By Katy Cowan
In his award-winning series The Nomadic City, photographer Christian Vium tells the story of Nouakchott, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania – a relatively unknown place that’s braving the unforgiving Saharan droughts to become one of the fastest growing capitals on earth.
He reveals its streets and inhabitants through an ethnographic juxtaposition of his own photographs alongside a growing collection of archive images, newspaper clippings, appropriated photo albums, film footage, objects trouvés and a variety of edited written sources such as interviews, letters, diaries, notes, maps, news bulletins, journalistic articles and anthropological essays.
Vium has been working on his project since 2010. He explains: “Engaging with the porous interstitial ‘spaces’ that emerge at the intersection of nomadic and sedentary worlds, or desert and urban worlds, ‘The Nomadic City’ maps a particular form of emergent potentially emanating from these fringe landscapes. Using an analogue medium-format camera, a notebook and a handheld GPS, I have systematically mapped the city of Nouakchott aiming to provide a nomadic reading of urban ephemerality in a unique setting: a city which was constructed Ex nihilo in 1957 and now harbours more than a million inhabitants, the vast majority of whom have partaken in nomadic livelihoods now shattered by recurring droughts in the Sahara and Sahel region.”
Through his work, Vium has collected a wealth of material, which he plans to turn into a book documenting the history of the city of Nouakchott through to its rapid development today. He hopes his observations will be used by historians, architects, planners and political decision-makers, when considering the needs of rapidly developing cities.