Photographers Capture Climate Change in Ghana

In developed nations, climate change becomes a reality when hybrids peak in sales. But to photographers Nyani Quarmyne and Nii Obodai, climate change poses an immediate and tangible threat.

In “We Were Once Three Miles From the Sea,” the photographers engage with the people of Totope, Ghana. As waves engulf the coastal village, these men convey the urgency of climate change in Ghana.

High waters forced residents to retreat to land unfit for farming. The sea continues to advance on the village, displacing more than a thousand people. Garbage from the cities of Accra and Tema cover the beach each morning, as the rising tide threatens to bury homes in sand and waste.

Within three years, the sea will encroach an additional twelve to eighteen meters. This threatens the safety and economy of Totope. Yet Quarmyne and Obodai challenge the conventional portrayal of Africans as victims.

Quarmyne has encountered both Western and African culture in his life. Born in India, he lived a rather nomadic lifestyle with his Ghanaian father and Filipino mother. His upbringing helps him blur the lines between cultures. Though hehas lived in regions across the globe – from Canada to Australia – Quarmyne considers Ghana home.

Obodai also feels cultural ties to Ghana. He builds on this relationship through photography, featuring portraits of men and women across Ghana.

“Where are we at the moment?” Obodai said. “How can I translate through photography without being too literal?”

Africans documenting Africans has the potential to counter conventional depictions, according to Quarmyne. Though wary of generalizing, he expresses concern that Western photography appears paternalistic. Mass media disseminates these images and as a result, reinforces paternalistic policy and perceptions.

The photographers add complexity to African image. In the past, the Western world simplified issues in the continent, asserts Quarmyne.

He and Obodai sought to personalize African life. The men tread carefully between raising awareness and soliciting charity, and between treating the subjects as survivors rather than victims. Though Obodai tends to speak in more poetic terms, both stress the political message behind these images.

Treating climate change as an immeasurable, amorphous challenge cannot continue. The Totope people give a face to climate change, reminding the world that climate change is an undeniable reality.

– Ellery Spahr 

Photo: Global Communities
New York Times, Al Jazeera