Once upon a time, a young man obtained a camera, and the rest is history. I have talked about my photography for a while now, but not how it all began. Maybe that is a story for another day, but one recurring memory from childhood is one in which Uncle Bola, the family photographer, lied to us about the presence of a special bird in the flash light of his camera. His most perplexing trick however was not that the blinding flash light looked nothing like a bird, but that our poses – deliberately worked to look our best for the photograph – never quite made it into picture form. “I’ve not yet developed it,” he usually said. Eventually, we figured out that he was only having fun at our expense and stopped falling for the trick.
My motivation for taking photographs then must have been a subconscious need to capture beauty through my own eyes. My first camera was a rickety hand-held that used a 32-exposure film reel. Luckier siblings who grew up in the 70s knew the Polaroid devices and the wonder of its instant production. I only heard of those times, and saw few square products of those times, some of which had my image on them as a little boy. You took a picture, mother said, it came out blank, and you quickly swiped it in the wind like a hand fan until the image showed up. That must have been fascinating. Needless to say, the first products of my hand-held camera were terrible. I had – in my stubborn curiosity – managed to have exposed the films to light.
Sometimes in 2002, I met poet Eugene B. Redmond on the campus of the University of Ibadan who took pictures of everything. Everything! He had two cameras, one of which was digital. Even at that time, I couldn’t figure out why anyone still carried non-digital camera. (Well, there was also Olumide who also had one slung on his neck around the campus). But who takes pictures of everything, from empty landscapes, to walking students, to idle pedestrians, to buildings, to dancing poets, to loose trash lying around the courtyard? On our way to the airport in Lagos while he was heading back to the United States, he kept his camera on hand taking pictures of road signs while discussing the nostalgia of his experience living in the city in the 70s. He was also the Alestle student photographer at the 1963 March on Washington. The only thing in my head watching him at the time however was, What kind of beauty do road signs represent to this visiting American. In 2009, he donated his collection (including thousands of photographs taken over his decade of teaching, travelling and writing) to SIUE.
I have just returned from the Edwardsville Arts Centre to sign the Exhibitor’s Agreement for the upcoming exhibition, an exhilarating experience. Two of my photos will be part of the EAC 2nd Juried Show taking place between February 17 and March 16. The photos were both taken more than three years ago and have never been shown in public. I spent the whole of yesterday fretting over little details of size, price, and whether (and where) to include my signature on the art itself. I have never done this before, but it was easy to accept that this has occupied some part of my subconscious for a very long time. My artist statement included a little of my motivation for the theme of movement. Since meeting that poet in Ibadan in 2004 and later in 2005, I have taken a special interest in the photographic arts. My presence on campus in Edwardsville throughout 2009 must have appeared to those who saw me taking pictures of almost everything something similar to what that poet appeared to those of us who observed him back then. This exhibition then, for me, is a first and important validation.
The venue is now being prepared. A man on a ladder moves words around on a while wall. Pat Quinn – the curator moves around the studio showing visitors the already displayed art. In one other room down the hall, three people sort through artist contracts and exhibition posters. It promises to be a good outing. There is some delight in this coming out: unveiling for the first time what had merely languished in electronic storage. This journey began a very long time ago, and what a journey it has been. You are all invited.