In Ngadi Smart 's series Latitude, shot recently for Atmos, she wanted to capture the atmosphere of traditional and modern African culture in the historic town of Grand-Bassam in Côte d'Ivoire, now at risk because of rising sea levels.
In the spirit of the magazine and sensitive to the area's problems, Ngadi was conscious of her environmental impact and only used local models and designers, as well as eco-materials and fabrics. Having the UNESCO World Heritage Site as a backdrop only added more depth to the project. "Full of arresting 19th and 20th-century architectural ruins, it embodies, on the one hand, colonial architecture and town planning, based on the principles of functionalism and adaptations to climatic conditions. On the other hand, a community of the N'zima people, which demonstrates the permanency of indigenous cultures, despite serious environmental issues," she says.
"From late September until the beginning of November, unprecedented coastal floods swallowed the streets and homes of the Quartier France of Grand-Bassam. The main roads suddenly became impassable unless by canoes. Numerous historic sites were severely damaged."
Coastal erosion, caused by climate change, is a growing problem for West African nations. The region is losing more than $3.8 billion a year to coastal erosion, according to a recent World Bank study. Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire) is the worst-hit country and has lost $2 billion to the rising sea levels, nearly 5% of its GDP.
"I wanted to capture, through the styling, Grand Bassam's mix of traditional and modern culture which is imprinted heavily in the town's architecture and community, way of life and the way Bassam people are," she adds.
One of her images from the series has been shortlisted for this year's Portrait of Humanity.
Ngadi worked with emerging Ivorian designer, Kader of Olooh Concept, who created the clothing, made from natural and local materials. The hand and feet raffia ornaments were created by a local artisan named Coulibaly Salia, directly inspired by Ivorian traditional raffia wear. "More specifically, what the Guro and Yacouba wear on their feet during their dance ceremonies. I thought they worked well style-wise and are recognisable, iconic items," she explains.
In terms of accessories, Ngadi worked with local florist Jean-Baptiste Kiemtore to create botanical head ornaments, directly inspired by her research on traditional African raffia headpieces. Meanwhile, local artisan Coulibaly Salia crafted wicker hat pieces, all from local material.