Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko:On Photography, Artistry and Self-Discovery

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Yetunde-Ayeni Babaeko

Her craft, creativity and chemistry are exceptionally remarkable as she combines beauty with intellect. The glint in her eyes as she fixes her gaze on the aperture is electric. The eclectic Chief Executive Officer of Camara Studio, Yetunde-Ayeni Babaeko, is one of the few talented and inventive Nigerian photographers. Since 2004, the photography Amazon has gone through moments of evolution, improvisation, devolution, and revolution in her craft. Funke Olaode explores her exploits in photography, artistry and self-discovery

The new millennium came with a lot of innovation in Nigeria. It even threw up some names in fashion, technology and even commercial advertising. In the wake of this revolution came Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko, Chief Executive Officer of Camara Studio, who changed the way Nigerians look through her lens. The year 2004 was significant in her life – it signalled her way to self-discovery in artistry and photography.

Ayeni-Babaeko traces her photographic artistry to her maternal grandfather, who embraced photography as a hobby back in Germany. After completing high school diploma (Abitur), she embarked on a photography apprenticeship majoring in advertising photography at Studio Be in Greven, Germany. On completing her apprenticeship in 2003, she returned to Nigeria and joined Ess-Ay Studio for a 12-month photography programme, facilitated by Invent, Germany.

This experience spurred her to deepen her photographic skills by enrolling at Macromedia, a school for art and design in Osnabrueck, Germany.

Ayeni-Babaeko returned to Nigeria in 2005 and worked as a freelance photographer, before opening her own studio, in 2007. She has been active as a photographer with social conscience chronicling the life of modern Nigeria. Besides her fashion and documentary photography, Ayeni-Babaeko has facilitated the numerous photography workshops in partnership with the Goethe Institute, mentoring young female photographers.

She has equally taken part in numerous group exhibitions, including her own solo exhibition. Ayeni-Babaeko has become a household name in Nigeria. Creating tremendous images through the camera lens has earned her high-net-worth individuals and corporate organisations.

As you walk into Camara Studio located in high-brow Opebi in Ikeja, Lagos, her captivating works of art soothe your nerves as they hang delicately on the wall – they include family and individual portraits. They reveal the depth of Ayeni-Babaeko’s originality, creativity and consciousness. Throwing light on her trajectory into photography, she recalls: “I actually started photography in 2004 and established my studio in 2008. I was already taking pictures before then but I didn’t have a studio. I was working from home for the first three, four years. So I will do the normal thing, family portrait, events and anything that I can do outside. In 2008 I had to put funds together to now rent a studio.”

She also alludes to a moment of self-discovery at the intersection of her career.

”What happened was that I wanted to study graphic design in the university in Germany. During my gap year, I interned in a studio that also had an advertising agency attached to it, and now stumbled on the photography section in that advertising agency,” she says “and I loved it so much because that was the first time I was working with a camera and all of a sudden I got more interested in that. I also figured out that as a photographer you wear many hats: you are a graphic artist, you are the creative person behind the idea, you are active, you are photographing and all of a sudden I found this more appealing because everything is incorporated in it. And since 2008 I have been working mostly in advertising photography, lifestyle images, and photography. I also do public portraits, events and weddings.”

As a photographer of high repute, Ayeni-Babaeko like any conscious businesswoman wanted to create an identity that would have her signature but at the same time be able to drive itself. So, she established Camara Studio.

“There was a reason I didn’t use my name like other photographers,” she explains, “because I wanted to create an entity that can accommodate more photographers, not just me. For instance, if you invite ‘Yetunde Photographer’, that means you are expecting me, nobody else. But I wanted to create a studio with more than just one photographer, photographers that I have trained.

“I want the Camara studio to grow and operate itself. Also what we do in Camara studio is, while you call it paparazzi, I won’t call it like that, it is still an advertisement on its own but what we are doing is now catering to individuals, families, portraits, we are doing advertising photography as well, lifestyle images. As hilarious as it may sound we even do passport photographs. People are always complaining about their passports that this is a mug shot, I look so terrible, and it doesn’t look like me. You can come here to do it; maybe it’s a bit more expensive than a roadside passport photographer. But when you come here you will get a passport that you will be happy to show people.”

As the years pass by, Ayeni-Babaeko kept evolving. With Camara Studio establishing itself as a household name, she started discovering herself as an artist whose vision this time is to focus more on conceptual photography, having exhibitions and being more around in the art.

This new innovation was incorporated under Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko (YAB).

She clarifies: “I don’t do much of documentary photography. I am more of a conceptual artist. I also collaborated with people like breast cancer organization, dance companies like SPAN (Societal Performing Artist in Nigeria), and other people, just to do my due diligence as a Nigerian to support the social scene, trying to work as and at the same time come together and create some advertisement. And it has worked well.”

Since its establishment, the studio has courted many big clients. This is attributed to its emphasis on standard, paying attention to details and its quality output. In the league of its clienteles are Nestle, 9mobile, the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Chicken Republic, Dangote, and Leadway. It also caters for advertising agencies like Insight, Extreme media, IMS, etc. “We are humbled to be a go to Photography Company when it comes to their company’s events. We are also happy that private individuals have won our trusts when it comes to family portraits, individual, etc,” the photographer enthuses.

The studio with its magnificent ambience and top-notch products, Ayeni-Babaeko says is not just for the high and mighty.

“Camara studio is more of middle class but at the same time I won’t say it can accommodate everybody,” adding “nevertheless, our packages are also a bit flexible. We are not expensive at all, if you also look at all the hours we spend here. And people always ask how many pictures will I get or how many clicks? My own take is that we will work until you are satisfied and until we are satisfied.”

She is not the kind of person who keeps looking at the time and say “now we have to go!” she wants people to have fun in the studio and get high value for their money.

“We all need to remember that after shooting, is editing and photo album. I always laugh when we go for events, people pay for their cake and make-up artist. But I always remind them after the event your cake is gone, your food is gone, your makeup is wiped off, so everything that keeps your memory alive is your image,” the exquisite photographers says.

“So, actually you can’t put a price tag on it. Looking at that you have taken images that will live forever, it is not like when you go and do your hair and after a month you need to go back to the salon. But here you come to the studio the images that you have taken if you keep them well you continue seeing, like they say images are forever.”

How has it been in the last 11 years for Ayeni-Babaeko?

“It has been Interesting. I learned a lot, and met a lot of people because photography is something that brings you to a lot of people. It is about networking, it has taken me around, I don’t think without photography I would have seen as much of Nigeria that I have,” is her response.

What are the challenges of being a female photographer? In her admission, only a woman’s work will give her a true sense of identity and not gender.

“When I came in 2004 the industry was dominated by men. But one of the advantages that I had was that I was a woman. Of course, if I carry my camera at an event late at night there is this kind of attention and it is neither negative nor positive. Some people would be like, who is this woman carrying camera in the middle of the night. So it helps; but I think nowadays if you are a woman you really need to establish your craft. You really need to work on your craft because it’s just your image – your work and yourself that’s speaks for you.”

Married to an advertising communication guru, Steve Ayeni-Babaeko, she admits that having a husband like Steve is an added advantage: “I enjoy working with him because he is so creative and offers me constructive criticisms on my work. He can advise on how to push my work. So definitely, we are married; we’re living in one house, and definitely one is impacting on the other.”

Apart from her life behind the camera, how does YAB relax?

“I am not the kind of person who just lies down on the couch. I will go on vacation but even while on the vacation my husband is always complaining that I am still busy because I am with my camera all the time,” she explains. “It relaxes me, taking pictures, documenting everything and for me it also something that helps you from a very practical point of view to remember events, things and places.”

As the year 2019 unfolds, Ayeni-Babaeko says Nigerians should be on the lookout as Camara Studio is adding more feathers to its kitty. “Camara Studio will go stronger into the advertising photography and also on videography. So that is what we are doing for 2019,” the intrepid photographer discloses. “And I must at least finish one exhibition, that is for sure and it will happen in June or July. That is what I am actually presently doing. I am not going to reveal it now, but it something that is definitely more than half way done.”