Utne Reader Book Reviews: November-December 2008

| November-December 2008

Delta Blues
Curse Of The Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta
photographs by Ed Kashi; edited by Michael Watts (powerHouse)

Welcome to the other end of your gas pump: the Niger Delta, a major supplier of U.S. oil and, as depicted through photojournalist Ed Kashi’s lens, a scarred hellhole of a place ravaged by a corrupt government, a savage military, and ravenous multinational oil corporations. You could call Kashi’s large color-drenched photos gorgeous, but it’s an unsettling beauty: rich in misery, lush in heartache, saturated in tears.

His landscapes are stunningly bleak: A slaughterhouse site runs with rivers of red; outhouses perch on stilts over the ocean; a slum lies in ruins, sacked and burned by soldiers. But his portraits of the Nigerian people capture pride in the face of oppression, glints of hope on the dark side of an economy built on extraction.

Kashi’s photos are paired with essays, reports, and interviews that flesh out the backdrop to the story (fact: the country makes $45 billion a year in oil revenue, yet most of its citizens live on less than a dollar a day). But it’s his eye for telling visual detail that gives new, haunting resonance to the question “Pay at the pump?” —Keith Goetzman