Picturing Lagos: Word-photography Configurations in Teju Cole's Every Day Is for the Thief (2007/2014)
Teju Cole (b. 1975) is a Nigerian-American prize-winning writer, photographer, and art historian whose fictional travelogue Every Day Is for the Thief (2007/2014) includes photographs. Its male protagonist resembles the author in many ways: both are educated middle-class New York City dwellers of Nigerian descent who, after many years, return to Lagos for a visit. The protagonist delivers a personal account, which fathoms his own in-between identity. At the same time, Cole's protagonist presents a portrait of Lagos and its inhabitants, which highlights political aspects of life in contemporary Nigeria, namely, poverty, corruption, mismanagement, and communal violence alongside cultural topics. Still, the interests of Cole's protagonist do not take him to Lagos's numerous slums but to museums and cultural institutions. This article analyses Cole's portrait of Nigeria's mega-city by paying special attention to the intermedial relationships between the text, with its verbal images, and the black-and-white photographs that accompany it. These relationships between words and pictures in Cole's work are loose, sometimes enigmatic, prompting readers to contemplate the reality of life in the West African metropolis of Lagos and with it common modes of representation such as travel writing and documentary.