“Area boys” are synonymous with urban fear in Lagos, West Africa’s mega-city and Nigeria’s commercial capital. They are boys from a given area organized into a survival network. They have no allegiance to any ideology or creed, only to their locality and the young men they cohabit it with. Many are orphans or have been disowned by their families after joining the area boys or committing a crime and bringing a bad name to the family. Others are just trying to get by. Mostly they sleep in the street or in makeshift shelters. The bosses and big men live in tenements called “face me, I face you” for their rows of tiny rectangular rooms with entrances facing one another. The boys are omnipresent in the city, smoking weed under overpasses, slouching on the outskirts of markets, and hustling everyone they can for small money in the vast markets on Lagos Island. From a distance they are an ominous presence, and up close they can be terrifying.

One night, area boys attacked photographer and filmmaker Tom Saater while he was shooting from a highway bridge in Lagos. Saater wanted to understand his attackers, and the desperation that fuels their violence. He began this ongoing photography project to take a closer look at the individuals that live and perpetuate the myth of the area boy. Intimate portraits humanize these men that are too often simplified as an urban menace. By spending time with the area boys and photographing them the way they see themselves, Saater explores the truth and fiction of Lagosian gangsters.

During the day, Area Boys can be viewed on monitors inside the ICP Museum and during evening hours, images are literally “projected” onto the windows of the ICP Museum; they can be viewed from the sidewalk outside the Museum and are most visible after sunset.

This installment of ICP Projected was co-curated by Lucy Pike, photography director of WeTransfer. Listen to a conversation with Tom about his series Area Boys, a portrait of a notorious gang that attacked him one night in Lagos.

About the Artist

Tom Saater is a documentary photographer and filmmaker from Nigeria. His work has been exhibited internationally, including at the 2015 Venice Biennale; University of Oxford, UK; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art,  Denmark; 2016 LOOK3 Festival, as part of Everyday Africa; and Addis Foto Festival, among others. He has been commissioned and published by many outlets, including the New York Times, The Economist, the Huffington Post, The Telegraph (UK), Japan Times, Bloomberg, BBC, The Guardian (UK), Human Rights Watch, Mercedes Benz, WFP, UN/OCHA, and Oxfam, among others. In 2015, Saater was nominated for the Magnum Emergency Fund. He is a contributor on Everyday Africa. When Saater is not on assignment, he is on the street shooting or going on road trips and travelling.

TOP IMAGE: © Tom Saater