Jacob Badcock (UCL) - 2021-22 Students

'A Place Called Away?’ Photography and the Limits of Environmental Justice at Agbogbloshie

My research focuses on the ethics of photography at Agbogbloshie, a scrapyard and informal e-waste processing hub in Accra, Ghana. Since 2008, Agbogbloshie has become a subject of interest for photographers, pollution scientists, and environmental justice campaigners concerned with the growing global e-waste ‘crisis’. In conjunction with other research practices, photography has produced an image of Agbogbloshie as a ‘hellscape’ and has been mobilised in support of a top-down ‘clean up’ vision of environmental justice on-site… leading ultimately to the police and military-backed demolition of the area in July 2021, destroying the homes and businesses of thousands of workers in the process. Taking the case of Agbogbloshie as a point of departure, I problematise the uses and usefulness of photography for representing ‘slow violence’. Is it possible for photography to represent environmental ‘crisis zones’ without making a spectacle of or, worse still, exacerbating said crisis? I ultimately argue that for photography to support an ‘environmentalism of the poor’ at Agbogbloshie practices of photography in which workers exert greater control over the representations of their lives and livelihoods need to be centred over and above their representation by visiting art photographers and photojournalists. To make this argument, I draw on multiple photographic archives of Agbogbloshie, including “official” photography, activist photography, amateur photography, photovoice medical photography, and image data produced in support of scientific research.

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