In 2008 photographer Ruth McDowall moved to Nigeria to work with at risk youth in the city Jos. At that time the city was passing through religious and ethnic conflict. She began to document the escalating conflict in Plateau State, capturing the day-to-day realities and the deep impact it has had on peoples lives. Nowadays her work is becoming increasingly concerned with the environment and man’s relationship to it. I asked Ruth about her latest project ‘Fulani in transition’:
“I had grown an interest in the Fulani during my first few years in Nigeria. In 2013 I was commissioned by UNESCO to make a story about education for nomadic children in northern Nigeria. I got to spend several weeks walking one and a half hours to school each way with Fulani children, and observing their lifestyles. The Fulani are the largest nomadic people group in the world, with an estimated population of over 20 million they span from Senegal across to Sudan. For various reasons their nomadic lifestyle is changing, and at risk. They are struggling with the changes in the environment; desertification, deforestation, overpopulation and climate change, are all factors that are making their lifestyles difficult. Many are now semi nomadic or totally settled.”
In West Africa the environment is for the most part exploited and disregarded. Intensive fishing practices have disrupted the balance of life in the ocean and unsustainable exploitation of earth’s resources have led to extreme climate conditions and desertification.
Desertification, lack of grazing lands and conflict with farmers for resources make it increasingly difficult for Fulani to continue their traditional pastoralist way of live. The project ‘Fulani in transition’ is studying their lifestyle and changes to how they’re living, their reliance on water and the landscape where they live and move.
Ruth began taking photos with an old Minolta 35mm camera that had belonged to her grandfather. She studied fine arts at Elam art school Auckland, New Zealand. A few years after finishing university she moved to Nigeria to start a project teaching at risk youth photography.
In 2015 she received a Photo Reporter Grant to complete a project about youth that escaped abduction by Boko Haram in Nigeria. This project was selected as Times best 10 photo essay of the month, a finalist in Lensculture visual story telling awards 2015 and featured on New Yorker Photo Boot hand National Geographic Proof and Raw View magazine.
Some of her editorial clients include Time, Newsweek, Telegraph, The Guardian, Elle, IO Donna, Le Telegrame, Jeune Afrique, Al Jazeera magazine, Buzzfeed, Glamour, Raw View and New Yorker. She also worked with various NGO’s and institutions such as Action Aid, The Carter Center, Intel, UNICEF, C.A.R.E, and Heinrich Boll Foundation.