Photography The terrible charm of Lake Volta in Jeremy Snell’s shots

The terrible charm of Lake Volta in Jeremy Snell’s shots

Giulia Guido

There are fascinating places that even if we make an effort we would not be able to imagine. Sometimes, those same places, behind their beauty, hide terrifying aspects, stories that we would never want to hear about, but that we have to know.

“What you see is snapshots

of what might be paradise: 

silhouettes of earth, flesh and wood 

framed eternally in the psyche.”

Nii Ayikwei Parkes

One of these places is undoubtedly Lake Volta, Ghana. It is the largest artificial lake in the world, which took shape in the 1960s following the construction of the Akosombo Dam, about two hours drive north of Accra. From the dam, going up towards the center of the country, Lake Volta developed over a length of 550 kilometers – about the distance between Milan and Rome, to be precise – drawing water from several tributaries with wonderful names such as Tɔkɔ, Fra and Amutosisi and overwhelming what was on its way.

«But Lake Volta is new and its birth was – and still is – a big change. There are people alive who can remember walking to farms that now sit at the bottom of the lake. It is as though we have the mythical Atlantis right here within our borders and all its riches beneath the surface of this new lake with old souls lurking beneath the song of its lapping.» – Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Today for Ghana, Lake Volta is in many ways the country’s main livelihood: it is the main source of irrigation for the rice paddies that grow around it; its water, which drives the dam’s turbines, produces most of the energy needed to support the local aluminium industry; it plays a fundamental role for breeding and, above all, for fishing.

Here, on the silent shores of this still-surfaced lake, Jeremy Snell has realized his latest photographic project entitled “Boys of Volta“. The American photographer has always used his camera to analyze and explore the surroundings. As a child, during his childhood, the places where he lived were at the center of his vision, and over time his attention has focused on stories about faraway populations, linked to different and not so well-known cultures.

This desire to discover, to tell through images, brought him to Ghana, on the banks of Lake Volta, where every day the colors of the sky and of the surface of the water hide a terrible reality.

The shots of “Boys of Volta” show young children and teenagers who seem to spend their days peacefully, but who have actually been sold and exploited for fishing.

«They are completely unselfconscious as the sun illuminates their faces, making them reflections of shades of earth, flesh and wood, with glints of blinding light.» – Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Children, especially the youngest, agile and fast in movement, are chosen by the fishermen because they are the only ones able to move between the trunks and branches of the trees that populate the bottom of the lake and between which the fishing nets get stuck. Every day, from dawn to dusk, thousands of children dive relentlessly trying to save the nets and sometimes, more than we would admit, the lake takes them forever.

Jeremy Snell’s cinematic shots manage to tell the rawness of this place, where the children seem to be one with the dark water, where their slender silhouettes face the strength of Lake Volta, a 550 kilometre scar.

Boys of Volta” is also a book, pre-ordered here, and 10% of the proceeds will be donated to the NGO International Justice Mission.

Written by Giulia Guido
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