When Glenna Gordon showed Firdausy the picture she had taken of her, the young woman was disappointed. In the photograph, which is the first in Gordon’s new book “Diagram of the Heart,” a woman lies on a bed reading, while crisp light coming from the window behind her illuminates her neck, her feet and her arms. “It’s very dark,” Firdausy told her. “You can’t see my face.” Many of the photographs in Gordon’s book, which documents the lives of female romance novelists in Northern Nigeria, share this aesthetic: they are taken in the intimacy of bedrooms, where light and shadows create both closeness and mystery. “They definitely didn’t love all the pictures,” explains the 34-year-old photographer, smiling, adding the Nigerian women she met were used to “bright, shiny photos taken with a lot of flash of everybody standing up very straight and looking right at the camera.” She did take some of those too and printed them as gifts as she returned again and again to the city of Kano and its surroundings. “Diagram of the Heart” is her love letter to the women she met there. She spoke with R&K at our offices in Brooklyn.
Roads & Kingdoms: Can we start by talking about the title of the first one of these romance novels that you came across? It’s called “Sin is a Puppy,” which is just… great.
Glenna Gordon: Yes, the full title is “Sin is a Puppy that Follows You Home.” It’s actually one of the few Hausa novels that have been completely translated into English. Basically, I was going to Northern Nigeria for a mass wedding and I asked an acquaintance, Carmen McCain, who did translations for the book, what I should read before I went. She said this book by a Muslim woman who writes romance novels. I was really excited about it right away, so I went up for this wedding and also decided to start this new project. I ended up pitching something to a publication who said they were interested in running a slideshow, but I thought it wasn’t right for this. I knew I wanted to dig in deeper and keep working on the project, so I held off and I kept going back.