Wednesday, April 23, 2014 2:14 pm
Seun Akisanmi, a professional photographer and convener of Nigeria Photography Expo and Conference, in this interview with EFUNLA AYODELE and SULAIMON MOJEED-SANNI, shares the vision of the conference
How did you get into photography?
I started when I was in school in America, studying Accounting. My mom came on a visit in 1998 and bought me a camera as Christmas gift. With the camera, I was taking pictures of nature and animals. By the time I returned to Nigeria, I was influenced by the preaching of my pastor, who advised me on the need to be self-employed and for me, I thought of photography.
Photography is becoming an all-comers affair with no professionalism. What would you say brought this about?
I would probably not say there is no professionalism in the industry, it is just that the professionals that people know are not many. For example, if you mention photography, for many people, it is Kelechi Amadi-Obi and T.Y. Bello that come to mind. The major reason I came up with the Nigeria Photography Expo and Conference is that we wanted the level of professionalism in the industry to grow. Most people do not consider photography as a career, but recent job lay-offs in big organisations – high rate of unemployment – is making many to consider what they can do with their hands. So we need to develop more professionals for the business. It is that gap of capacity building that NiPHEC has come to fill. I could say that in the next two to three years, a lot of things will change.
How profitable is the photography business?
I think it is like a country that has crude oil and is yet to tap up to one per cent of its potentials; it is very profitable. Photography is beyond just taking pictures. There are different areas one can focus on, for example, print media, selling of cameras, event photography, stock photography, among others.
How did you come about the idea of NiPHEC?
About two years ago, I wanted to attend a conference in Germany – Photokena. After weeks of processing, I was denied visa. It was said that I did not show enough evidence that I would return to the country; I was labeled a flight risk. I was really angry that after paying that much, I was denied visa.
Again, I felt if I can travel for such conference, there are a lot of people in Nigeria who cannot, so why don’t we gather our own resources and see how we can replicate some of the conferences happening abroad here?
German embassy denied you visa because they felt you were a flight risk. Now place that with the rate of capital plight in the country; what would be your view of the trend?
If you ask me, 80 per cent to 90 per cent of Nigerians that travel with such motive lack vision because if we sit down and analyse our country, we would see prospects. We may have our own challenges but there are so many potentials in this country. It is so easy to say, let me quickly go to a place that things are working out, but interestingly, those that are running out would eventually return to a world-class developed society. If there are challenges, I ask myself, how can I be part of the solution? There would be a time when Americans would be applying for Nigerian citizenship, it is all about how we collectively develop what we have. To a large extent, I cannot blame anybody, because if you consider the suffering people go through, you conclude their decision is justified.
What does it take to be a professional photographer?
I think it takes a good mastering of the technical side of the profession; handling the camera. A lot of photographers don’t take pictures that can compete internationally. It is beyond just taking pictures and being celebrated by family members. Photographers should take pictures that would wow the local and international scenes. The other part is mastering the business side of it. Most of the times, the challenge photographers face is family members thinking photography is just about taking pictures, so they ask for free services. You can imagine if people like Kelechi Amadi-Obi has been taking free pictures for everyone, how would he take care of the family or sustain?
What would NiPHEC offer amateurs?
For those that consider themselves amateurs or those without any idea about photography, all you need to do is to have passion. We are offering up to about 30 different classes; for amateurs and professionals. And within one to two hours, you can actually get inspired enough to be better in whatever you do. For the amateurs, we look forward to giving enough inspiration on the ladder of professionalism. The truth is, you cannot get every single thing within that time frame, but it is a platform we are creating to catapult you from an amateur to a professional. We have Nikon, a top camera manufacturing company, as major supporter, and they are offering anyone that registers a discount to buy a Nikon camera.
What have been the challenges you faced so far in organising the conference?
The major challenge is not having people to believe in the vision. There are lots of people, even corporate bodies, what they are concerned about is how much money they can make from the project. We expected many organisations to sponsor the first edition, which they did not, so the challenge still remains finance. The second challenge is not getting enough encouragement from even those in the photography industry.
What does photography hold for the youth?
I would say this is the time to jump into it. A young person thinking of taking up photography should not waste any time. NiPHEC would offer the platform to network with over 30 successful photographers, five of which are actually from America. By the time a youth comes to such environment, he/she is empowered to make solid decisions on the next line of action in developing himself/herself in the industry. The essence is to get education; photography deals a lot with research and continuous learning.