The idea of photography as art is still very foreign to a lot of Nigerians. Framed photographs found in most homes are either wedding photos, photos of deceased great-grandparents, baby pictures or family portraits. You’re more likely to find a painting than a photographer’s eye-view of his world.
People will shell out hundreds of thousands of naira for celebrity photographers to cover their events but scoff at paying fifty thousand naira for a photograph presented as art.
However, there is a growing movement in the creative industry of art appreciators who are beginning to take photography more serious as an art form. Curators are working overtime to put collections together for exhibitions in art galleries.
In Lagos, rele art gallery is one space where photography as art takes life and is introduced to the next generation of art lovers. Brainchild of Adenrele Sonariwo and located in Onikan, rele was the venue of a panel discussion on Limitations to Exploring Photography Off The Streets, on Friday April 17th, 2014.
The panel was made up of visual artist Uche Okpa-Iroha, photographer Abraham Oghobase and photographer/curator Yagazie Emezi.
The panel discussion was organised to round up the ongoing Lagos: Hustle and Hope exhibition (reviewed here) and explore the dearth of creation, documentation and exposition of photographic works that go beyond the obvious everyday images on the streets to reveal the lives and work of people off the streets.
While the average Nigerian at an event will willingly pose for a photograph, it is a different thing when a camera is pointed at them in their everyday lives. In the course of the discussion, the panelists and some members of the audience shared challenges experienced when trying to create a narrative with their work; a project that requires more than a ‘point and shoot’ approach.
Different ideas for overcoming this challenge were put forward, the most popular being ‘negotiating the space’, a tactic that could take anything from weeks to months but ensure that the artist at the end of the day gets the best of his narrative. It involves getting to know the subject beyond a snapshot, becoming a part of the scenery such that his presence there comes to be accepted. He is no longer seen as the enemy, which is the default reaction to a street photographer in public space, but a trusted companion.
The discussion which lasted about an hour and half was very relaxed with plenty of laughs, back and forths between the panelist and the audience, and varied solutions proffered to the other limitations to street photography.
For an outsider looking in it was like seeing art demystified through a medium one is already familiar with: the availability of camera phones makes one a photographer of sorts.
It was great to see a thriving community of photographers in their element, across generations, seeking to push past the limitations they face in their work. It gives one hope that in the not too distant future, photography will have a lot more recognition beyond just being a means of saving memories, but a more accepted art tool.
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