A photography workshop not only elicits the enthusiasm of Lagos-based photographers, but also unearths their latent talents, its Austrian-born facilitator Eva Maria Ocherbauer tells Okechukwu Uwaezuoke
A sense of exultation trails this year’s FotoFactory Lagos. One good reason for this is that, even on its second edition which concluded on Friday, July 28, the annual workshop – founded and developed by Germany-based Eva Maria Ocherbauer and US-based Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie – was welcomed with wide open arms among Lagos photographers.
Whatever expectations the organisers had about the just concluded workshop seemed to have been exceeded. “This year, everything was better prepared,” Ocherbauer enthused. “We had set up our website before the second edition started (as we had materials from the first edition) so we’ve got extended possibilities for communicating the programme in advance. I have received so many kind responses to my announcements, as people are getting aware that we are serious and… in enhancing FotoFactory Lagos. This is highly encouraging!”
The workshop, which was supported by The Femi Akinsanya African Art Collection and Aachron Incorporated, hosted twice as many participants this year. In addition, the master classes had two guest lecturers instead of one while the workshop experience was extended by an extra day. Ocherbauer also disclosed that there was an upgrade in this year’s curriculum, which emphasised so much on high technical standards. To this end, one-on-one interactions with the participants and special focus on technical issues like post-productions were delved into.
Before her involvement with FotoFactory Lagos, the Austrian-born photographer and lecturer at the Neue Schule für Fotografie had previously worked with several among the participants of this workshop at the LagosPhoto Summer School, which started in 2013.
“A few are already with me since then,” she explained. “Some came in 2014 and it was most rewarding to see them grow and succeed. I suppose this was the most satisfying experience: to notice the actual impact of the teaching.”
Take Rahima Gambo, who joined her class in 2014 for instance. She has since scaled up to become one of the most promising Nigerian photographers of her generation. There are still others like Aisha Adeyemi, Obuh Christopher Nelson, Ralph Eluehike and Anthony Monday, who have been working on personal projects over a sustained period of time and have moved up their professional ladder.
Also, four FotoFactory Lagos participants are hoping to feature at the maiden edition of the Lagos Biennial, coming up later this year. “This is a clear sign in which direction our programme is going and succeeding,” Ocherbauer continued.
Of course, some new faces did show up at the workshop this year. Among them are quite proficient photographers involved in commercial practices, who came to hone their creative skills. One of these is Omololu Omolayo, who has had a long stint working in the fashion industry and hopes to combine his studio skills with his personal projects.
Perhaps, another interesting aspect of this year’s workshop is the organisers’ special emphasis on documentation. This is besides having parts of the master classes recorded.
Yet, for all the crowing about its successes, Ocherbauer believes that the workshop still has a lot of room for improvement. “Firstly I’m doing nearly everything by myself,” she pointed out.
This was not meant literally. For she acknowledges Professor Ogbechie’s impact, which is crucial for the success of the programme and Helene Mildenberger’s assistance in not just coordinating the students’ registrations but in also jointly managing the website with her. “I need somebody on my side who overlooks organisational processes, who takes care of social media regularly and last not least watches over the financial affairs. My focus should be on the actual teaching programme, all the imagery involved and the artistic direction of the programme. I guess this is the biggest challenge for now: not to get exploited and remaining exhausted at the end, simply because there is too much to do on too many different levels, all at the same time and not sufficiently covered by funds.”
But there are plans to change all that in the future. And talking bringing about more guest lecturers, Ocherbauer thinks it will be beneficial. More so, given her acquaintance with “so many wonderful photographers” on the continent. “The exchange between our participants and established artists is so important, to provide role models. I wish to be able to invite them to lecture in our programme. Even inviting photographers from other parts of the world to teach will be fantastic! But this requires funds and we are working on improving in this area. I’m confident this will increase with time.”
Implied in the theme of this second edition, Visual Identity (jointly facilitated by Abraham Oghobase and Andrew Esiebo) is the understanding that every photograph is a reflection of one’s own sensitivity, the meeting point between a moment and an emotion. Indeed, as Ocherbauer later explained: “The photographs we take, the selection process and the final form of presentation are all elements expressing our own subjectivity and accordingly defining our personality.”
On this springboard, the workshop is propelled by the ultimate vision of launching its photographers into the international limelight. Through exchange programmes with other institutions worldwide, it hopes to burnish the professional credentials of its products.
There are also plans to launch a publishing platform for releasing books and zines as well as to expand online presentations on an extensive website and social media platforms like Instagram. This is in addition to plans of organising exhibitions, aimed at furthering the career of the workshop participants and associates within its network.
“A dream is to compile a photography collection, in print and database primarily on the participants’ works stored in our base in Lagos. Yes, a base in Lagos will be fantastic, a permanent space, with classrooms, digital facilities like computers and printers, as well as studio equipment and a library with main focus on African photography… Aren’t dreams made to become true? We will definitely work on that!”
With the imminent increase of participants, the possibility of the workshop becoming a bi-annual affair is now on the table.
This, Ocherbauer hopes, will consolidate on its gains. “I’m supervising long-term projects via internet already, but it is such a difference to talk in person. Also from the networking aspect, the programme implies not only the actual teaching, it is also important to keep up a platform where photographers can meet and exchange ideas. We do this now via the social media, but again, personal experiences are making such a difference. I cannot predict how fast things are moving but we are already working in this direction.” An exhilarating two-week stay in Lagos made leaving the mega-city difficult for Ocherbauer. She misses the glut of talents, creative energy and ambition, which she thinks are “all wonderful and needed ingredients for a vibrant cultural scene”.
She added: “Everybody seems to know everybody… This of course encourages all kinds of gossip, as is always the case when there is not much space given to escape into alternative scenes. My friends, who do fantastic work here, are interacting internationally. They are travelling abroad, which I think is crucial for survival as an artist these days. Every artist, no matter where he or she is based, has to participate in global discussions, has to open up her or his horizon to make a significant statement. But still, Lagos-based artists I know highly acknowledge the unique inspiration given by their home town, stressing the advantages of the African heritage at present times…” Ocherbauer hopes to see more galleries – especially the less commercial ones – and independent art spaces spring up in Lagos. “There is a lot of wealth in the country. Let’s open the eyes for the arts and find support for all kinds of cultural approaches. The commercial side, poison for every artistic expression, will then become less important. Culture is what remains at the end…” Her advice to young photographers? “Find something you are passionate about, shoot your way through this obsession with bravery and you will have a potential great project. Follow your instincts more than any advices, and above all, believe in yourself.”