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LBS Photo Awards winner: Pascal Maitre captures life by firelight

With no electricity, the four children of the Honon family light their home in the village of Allankpon, Porto-Novo, Benin, with kerosene lamps that emit harmful toxic fumes. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, on 19 June 2017. © Pascal Maitre/COSMOS

Pascal Maitre has won first prize in the second London Business School (LBS) Photography Awards for his illuminating series, captured with his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, of a community surviving with no electricity in West Africa.

Shrouded in darkness, but for the faint orange glow of a gas lamp, a midwife helps deliver a baby in a small village in Benin, West Africa. Without electricity, Raïssa Godjo relies on a single lamp and a hand torch to carry out life-saving work in her rural clinic.

This is a snapshot of life without electricity, the reality for more than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, where six out of 10 live without access to an electrical grid. Where connectivity exists, demand outstrips supply, making rationing, rolling blackouts and power cuts commonplace. It’s an issue that captured French photographer Pascal Maitre’s attention during his many years working across the continent – and it's covering it that has now won him the LBS Photography Awards first prize.

 Bathed in the orange glow given out from a kerosene lamp, a midwife delivers a baby in her rural clinic in the village of Attankpe, Benin, which has no electricity.
Midwife Raïssa Godjo helps deliver a baby in the village of Attankpe, Benin, illuminated only by a gas lamp and a small torch. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, on 6 May 2017. © Pascal Maitre/COSMOS

The awards show, run in partnership with Canon, called for photo stories highlighting the positive social impact businesses – from local start-ups and social enterprises through to multinational corporations – can have by tackling today’s global issues. These, the inaugural awards, saw more than 200 entries across three categories: Environment, Energy and Resources; Community Engagement; and Human Development.

"This is about big global challenges – economic development and poverty, gender issues, the environment, conservation and wildlife, the experience of workers and employees, issues around world health – and how businesses, corporates and multinationals interact in that space," says judge Raji Jagadeesan, Executive Director of the Business for Development Institute at LBS. "I think there is a broader societal trend right now of asking about the role of big institutions in society. We wanted to elevate that conversation, and the fact that businesses can have a footprint and an impact."

Two children sleep in a bed, in the village of Seahovo, Benin. After working all day in the fields, villagers are limited in what they can do after dark, with most families in bed by 20:00.
The 700 people living in the village of Seahovo, Benin, have no access to electricity. After working all day in the fields, villagers are limited in what they can do after dark, with most families in bed by 8pm. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, on 19 June 2017. © Pascal Maitre/COSMOS

This project on energy poverty has been 20 years in the making for Canon Ambassador, Pascal. "I’ve travelled in Africa for many years, and almost every day there are problems related to the lack of electricity," he says. "It concerns education; with no lights, children cannot study at home at night. It concerns health; hospitals must sometimes operate with no illumination, and power cuts mean they cannot safely store medicines and vaccines in fridges. It is also affects the economy because you cannot develop small industry without power."

I’ve travelled in Africa for many years, and almost every day there are problems related to the lack of electricity.

The villages pictured in his series, Africa Without Electricity, show the stark reality of the lack of power. People are limited in what they can do after dark, are forced to rely on unsafe energy sources such as wood, charcoal and kerosene lamps to light and heat their homes, and villages such as Gbékandji, Benin, are deserted by 8pm at night because "people stay indoors out of fear," says Pascal. He relied on the capabilities of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II to capture low-grain images in shadowy night scenes, working with just the light cast from fires, lamps and torches. "Canon cameras allowed me the possibility of shooting at very high ISO – 20,000 to 32,000 – while keeping a very high quality," he says.

The images are part of a long-term project on energy in Africa, recently published in a book Quand l’Afrique s’éclairera, When Africa Lights Up. The passion project saw Pascal travel widely across the continent, exploring the divergence in access and resources, and shooting solar farms in Senegal, geothermal production in Kenya, and life without electricity everywhere from Madagascar to Mogadishu, "to show that this is a problem for everyone in Africa."

A night market is held under a tree in the village of Kokahoue, Benin. Stalls are illuminated at the base of the tree by a number of fires because there is no electricity.
Villagers hold a night market under a tree in the village of Kokahoue, Benin, where 300 residents live without electrical power. With nine other nearby villages in the same situation, there are 3,000 people locally without electricity. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, on 6 May 2017. © Pascal Maitre/COSMOS

With the speed of electrification failing to keep pace with a rapidly rising population, and many countries lacking the infrastructure needed to power up, innovation is required to effect change. Power generation remains woefully inadequate – the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa generate the equivalent of Spain, meaning 800 million people have access to the same amount of power as 45 million. "I feel this is a very important topic, I want the world to know about this problem. Some businesses are helping, and there are many projects, but they work too slowly," says Pascal.

It was the human angle of Pascal’s imagery that resonated with the judges. "This series of photographs put a human face on what can feel like very technical conversations about capital or different energy sources. The power of the series is the simplicity of it – these very moving photos show what it is like to not have light," says Raji.

Villagers living in Gbekandji, Benin, where 11,000 people have no electricity, prepare palm oil by the light of small oil lamps after dark
Villagers living in Gbekandji, Benin, where 11,000 people have no electricity, prepare palm oil by the light of small lamps after dark. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, 11 June 2017. © Pascal Maitre/COSMOS

The work of the finalists, which will be exhibited at LBS in February, reflects the diversity of global issues with which business intersects – from portraits in an American community feeling the effects of climate change, through to the modern economy told through the lens of night shift workers in Tokyo. Energy issues were also reflected in a shortlisted series by South African photojournalist and Canon Ambassador, Brent Stirton, in a complex exploration of hydroelectricity in Virunga National Park in The Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"With Brent’s series, what was interesting was the complexity of the environment that the community lives in – there are also conservation and poaching issues," says Raji. "I really think we are living in the age of people caring about something that’s broader than themselves. We’re interested in promoting the idea that business should be part of that conversation."

The LBS Photography Awards exhibition runs at LBS, Marylebone, London, from 8 to 14 February. Visit www.lbsphotoawards.com for more information.


To find out more about the latest camera in the 5D range, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, visit the product page.

Written by Lucy Fulford


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