‘Sister of charity’: A photographer showcases the selfless care his mother, a nurse, provides to the sick in Nigeria

On May 17, Bridget Aluu tries to call her older sister after receiving news of  her brother's death from a long-term illness.
On May 17, Bridget Aluu tries to call her older sister after receiving news of her brother's death from a long-term illness. (Chris Iduma)

Nigerian photographer Chris Iduma embarked on his journey with perhaps the most important tool a photojournalist can have. No, not a camera. Curiosity.

If you don’t have curiosity and a deep interest in people, photojournalism is a hard slog. If you aren’t curious about what your fellow humans are thinking and feeling and how they are living, then you may as well find something else to do. Luckily for us, Iduma has all of those qualities.

Nevertheless, when telling people’s stories with a camera started to blossom for him as a potential career, he didn’t even have a camera.

Iduma entered university to study mass communication, and it was there that he met photojournalist, visual artist and fixer Chriss Aghana Nwobu. After meeting him, Iduma became fascinated with his work and his nomadic life chasing after stories and working for the international media across Nigeria.

One day, Iduma approached Nwobu to ask him how to become a photographer. Surprisingly, the answer was not “Go get a camera.” Instead Nwobu told Iduma, “firstly you need interest.” Then he paused and continued, “interest and interest.”

That planted a seed in Iduma that would later grow into his passion for telling stories with a camera. After taking photos of people with his phone, he got a camera and started shooting professionally. That was around 2016.

In the years since, Iduma’s interest in communicating with a camera has matured and developed. He told me, when I asked him, what influences his work:

“For me, photography is a civic act and an excuse to look. I consider my work a protest against time as it’s transient as well as for and against certain societal constructs. It’s the contemplative and meditative quality of an image that I find potent. The biggest goal of an image should be to raise a question. A question settles and does unsettle but only settles eventually when the questions are answered. It helps the thinker understand their thoughts and intentions even better. A question helps us find our placements with the truth, and the lies within it.”

Iduma wants viewers of his work to be drawn in by questions — to become, as he says, “a co-author and witness, providing an experimental chance to challenge one’s perceptions, perspectives and assumptions.”

All of this brings us to today, where In Sight is presenting his work, “Sister of Charity.” It’s a delicate, visually sumptuous and tender examination of the life of Bridget Aluu, a Nigerian nurse who is deeply committed to taking care of the people in her community. But Aluu is also Iduma’s mother, whom he describes as a “sheer mix of patience and selflessness.”

We need those qualities in the people who take care of us. And that has been proved time and again over the past horrific year while a pandemic raged across the world. Iduma’s portrait of his mother provides us with a window into what makes these people tick. My own mother (now retired) is also a nurse, and I can attest that they do indeed work very, very hard.

Iduma’s words about his mother, and nurses in general, all ring true to me and hopefully will to you, too. He says:

“With a tiny light of her own life, she provides care. On most days, she’s treating herself right after attending to her patients. One that raises questions about what it means to provide care? And what are the values, sacrifices in providing care? And do you ever retire as a nurse or from providing care?”

While this is a story about a mother and a nurse from Nigeria, it’s really about so much more than that. Iduma’s tender photos speak to something universal in all of us — giving insight into what makes us, in the end, human.

Iduma is a self-taught photojournalist whose work explores identity, women, history and sociopolitical issues. He was born and works from Lagos, Nigeria. He is a Leica Oskar Barnack New Comer Awards 2021 nominee and one of eight Black recipients of the John Herrin Memorial Scholarship 2021 to attend the FotoFest Meeting Place Portfolio Review in Houston. His work also won the British Journal of Photography Open Walls Arles Awards 2021.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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