As the aperture opens, his eyeballs dilate, flicker and blink. His fingers fidget around the lens excitedly. He glances off the camera taking a cursory look at the subject he is about to shoot; his gaze strains as if a marksman. He pulls his finger gently, quietly as if latched to a trigger. Click! Click! Click! It’s a photo shoot. Nigerian-born, British-trained documentary and commercial photographer, Dayo Adedayo, is an inventive photographer – one of a kind in Nigeria. For at least two decades, he’s been involved in a new dimension of photography in Nigeria. He started out taking pictures at events, but gradually branched into fine art photography, editorial assignments with Ovation Magazine and many others. Over the years, he continues to evolve and expand his art. He specialises in large-scale, local, regional, global and more intimate stories set inside closed and secret worlds. As one of Africa’s most recognised adventure and outdoor lifestyle visual storytellers, he has captured stunning photos. The unique photographer shares his personal narratives with Adedayo Adejobi
Can you share your story as documentary photographer?
I did not start as a documentary photographer. It all started as a hobby, passion and it later translated to business. In the analogue days without the Internet, when commercial photography was highly practised, it got to a stage I no longer felt comfortable anymore but was resolute on trying all sorts. I went back to school to change my perception about photography. I was lucky enough to sit on the committee that set up the pilot project curriculum for the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), to see how photography can be included in the syllabus. The government has realised that there is economy of scale. The generation before mine was trained by the British during the colonial period. And the generation after them, the likes of Don Baba, who changed the face of photography, trained abroad. Then you have thegeneration after Don Baba; the likes of Demola Olaniran, Oluwatobiloba Adelaja, Ajala Adeyemi, Aishat Akuta, TY Bello, Bayo Omoboriowo and Jide Odukoya.
When you look at them, the circumstances that led them into the profession was bad economy and seeing Kelechi Amadi do something wonderful; Donald, fondly called Don Baba, trained TY Bello and Kelechi Amadi. It was after Don Baba came back to Nigeria 20 years ago that people started looking at photography as a business. I was just doing my work but the good thing is that you didn’t have to see me. I like to deliberately be off the radar because all I want is for you to see my work. I don’t want to be in the face of anyone. People see my works but they can’t point to the person doing the work, even though they know the name. I am a business-minded photographer. Donald says I am a trader, and I call him a teacher because he is so sound. If I have 10 per cent of what he has in his brain, I won’t be where I am today. But unfortunately he is not a commercial person. I don’t teach people how to take pictures, but what I teach is beyond the lens. Someone like TY Bello who has been fortunate enough to photograph virtually everybody who is anybody in this country should be a multimillionaire in dollars. But the answer is the reverse, and you can’t name any photographer in Nigeria who is as rich as a banker, lawyer or accountant. It’s only in Nigeria you photograph someone in the name of doing an official portrait without owning the rights. I do fight for my rights though. Most Nigerian photographers don’t know the difference between taking a photograph, multiplying the images they have to be paid for, especially being what they do to feed their families. The average Nigerian would assume since they’ve been photographed, they own the pictures. The following day, you will see it in the papers and all over the place, without paying the photographer his rights. This shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, there is no body or organisation that would fight for these things because the industry is still in its elementary stage, and I hope the generation coming after us would do better.
Beyond the lens and camera, what does photography really mean to you?
Memories; pictures taken now can never be recreated again. A picture taken today becomes a document tomorrow, as you can use same in the court of law to prove your case. So many professions come together to make photography work. An engineer designs the camera; chemical engineer and chemist prepare all the chemicals that make sure the papers work in the digital dark room on your system. Also, the software engineers write the software. When the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, during the Sixth Assembly, was accused of a wrongful allegation, the following day a national newspaper published the picture on the front cover and at the end of the day that was the end of the case. Another scenario is during the fuel subsidy scam involving another former House of Representatives member, Farouk Lawan. When evidence from Femi Otedola leaked to the press, all else became story. During the great depression, the American government commissioned documentary photographers to document the country like never before. Washington didn’t know what was happening across the country, as he only heard but hardly saw all those things. But after the pictures were brought back to Washington, then they actually knew the degradation and poverty happening in the US.
What informed your documenting Nigeria in pictures?
Lewis Hine was a documentary photographer; without his pictures, there would be no labour laws in the United States of America. He went into factories in America those days where he documented children being enslaved. Through my work, I try to portray my country in a good light. Six years ago, if you Googled, you wouldn’t see any decent picture of Nigeria on the Internet. All over the world, pictures taken and used in the media, museum and libraries were done by the Europeans and Americans, and not by Nigerians. How would the white man know my house more than I do? Unfortunately, the government is not seeing it that way because Nigeria is the most difficult to photograph place in the world. Immediately, you bring out a camera, civilians, paramilitary, and military officers get offensive. We can’t all be politicians, journalists, and doctors. I am a photographer and that’s all I will do till I die. That’s my contribution to Nigeria. Since the creation of Nigeria, nobody in history has ever done what I am doing. Nobody has travelled the whole country without a penny from government of our country. I will take that to my grave. The country has been kind to me because if you carry a Nigerian passport today, my works are on the pages of the Nigerian passport, and whoever is travelling today across Nigeria is carrying my work. If you have the N100 note, which doubles as Nigeria’s first digital currency, most of the pictures are my work. And so, for me, if I die today, I can say, ‘yes I have made a mark’ and people coming behind should be able to do better than that.
What do you see as the future of documentary photography in Nigeria?
It can only get better and the only example I can give to you is Olanipekun Lukman – Fashola’s personal photographer. I would say for the first time in recent memory – because before now, up until 1983 at the federal level, we had very serious documentary photographers who documented everything happening at the federal level. Everything that happened at the federal level up until 1983, the 1984 coup by Muhammadu Buhari distorted that lineage of recovery by bringing in someone else from outside. I am very sure Olanipekun Lukman changed the perception of governments’ documentary photography.
If there were to be war in Europe or North America today, the first thing they do is to quickly take away all the records. That is why they still have records. Only two people have access and those people would not be together at same time. And after the war, they would bring out those documents kept deep down under the rock, so nuclear weapons would not be able to penetrate.
Bayo Omoboriowo is documenting the presidency, and if you look at President (Barack) Obama’s current photographer, he is a professor of photography and not just anybody.
Sometimes, I wonder how he manages to take pictures and those pictures belong to the state. He takes over 20, 000 pictures a week which go into the national archives. I was fortunate enough to document Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s 60th birthday. I asked for his pictures when he was in government. Pictures don’t lie, no matter how you manipulate it. We all document our lives; we tend to love our baby pictures when we are adults because they can never be re-created.
Looking down memory lane, what would you call the most challenging and most financial rewarding project(s) you have embarked on?
Photography is not about money and that is why you find a lot of artists not having that kind of money. I would say my Nigeria project has been the most interesting. It will stay with me till I die. At times, what comes to memory is my four-week documentary on cremation. I did something a majority of the citizens of the world have not got a clue about. The way Europeans cremate bodies was completely different, and they respect the dignity even though nobody is seeing them. The dignity the cremator puts into the process of cremating the whole body is quiet interesting and very beautiful. It just shows that death is the only thing certain in life.
If you look at works you have documented in terms of personality or organisation, which for you is the most compelling?
Very tough question; talking personality, the most compelling one is Patrick Lavite of Barcelona. The most interesting is the Queen of England, and the one that I really got to know more about later is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I was with him for two weeks taking his pictures.
What was it like documenting Tinubu?
He is a brilliant mind. Twenty years ahead of his peers. He is very generous to a fault. He doesn’t breed nonsense and he recognises talent.
If you had the opportunity to document another person, who would it be locally and globally?
Nobody impresses me in Nigeria. Abroad most of them are probably dead. The only person I would love to document is the late Steve Jobs who changed the world with Apple.
When you look at Nigeria in relation to your profession, and you have the opportunity to change something, what would it be?
Education; without education, we are dead. They (government) are not talking about it, instead the government talks about electricity, infrastructure, roads and train. If you look at the country today, people at the managerial positions today are the 1979 set who enjoyed free education. The politicians of those days set up universities in their states to create sound minds like Wole Soyinka, Tai Solarin, Gani Fawehinmi, and Adejobi – the professor of Mathematics, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. In my profession, what I see beyond the lens is education. A huge chunk of them went to local schools free. Nigeria has been kind to every one of them. What have they given back to Nigeria? Instead, they are now proud to pose with their children on their graduation days, whereas they were children of nobody. If we can have an egalitarian society, I’ll be happy. I pray Nigeria gets there in my lifetime.
How and when did you make your first million from photography?
I came to Nigeria in 2003; that was when I made my first million. But before then, if I converted to pounds sterling, I had made my first million 20 years ago.
If we were to put a price to your name, how much are you worth?
Averagely, in money’s worth, all the monies in Central Bank (of Nigeria) can’t pay for my worth. My works in the next million years will remain priceless. I am worth more than all the money in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Can you tell us about your marriage?
I’m in my second marriage. Never marry for love; it’s the worst thing that can happen to any human being. You should marry your friend. If you marry for love, your spouse will take you for a ride because six months after marriage, there is no love anymore. It’s the friendship that retains the relationship. When you marry your friend, you fall in love with him or her. When the love is no longer there, you remain friends and fall in love again. Beauty will fade away, friendship will stay. I have been very lucky with my wife, and that is because we communicate. We discuss anything under the sun, no matter how difficult it is, and she’s brilliant. A friend of mine wanted to approach her, and he now called me to break the ice. After I started talking to her, we started gisting and I found her to be very sound, brilliant. Luckily for me at that time, I was single, so it was a perfect timing. I proposed to her in three months and we got married within six months. My thanks to ThisDay, as it brought us together; because she reads ThisDay everyday and I do as well. On that front, we discuss politics, business and other issues. We don’t miss the 10 pm news and international news on CNN. We have similar backgrounds and shared values. It’s only a thief that would ask for more.
What kind of child were you, and what part of you do you see in your children?
Growing up, I was lucky to lose my dad at the age of seven. My mother was in the village struggling. I left home at the age of 22 and didn’t come back until I was in my forties. From my father’s side, five generations died before 50. My immediate elder brother died before 50. So I was scared I would die before 50. I was a diligent boy, vey obedient and quiet. But to compare myself with my three sons, it would be tough because we grew up in different generations, times, and circumstances. We were very poor. We lived in a mud house, fetched water from the river and farmed all what we ate. I see myself in my daughter. I was hard-working. My situation was rough growing up. My children didn’t go through all I went through.
How would you describe your wife?
She’s the best woman any man can be married to. I see myself as the luckiest man on earth. She’s quiet, diligent, professional, loving, kind and all the adjectives anyone can have in the world can be used to describe her. She is passionate about what she does, family-oriented – both nuclear and extended – and that matters to me because I am not a family person.
Who offends who and apologises the most?
I offend her the most for obvious reasons. I don’t go to bed with a grudge. Everything is settled before sunset. It’s been fantastic. If I were to come back again into this world, I would be married to her.
Do you engage her in romantic gestures?
Because of my profession, I am not around most times. Fairly enough, her nickname with my friends is ‘Micra’ – meaning low maintenance. What she likes most is chicken wings from Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Once I buy her that, she’s all over me. For my wife, it’s not about money because she’s richer than I am. But she values the little things of life. I am extremely loyal to her. I know what she detests, and I wouldn’t do that to her. My romantic gestures to my wife are beyond love and sex.
How do you unwind?
She loves holidays. We’ve done quite a bit of that together. Personally, I am not a social person. I read a lot and when I am travelling I hardly go out. But when I am home and not working, I watch television or sleep.
Which five authors have you read that influenced you?
I read non-fiction, mostly autobiographies. The most current ones are is by Steve Jobs, Muhammad Ali; Nelson Mandela and Richard Duckins.
You sound so fond of your spouse. Do you both get on well on all fronts?
She was a practising Muslim when I met her. I wouldn’t say I am a practising Christian but I go to church when I want to or when I am invited. I was born a Muslim, but baptised into Christianity, although not the pentecostal denomination. The way we see life is different. We do not see it as going to church or mosque. Our belief is about practising love to mankind, neighbours, friends and whoever we meet. Our families have been wondering of late why our children are not going to a church. Luckily, our responses at different occasions were in tandem. The pressures have become much on us. Our take is that we have to teach the children the good and bad of life. We then decided they would start going to church, but it would either be the Anglican or Baptist Church. Definitely, not the pentecostal churches, because I detest them with all the blood in my veins.
Why a conservative church in this age?
As a student of history and politics, looking at the history of the pentecostal churches, they came out of the structural adjustment programme in the 1980s. I grew up at a time where there were only the Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists and the white garment churches. The Celestial Church of Christ had the largest gathering in the world. I do not put anybody down religiously, but are they doing the right thing? Have they got results with all the churches and mosques? I f I were to see the positive impact of the proliferation of these religious organisations, I would probably have been one of them. Having worked with the top echelon of the society, I have studied them whilst working with them, and found through my prism that they are vain and empty. With the knowledge of that, I wouldn’t want my children to be anywhere near such environment. The lack of education is where you have scenarios where people are brain-washed to bomb themselves to enjoy 27 virgins in ‘heaven’. If the cleric is so sure that he’ll go to ‘heaven’, must he send someone, why not doesn’t he do it? Having said that, I believe so much in God and his manifestations on earth, because my own theory is that nothing works in a vacuum. Philosophically, there is someone controlling the universe. I tell people, my God is my conscience. I’ll rather stand alone, being truthful to myself, than be all out for the world to notice me.