Reporter’s Notebook: Portraits of Dignity: How We Photographed Ex-Captives of Boko Haram

Last fall, the Chibok students were moved to a university campus. In February, after weeks of persuasion, university officials allowed Adam to photograph any of the ex-hostages who consented. Adam prepared to take their images.

“I needed to find a deliberate reference to Nigerian culture to honor it,” Adam told me. “So I started researching Nigerian art, looking for a visual cue.”

Around this same time a long-lost painting of a Nigerian princess, known as the African Mona Lisa, was rediscovered. The 1974 portrait of Adetutu “Tutu” Ademiluyi, by Ben Enwonwu, was recently sold at auction for more than $1 million.

Reporter’s Notebook: Portraits of Dignity: How We Photographed Ex-Captives of Boko Haram
Reporter’s Notebook: Portraits of Dignity: How We Photographed Ex-Captives of Boko Haram

Adam decided he wanted to use the painting as a reference for lighting his new subjects. To test out the method, he rented a studio in New York, even hiring a model until he got the light exactly right. He then packed up the configuration and took it to Nigeria.

In late February, Adam and I headed out to photograph the ex-captives, finally. He shot all 83 portraits in one day.

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