‘Twifo Praso Palm Oil’ by Ghanaian photographer, Seun Adatsi, is a body of work focusing on the vigorous process of making Palm oil, which is an edible oil that is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm trees. The oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis) is a native to West Africa leading to a few African countries thriving of the consumption of Palm oil.
“I received an assignment with an organisation and we travelled to a part of Cape Coast where they make Palm oil. After that assignment, I decided to go back to this place. I did not know that Ghana produced palm oil in such quantity” shared Seun. The oil palm is the second most important tree crop in the Ghanaian economy after cocoa, meaning that many people survive on the money earned from the production and the selling of Palm oil. Not only does it put food on the tables of those who work on palm oil farms, but for the consumers, it is a crucial factor in the preparation of their own food. Seun went on to say that “despite the fact that we are not even part of the top countries that produce Palm Oil, there are people who live their whole lives based on Palm oil, such as a boy that I met whose livelihood is on palm oil, he goes to school and returns back to the farm to help his mum. Some of the revenues produced is used to help him in school.” The reality of his subjects own dependence on the revenues produced from the selling of palm oil can be seen in his images. He captures his subjects, so engrossed in their tasks, almost making us, the viewer, look like an invited observer.
“One of the difficult things that I faced was access, there is this notion amongst my people that if you are taking photographs of them, then you are either going to use it for a ritual. I approached them from an angle of, people do not usually document their lives and that I would like to document why this is being done and for what purpose.” Explained Seun. Unfortunately, certain beliefs and superstitions can lead people to be sceptical of photographers, the distrust and fear of wrong being done to them, can make individuals react in a hostile manner. Seun continued by stating, “my entry point into their community, was just reassuring them that I am not here to take advantage of you, but to tell your story.” Despite this initial setback, Seun’s images display a form of trust between him and his subjects, the action of them even allowing him into their community and comfortably being photographed by him comes across in the images, which are documented in a way that invites the viewer to watch and learn from the farmers and their process in producing the Palm oil.
“Before I was very ignorant when it came to photographing people and places, I tended to photograph things that many foreign photographers would come to Ghana or Africa to photograph, which was quote on quote poverty porn. I had to say to myself that although we have problems in Africa, I need to focus on the real stories, the stories of resilience, the people that make us who we are. The Palm oil project, is people who are finding ways to live decent and happy lives in their own environment. Not only are they making money out of it, but they are also indirectly feeding the nation as-well, no matter how small their contribution is, it ends up on a bigger scale.” Seun concluded by advising photographers to, “ focus on the human element” of their story, “which will drive your story and will help you not to feed certain narratives.”
Nicholas Seun Adatsi is a Ghanaian based documentary photographer. His interests and works spans beyond digital story telling of complex social issues to documenting cultural rites (Ghanaian marriage ceremonies, puberty rites, funerals, naming ceremonies among others), rural Ghanaian lifestyle and intimate rites of passage of clients. To view the rest of his work, visit his website