By Nkem Oguama

Synthesis of social dysfunction; a visual narrative of an African Ghetto, aims at creating increased understanding and awareness about the deprived and denied in our society, perpetually marginalized and displaced with no access to good education, housing, health care facilities, water, electricity, sewage, good roads etc. This social problem provides ample research specimen to photographically document and create awareness about this global challenge-Poverty. The disregard by successive governments and consequent lack of these essentials at the intersection of time negates existential necessity. Above all one is forced to visually react to the issues raised and how they impact on individual and collective lives.

People and events provide great insight into human behaviour that, in turn, provides the opportunity to observe the impact of policies and social change on citizens. Using photography the study will delicately explore these perception and perceived stereotypes characterized by abject poverty and violence, questioning social ignorance of the dilemma. The social problems being investigated include lifestyles, environment, survival instincts, views, hygiene and circumstances which invariably will expose the need for improved social services.

The purpose is to establish a comparative study of three different post colonial countries namely Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. The broad implication of dysfunctionality, a ‘cross boundary’ experience is the reflective concern and issue underpinning the research. This will involve a distinctive personal, intimate and self conscious chronicle of the people’s public and private aspects of life, character and significance of their dilemma.

The depiction of marginalized groups that are socially and economically overlooked has been a concern of documentary photography since the coining of the term in the 1920s as affirmed by Cotton (2004). The images are visual metaphors that solicit attention, likened to an everyday situation of one looking into a mirror whose reflection is completely distorted. This crisis of identity shows their beliefs and other perceptions which could be contradictory regarding their state.

It is expected that the skeptics and political authorities will be confronted through these visual reflections of our time just like Hine made visible the invisible American work experience. His photograph, the ‘Factory Boy’ and ‘Glassworks’ (1909) confronted us with the realities of child exploitation which evoked compassion and necessitated the enactment of laws against such abuses.

The idea of social dysfunction is inspired by the desire to make a particular social group or social issue more visible through the conceptual juxtaposition at the intersection of technology between the traditional film photography and digital imaging (virtuality) explored through artistic research and practice.

Understanding the implications of different approaches to the subject is crucial to new findings. At start-up; it is pertinent to inquire about any existing study on this subject by way of photographic documentation.

  • How can the knowledge be synthesized and harmonized?

  • How do the visual documents metamorphose into the creation of the desired awareness and attention?

  • What are the inherent impulses that trigger lawlessness and violence in these urban slumps and to whom is this repugnance targeted?

  • To what extent has the high crime rate in these ghettos affected the society and its development, and what is the broad implication on national development?

  • Are there fundamental differences in the nature and the formation of these ghettos?

Photography in social commentary focuses on the integration of documentary photography, research, new technologies and the concept of social change.

The research documentation will be conducted through community service work in the subject area. This participant observation approach in their setting will collect photographic documentation of the social problem and their circumstances using digital and traditional photography, and backed up by library research.

The research will also use some selected members of this society who are well known in their peer group to capture real moments in their lives. This will amount to providing them with micro-digital cameras, which is aimed at countering the usual hostile reaction to being photographed. By this development these selected members become part of the research team since the researcher cannot be everywhere at the same time.

The research will culminate in a study photographic exhibition, also displayed on the internet, a book of the research which combines text and photo-exposé and a digital imaging of shots in a story board format.


  1. Charlotte Cotton. (2004). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London. Thames & Hudson.
  2. Albert E. Elsen. (1981). The Purpose of Art. New York. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  3. Patrick Hook. (2004). Digital Photography. Hong Kong. Collins.
  4. Robin F. Pendergrast. November (2002). Photography as Social Commentary. Crystal Lake. Borders.
  5. Pat Ward Williams. (1986). Photography and Social/Personal History, in Kellie Jones, ed., Internet.