My Most Important Photo: Glenna Gordon, Nigeria, 2012

3 minute read

TIME LightBox talks Glenna Gordon as part of our series “My Most Important Photo”, in which photographers tell us about the one photograph they made that they believe jump-started their career, garnered them international attention, or simply reflected their early interest in photography.

This photo is from a wedding in Lagos, Nigeria in October 2012, part of a series Nigeria Ever After. This was only the third or fourth wedding I had been to, so it was all still very new and exciting. It was a very fancy, high-end wedding. I went to the venue so early that I had a lot of time to wander around and get a sense of the place, and I noticed the lit-up dance floor.

Later in the evening when people started dancing, they were bunched together, and it was hard to make sense of the space. Then, they started “spraying” – when the family and friends throw money at the bride and the groom to celebrate and show support for the couple. The bridesmaids collect the money and make sure it gets to the couple. I followed a few of them around, burrowed into the crowd as much as I could, and made some frames.

What I like about this photo is that there is ambiguity and narrative compressed into one frame. Even if you don’t know exactly what’s happening, the image of a woman in a party dress on her knees fishing for money can say many different things that aren’t just about one woman or one wedding.

With this project, constructing a series was a more seamless process than the work I’d been doing in Liberia before this, where I was less sure of what I was trying to say.

For me, vision is as much about the type of story as it is about a defined aesthetic. I never wanted to do the typical Africa stories about poverty, refugees and slums, but I also felt limited by the opposite type of story, the “Africa rising” narrative about mobile phones, banking and consumer growth. The outcomes of both of these are predetermined and pre-visualized. You know the ending before you’ve even begun. I’ve always wanted to work outside those scripts. Working on Nigeria Ever After gave me the chance to explore. The series ends with an image of a chicken wandering around a wedding tent, but I never could have imagined that before I started.

Glenna Gordon has been photographing and writing about Africa for various publications since 2006. See more of her work on her website.

Glenna Gordon Nigerian Wedding
A bridesmaid collects "spray"-Naira notes and sometimes U.S. dollars thrown at the couple as they dance. While spraying is technically illegal and considered an abuse of currency by the Nigerian government, the practice is common and shows the importance of displaying wealth and excess during celebrations. Glenna Gordon

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