On a first meeting, Chris Nwobu does not readily come across as a photographer but for his somewhat overgrown hair which gives an inkling of his creativity. His journey with the lens began some years ago when he discovered his fascination for photography.
“I have always been fascinated by visual arts,” says Nwobu, “and any medium that allows you the liberty to self-expression. Before now, I captured my thoughts and views about life with the pen until I realised how much change I can effect with strong visuals. ‘If the old saying that one photo image can speak more than a thousand words is true,’ I said to myself, ‘why waste time writing a thousand words if I can make a thousand photos that will equal a million words?’”
Like most contemporary photographers, the ideology behind the quest for photography is the instinct to document the truth and, as they say, ‘say it as it is’. “When a man sees the truth and fails to say it, that man is devoid of conscience and not fit to live amongst men. The lens bears witness like none, could be false or true, depending how you use it. It is as mighty as a sword; it can save but can also destroy. So it is a choice of what you want to do with it. As for me, I have chosen to save that I might be saved,” he explains.
Making a good photo for the contemporary photographer is not just about handling a camera but the creativity involved in how to capture a moment. According to Nwobu, “The truth is that a lot of people do not know that I make photos, even fellow photographers. They know me more as one who runs an agency or gallery that sells works of other photographers, which, I must say, is what fired the desire of my journey with the lens. Having seen lots of photos from different photographers to a very large extent helped in giving me directions.”
Really, there seems to be a paradigm shift that is ushering in contemporary photography in more viable, stylish and sustainable form. Like comedy and other forms of art, photography is employing all tools, trends, innovations and techniques that endear it to modern age. If you were in one of the numerous photography exhibitions in Lagos and elsewhere in the country, you will be amazed by the beauties photographers click out of the cameras with their gifted hands, or rather, acquired skills.
While in such gatherings, one will witness the celebration of the achievements of some of the country’s finest photographers, foremost among who are Ojeikere, Tam Fiofori, Jide Adeniyi-Jones and Sunmi Smart-Cole, whose works often juxtapose with those of a relatively younger generation of practitioners like Adolphus Okpara, Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko, and members of the collective, Depth of Field – Uche James-Iroha, Amaize Ojeikere, Kelechi Amadi-Obi, TY Bello, Emeka Okereke and Toyosi Zaynab Odunsi. These make way for proliferation of modern photographers who seem to pool resources and talents in order to put the photography industry on a new threshold. Of course, the photographers who are initiating the change have realised that without a steady stream of paying clients, no business will thrive, and that nothing will grow their business better than a real, honest and no-nonsense approach to marketing.
At present, those who still appreciate the value of keeping excellent photographic diary of weddings and other events are always willing to part with good money on a single occasion.
But the more interesting aspect of this trend is its embodiment of industrial photography that captures the essence of products and services in pictures and conveys it to their diverse clients.
The pictures may serve either administrative, public relations or advertising purposes and go further to disabuse the society of the notion that photographers are never-do-wells.
Besides improvements that enable doing and presenting excellent jobs in other branches of the medium, such as portraiture, reportage, architectural and advertising photography, sustainable development in today’s photography is also partly because the practitioners are developing a sense of business and marking.
Uche James-Iroha, a contemporary photographer, thinks Nigerian photographers are becoming globally focused by continually exposing themselves to trainings, collaborations and competitions that leave them with better perception of their job and application of world best practices.
However, he notes that the appreciable trend in this sector of the art that has almost become an industry has been particularly associated with certain technical innovations (flash, panoramic equipment) and styles, such as the use of extreme chiaroscuro (artistic use of light and shade) and, in general, new objectivity.
Kelechi Amadi-Obi, a popular commercial photography practitioner, says contemporary photography thrives well with product branding, which, he notes, is easy, but getting a good one is always hard.
But giving a break to absolute mercantile photography for some private practice that concerns their immediate environment is what Amadi-Obi thinks should be the priority of contemporary photographers. “To brand photography in Nigeria, photographers must pause with sheer and serial commercial photo and show some concern to their social environment,” he says.
Though the development is also partly because some other photographers endeavour, through photographs, to create an aura of modernity, good organisation, and patriotism to their environment and countries, Tam Fiofori, another veteran in the practice, asserts the need for further “recognition, respect and appreciation” of the medium within the country’s art sector.
For him, practitioners are raising their game but still need to go the extra mile in order to be at par with their global counterparts.
He thinks that until some lighting and artistic techniques are perfected, trendy equipment acquired, mastered, used for the perfect effect, pictures win awards, and more people appreciate the pictures, the Nigerian photographer should still keep working on his/her skills.
In the same vein, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Princeton University-based academic, artist and curator, on a curatorial and research visit to Nigeria some years ago, remarked that contemporary photography in Nigeria seemed more in tune with the late 19th century trends than with cutting edge of the 21st century forms.
However, the situation has been steadily and visibly changing over the last ten years, especially among a handful of extremely active, established, and mid-career and a growing number of emerging photographers.
In a world that has become increasingly interconnected, Nigerian photographers, like their counterparts around the world, are taking full advantage of information and communication channels such as the internet, email and mobile technology as well as increased mobility.
Engaging subject matters and experimental modes of artistic articulation are gradually becoming essential as these photographers partake in activities ranging from solo and group photography exhibitions to biennials, art fairs and art festivals on the continent and around the world.
Uche James Iroha concludes that photography has come to be a viable profession for the very passionate hands that always want to create images that speak and also delight the eyes.
Similarly, Nwobu believes photography is very viable. “For me, everything worth engaging a man’s time could be commercially viable. It all depends on the man or woman who is engaged. But I tell you that Nigeria and Africa at large have got huge potential that is yet untapped in the area of photography. I have not even started. Tell me what you want to sell today that you do not need photo images to promote. It is about understanding the industry and where you fit in and trying to be the best in that area.”
FUNKE OSAE-BROWN and OBINNA EMELIKE