downriver to supply much of a nation where, despite being the largest oil producer in Africa and the fifth largest supplier to the United States, fuel for daily use remains among its scarcest and most expensive commodities."
His photographs from that trip were printed in the September 2012 issue of Harper’s, a 12-page spread that was the longest spread in the magazine’s history. More of his work and commentary were also featured on the magazine’s web site.
James is continually drawn back to the country to explore what he sees as “the contradictions wrought within a society where corruption and mismanagement have concentrated hundreds of billions of dollars of oil proceeds into the hands of a small group of elites, while systematically denying an entire generation of young Nigerians access to basic education or gainful employment.”
Currently the Program Coordinator for the IGL’s Program for Narrative and Documentary Practice, which is directed by award-winning photojournalist Gary Knight, he teaches the fall semester’s introductory course and then helps lead the year-end, culminating workshop. While at Tufts, James was active in the IGL’s Exposure program, participating in four of its international workshops, two under Knight and journalist Mort Rosenblum’s leadership in Kashmir and Vietnam, and two under the leadership of photojournalist and The Aftermath Project founder Sara Terry. All have been mentors as he pursues documentary photojournalism.
James’ work from Nigeria, specifically on the Boko Haram, has been featured in The New York Times, and he has also had his work published in TIME Magazine and on GlobalPost.com.
His work in Nigeria has been selected as one of three new projects in 2012 to be sponsored by the Blue Earth Alliance in its Photography that Makes a Difference competition.
James’ work from Nigeria has also been selected to be in the curated exhibition “Reporting Back: A Survey of Documentary Photography” at Northern Kentucky University this fall, which is part of FOTOFOCUS, a month-long, city-wide celebration of Photographic and Lens-based Art.
As a senior, James was the inaugural recipient of the Alexandra Boulat Award for Photojournalism, offered through Exposure and the IGL and judged by photographers from VII and Boulat’s family. The award was established to promote the creation of documentary work with a social purpose. Named in honor of Alexandra Boulat, a co-founder of VII Photo Agency, it was created to acknowledge the inspiration and mentorship she provided to Exposure and its students. The award allowed him to continue his work in Nigeria. His photos from Lagos are featured on the VII website.