nicola lo calzo – inside niger

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Nicola Lo Calzo

Inside Niger

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The cultural project ‘Inside Niger’ is a photographic reportage that started after a meeting with the humanitarian association African Pan Project, which is active is Niger since 15 years.

The reportage, committed by Paris city council and Conseil General de Val de Marne, is taking place for one month in the region of Tillaberi and Dosso in the Niger. Its main focus is the population that lives and works on the borders of the Niger River, where most of commercial activities take place such as universities, public work, markets, fishing, slaughter house, vegetable gardens, and tannery.

During my trip that started at the market of Yohorou and ended at the borders with Mali, I traveled along the Niger River until the city of Dosso in order to meet laborers, craftsmen and farmers who work along the river.

These photographs compose a suggestive portrait of this river universe where every person seems to find their identity through the meaning of their work, in one of the poorest countries of the world, a country known by its high rates of unemployment. As a result, every subject tried to reconsider its own photograph as a personal occasion to stress on the value of its work and of its own identity.



Nicola Lo Calzo is an Italian photographer, born in Turin in 1979. After his studies on landscape architecture, he obtained a master of visual arts at the University of Turin, where he started his photographic activity.

Based in Paris since 2005, he works in the field of portrait and reportage, with a particular concentration on the identity and the characterization of the subject towards their social and cultural context.

Currently, he works between Paris and South Africa on a photographic project related to the San community in Southern Africa.


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Nicola Lo Calzo


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

27 Responses to “nicola lo calzo – inside niger”

  • Nicola – An interesting report. I can see the strong portrait influence in your work but i’m struggling for its purpose (not that it must have a specific purpose if that’s what you intended). I’m hope i’m not interpreting it wrong but while it captivates the person in the place I personally don’t get any great sense of the place, the environs, the conditions, what is the essence of living on this as you’ve described it, the poorest place on earth. Not a great sense of the market where you landed or the border of Mali where you concluded. Perhaps a work in progress. I did note the contrast between the religious person image and the aesthetic of the individual portraits. That is perhaps the most striking contrast. Most I feel are more portrait than reportage but perhaps that is the intention of the set. I don’t think you were setting out for it but I don’t think the images move me to want to get more involved with the set. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing. It may be intended that way and again, I hope I have interpreted the set correctly.

    Congratulations on being published here and good luck into the future.

  • I just don’t see anything special here. I like the idea of portraits, but they don’t seem particularly well composed nor do they seem to say much. More like snapshots. I can’t see much beyond the surface of the subjects.

  • Hi,
    This series is currently exhibited at the gallery SFR in Arles until September. Congratulations Nicola!

    Best, audrey

  • As stand alone portraits I like them.
    If there were just one, any one as they are all well made, it would be fine.
    As a set they just dont work for me. They are the same picture repeated.
    Before even looking at the bio I knew an M.A was on the cards.

    I do understand( I think ) the stylistic choice to have frame consistency in a series, it just doesnt tell me that much. And it certainly doesnt invite me to ask anything.
    Congratulations on ARLES though. And on being on burn.

  • Dear collegues,

    I thanks you for your comments, negatives or positives at the same.
    Besides, I just invite you to read a recent article about this project:

    The project is now exibited at the International Festival of photography “Les Rencontres d’Arles”
    until 30th september.

    Bien à vous

    Nicola Lo Calzo

  • there is a connection,
    I feel,
    with each person…
    I like the details,
    in the pants,
    the polka dots…
    they are strong portraits….
    congrats on your show,
    what size are your prints?
    I see them BIG….
    and on foam core….
    am I close?

  • Congratulations on your portraits Nicola.

    I like these portraits for a several reasons. First, you avoided the obvious. Exotic places and subjects such as these are usually depicted by seeking out photos that sometimes seem to emphasise the exotic, and to feature the cleverness of the photographer more than the subject. Instead you have chosen to allow these men to contfront the camera directly and simply.

    This is re-inforced by your choice of settings, simple clean, yet each giving us exactly enough information, but not too much to distract from the subject. You have chosen also to avoid heavily saturated colour and clever compositional tricks.

    As a result, what we are left with is the humanity of each subject, dignity intact. I can relate to these men. I can see a piece of myself in them. They are not just props in another cleverly composed photo of an exotic place.


  • wonderful… just amazing images…

  • I like little mini-essays like this. See, everyone knows you probably took a million other photographs of your time there, but its often fascinating to see… ESPECIALLY if you put a bunch of them together in one place.

    I guess I just have a soft place in my heart for something like this because I enjoy doing it, too. It takes more courage and more time to do something like this than just taking photos of the scenery – or people AS the scenery.

    I appreciate it because you photograph people for people’s sake. You photographed them quickly and easily with respect to the person. Well done.

  • These portraits, taken in each subject’s environment, appeal to me. It doesn’t bother me in the least that they are posed for the photographer. I also would rather view 10 or 12 images at a time instead of 20 or 25 that I sometimes see on “Burn”.


  • I very much enjoyed this essay. Nice and tight edit, looks like a gallery show. Did you use fill in flash for these images. The portraiture is well done with a sympathetic but not condescending portrayal of the subjects. Did you purposely also choose only men as subjects? It would be an interesting contrast to do a similar treatment with the other half of the population of this area.

    All the best and congratulations,


  • I generally do not like to pick apart people’s work but this does not impress me.

    First of all all the images look over exposed on ALL of my monitors and they are calibrated.

    There is a really annoying flash burn behind the man in #5 and the street lights coming out of each side of Monsieur Michel’s Mitre in #9 is inexcusable. Pay attention to the background. It is a portrait! Move the subject.

    “This series is currently exhibited at the gallery SFR in Arles until September.”
    I hope the printing is better than the web version here.

    I do like portrait series. And I think this had/has potential. But I do not feel it is there yet.

  • This has an Adbuster’s feel to it. Sort of pokes at the edges. Most look posed like something from high-fashion. There are a few I really liked, but as an essay, they seem a bit too distant for me.


    I’d bet she posed #9 in front of he lights purposefully…

  • “I’d bet she posed #9 in front of he lights purposefully…”

    That is unfortunate

  • nice series. I prefer the less static shots, as in #2. #9 is absolutely great in its composition.

  • i think being there is one thing forgotten. well done as i know the effort it takes is often forgotten.

  • Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    A reasonably interesting start to what could be a good series and it is akin to something I am currently working on as well – portraits made in a night market in Hanoi. Something that I am dealing with also which perhaps deserves discussion here is the position of the (privileged) Western photographer in the (underprivileged) non-Western setting documenting the ‘other’. Of course one would never see the opposite – the Nigerian portraitist documenting workers in Italy, France or the US and see it exhibited in Arles (or on Burn?). One would hope to. One would hope. When we choose our subjects – or they choose us – when is it/why is it we find ourselves drawn either to that which is familiar or that which is not?

    I offer this as a point of discussion and not as a criticism. I wonder if a project like this within your own culture and demographic would be of equal interest to you as it might be to us.

    I am somewhat reminded of August Sander’s portraits of 1930s and 40s German society though your images lack, of course, the somewhat sinister level of what lay beneath his images of a society about to be taken to war. Thanks…..

  • As an American photographer based in Paris, France, this project brings me back to a topic that has been discussed previously on Burn. That is…different schools of photography. In France (Europe in general), these kinds of portraiture projects are considered reportage (documentary). In publications like Le Monde 2 you see this quite frequently. Many of these collectifs in France like L’oeil Public etc. also do this kind of work. Like others have stated above, I do not see this as reportage photography and do not get questions answered like what/when/where/how?? Perhaps this goes back to what DAH spoke about regarding the Missouri School of Journalism style versus what you see at Paris Photo. I happen to prefer the former even if it is a style that is on the verge of dying out.

    If the aim of this project is just to show random portraits of random people in Africa, then I feel it has accomplished that goal. In addition, I do not feel that the technical aspects of these portraits are very strong. Many seem to be taken with a 35 lens thus distorting the figures. Also, they seem to be taken under harsh mid-day light or under shadows. I don’t mean to sound critical, but I have seen too many amazing portraits by the likes of Steve McCurry.

    Finally these photos remind me of the portraits of the wild dogs with their owners in Nigeria by Pieter Hugo. I just have a difficult time with these photos as well as they seem more provocative than anything else.

  • The photographer and subjects seem to be satisfied with the images and process………to me the audience has been left out of the equation. So who are the images meant for?


    i think the whole point was to totally feature the harsh mid day sun as the real environment under which the population along the Niger River live ….so many photographers in color automatically work in the late or early light which is normally considered the “magic hours”…surely Nicola decided quite early clearly to go against the norm….by using his hot flash he accentuated this “heat”…

    i do not know how long you have been shooting, but i can imagine your tastes may change in time as tastes usually change in time…this does not mean however that you should alter your way of shooting to match the current trends…quite the contrary…but, it does mean that your acceptance for what others do which may be different from your current preferences will perhaps be altered…please write me two years from now and tell me if you are still thinking the same…


    is that not exactly the same question some asked about your work??? any fine photographer picks up an audience…or not….are you assuming that there is “the audience” and that photographers should “play” to that audience??? you are actually the last photographer in the world who i thought would ask this question….

    cheers, david

  • This simple but very deep portraits shows me a world I don’t know. For me perfect.

  • Great portraits..
    But what really made my day is that..
    That Imants guy now cares about the “audience”..
    Hypocrite with a capital H…
    Another beautiful day begins for BURN..
    good morning from LA..
    it’s BURNing down here.. Like hell..
    and I like(s) it…

  • JIM: I just don’t see anything special here. I like the idea of portraits, but they don’t seem particularly well composed nor do they seem to say much. More like snapshots. I can’t see much beyond the surface of the subjects.

    Marcin: This simple but very deep portraits shows me a world I don’t know. For me perfect


    try to reconcile these 2 opinions! :-)))

    We are a bit thrown off at first by the extreme white mid-day light in which everything in your frames bathes in, and David makes a good point to help us see that there is something there that can be credited to your very own choices, and not lack of “metier”.

    It is good that you are not trying to squeeze all that can be squeezed out of these portraits, and the people they are of, narratively and psychologically. I also think that is not by lack of ability to “penetrate deeper” on your part, but rather striving to bring them to us as simply as possible, without your intervention or own thoughts or creativity.

    This does make it harder to arise our interest, indeed, and there is still a risk that it all comes down to a personal stance or part-pris, not any closer to objectivity, yet I think a basic honesty and empathy is unmistakable here, which is our path to your images (as it was your path to them) and just as we would have to lend an ear a bit closer to what you have to say, we lend an eager eye to the portraits that seem to reveal so little. Just a question of leaning to better hear or see…

    For me, the 2 portraits where the people are “clothed” with their function (thru uniform and chasuble, cop and priest) are weaker and not on par with the others, maybe because the light is uninteresting and their stance/stare predictable, unquestionning to us.

  • I think this is a beautiful and honest set of portraits. 1, 3, 4, 7, and 8 especially leave me feeling welcome to view the photographs. These photographs are personal & interactive, and the subjects’ permissive and open poses and postures to the camera communicate a pride that I find touching. I think this work is great. I almost forget the photography and that, to me, means successful work.

  • I like this type of portraiture and like someone above said, I was reminded of August Sander, though I don’t think Sander can take any credit for the sinister aspect lying beneath his pictures. I wasn’t aware of any such thing in his pictures, though i knew when they were taken. They, like these, merely allow the person to present themselves to the camera. This does not mean it is merely a snapshot. Subtlety in photography is a hard thing for many to appreciate. I remember not getting Walker Evans’ pictures and then suddenly, I did.

    I am glad for the explanation of the burnt out background. I didn’t get it and felt the background to be a bit at odds with the subjects. I am still not sure if i like it so much. But, I just kept marvelling at the velvety fineness of the men’s skin and the sharpness of the shots and love (some of them) for their natural beauty which contrasts with the non-beauty, of the labour of their jobs. The man with the yellow thongs is my favourite.

  • I think there is a nice flow going on between the photographs. I appreciate the strictness to the same format and the same methods with lighting and the rest of the arranging. After a while I spotted that the street lights coming out of the preacherman’s head echoed some of the shapes from his clothing. There’s also similar echoes in other backgrounds, as in #4, where the tree seems to be a masculine continuation of his body. Those kind of details often lies there over time before I can spot them, but to me all that progress is a part of the beauty with photography.

  • These photographs become more interesting with repeated visits. I enjoy looking at the details I missed before. For me, they are very successful because there is a desire to come back. With unique content I feel drawn to the individual and detail. I’m wondering what it’s like to be them, in their environment, living their lives.

    Thanks Nicola. Hope to see more of your work.

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