How My Brother’s Camera Changed My Life



Somewhere at Ilubirin Estate, Osborne Ikoyi, an art connoisseur by the name Akin Kongi opens the doors of his apartment. Piece of artworks adorn the white walls of his living room. The sheer elegance of his home radiates artistic beauty. At first glance, double portraits of a single model engage attention and leave little to the imagination. Kongi’s works amongst the paintings in his space reflect his dexterity as a craftsman who has settled between the arts of photography and filmmaking. Ferdinand Ekechukwu takes us into Kongi’s world

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There’s the framed picture of the great Afro-beat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, at a young age. It appears Akin Kongi has affinity with the late Afro-beat maestro – he would later affirm that, by virtue of having covered the annual Felabration concert for couple of years and an exhibition of photographs drawn from the concerts over time. Also, a picture of the late musician’s scion, Femi, which had got people talking, has remained outstanding amongst his works.

At a corner of his living room lies another set of rich artefacts on a stool with small-sized tablecloth made of the symbolic Ghanaian kente material. Easily seen amongst the collection are portable sculptures and a four-size piece of different ‘gangan’ (talking-drum) that depicts his root and identity as an “Ibadan man” with a dash of English accent.

Within time, a less than 10 minutes drive from the comfort of his tranquil neighborhood to the upscale Ikoyi Club 1938 would transpose the setting. There at the golf section, the view of its greenery and natural splendour, made resplendent by the ambience of the sprawling 456 acres of land enchants. The overwhelming beauty that lies within the member-only-club arena nurtures creativity which inspires this man that oversees entertainment activities at the section.

That aside, Akin’s resume as an artist is laden with a mix of acting, directing, producing, scriptwriting, academic background in business and finance with 20 years work experience in insurance sector. Yes and truly so however, all this he has embraced at different points.

Clearly he’s a “filmmaker-photographer who has done, different things in his time” in Lagos, New York and in London, the only place that carries his work abroad. He has in recent times been invited to New York to showcase his works, but he seems a bit wary of the global trend and the rising social discrimination against humans, especially blacks.

His foray into the world of arts could be described as an adventure with photography. Then a teenager, he had acquired the skill by chance. His older brother whom he owed credit had a professional camera which influenced him. “I used to play with the camera and I used to enjoy watching him take pictures,” he revealed. “So, the moment I got the chance to buy one for myself I have been taking pictures ever since.”

His stint in finance and insurance had exposed him to opportunities in both sectors. He would later end up investing in Yoruba-language films.

“They [movie practitioners] came to me to invest in Yoruba-language films so I started putting money into the films. I put money into buying some equipment. My interest, because I’m a photographer, got stirred up again in that kind of art (movie) and how it was created”, he explained.

On one of the sets, he was invited to come on board and “I saw how the whole thing happened before my eyes and I was intrigued; I realised that I can do this. I would love to do this. The fact that I was already a photographer, I could see a lot of things made more sense to me quicker than it would to an ordinary person.”

Following that development, he was inspired and in 2009 decided to embark on a course in filmmaking at the New York Film Academy. Going to film school did quite technically equipped Akin in the art of movie making. “Because sometimes you start to understand why things are done the way they are and sometimes it opens your mind up to certain way of where and how you want to do things in different perspective,” he pointed out.

From a distance however, it seems photography is his mainstay. He would not admit that. He said, “People always ask me that which one is my mainstay? I have a lot of passion for photography. I enjoy experimenting with photography. I love taking pictures but filmmaking is something I have come to love as well. I love both.”

The benefit of hindsight aside and the interest, at the moment Akin is well known as a photographer rather than a filmmaker. He has traversed the few art hubs available in Lagos exhibiting. He has the record of being the first artist-in-residence at Miliki, an exclusive members-only-club with a gallery in Victoria Island.

To his credit are some of his art works and that of other unsung artists combined which he facilitated. Like the recent photo and arts exhibition dubbed Reel Flicks & Arts that promotes arts to the corporate executives. His first effort at an art exhibition was via invitation to the famous Bogobiri, another art centre for the promotion and appreciation of the literary, music and local knowledge. He rarely exhibits but once in a year he does, mostly on invitation.

A part of his Private Auction and Exhibition had once made him popular for his famous Makoko collection which depicted the true ambience of Makoko, a slum fishing community located on the lagoon, Nigeria’s mega city of Lagos. His extensive collection on the area comprised of the well-known Makoko Floating School, a prototype structure, built for Makoko, by a Nigerian architect, Kunle Adeyemi. The precarious water community has been in the public eye through several photos by other photographers, but Kongi’s collection then showcased the community from a unique perspective described as fascinating, and intriguingly representing the depth of his inspirations.

Incidentally, but unfortunately so, the structure collapsed just a month after the exhibition, after three years of intensive use and exceptional service to the community, following a heavy rainfall, thus making the piece a well cherished photograph. His works are exclusive, unlike the conventional ones out in the open market. On the aspect of production, he laid claims to a couple of short films and corporate-oriented contents for telecoms, banking, and the drinks sectors.

Though his claim to have shot two feature films and about to shoot his third one, which he said were all going to be out towards the end of the year, maybe early next year. “So a lot of people haven’t seen my handiwork film-wise,” he noted. “But the work I have done that they can see is the only work I have done for corporate bodies. These are contents so difficult you can only find with me and all the rest that’s pretty much of it at Akins Squared,” his production outfit of close to a decade.

On the other side of movie business, he runs a film distribution and television content promotion outfit borne out of the many interactions he has had with other filmmakers which showed a void in the channel, hence the need to bridge the gap between movie makers with limited access to putting out their works to the mass public through a channel that comes readily available and affordable. So far, the response he said had been positive and the patronage inspiring enough to keep him providing local contents that justify return on investment for filmmakers.

The company, Wakaflicks, he describes as the filmmakers’ hub that gives a filmmaker a chance to get return on his investment while looking at all the different aspects from showing films to the public, to people having access on the Internet, their phones and to be able to consume the contents and pay a token for it as well if possible.

Akin Kongi doesn’t belong in the pack. As such, his name rarely pops up at random. He’s in a world of his own as an artist whose deep knowledge of the arts, vis-à-vis the film industry in Nigeria rings true. To him, there are a lot of filmmakers who take photography and there are a lot of photographers who try to make film but there are not too many filmmaker-photographers around. From the top of his mind he reckons names like Andrew Dosunmu and Femi Odugbemi as only contemporaries whose works can be estimated with similarities.

With Akin, it’s a roller-coaster of the Nigerian movie industry he distinguished from Nollywood. He talks about the dreaded monster in the film industry; piracy which has cost stakeholders in the industry, including the government, a huge chunk of income that ought to have accrued to all. He sounds like a chip off the old block within an institution of authority on the history of Nigeria’s film.

“The Nigerian film industry is actually over a hundred years. It was actually started by the colonial masters. They had Nigerians who worked with them, whom they trained and eventually took over the industry when they left. We had people like Herbert Ogunde and Ade Love. I remember watching movies like: Bisi Daughter of The River, and other good films like that,” he said.

Such narrative gave away his age as someone between the age bracket of 50 and 60. He admits he’s in his early fifties. But then hear him more: “Moses Olaiya a.ka. Baba Sala people made quality films in those days that it was good as Hollywood production.”