Dayo Adedayo: I’m Using Photography to Document Nigeria

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Dayo Adedayo is an independent documentary photographer and a cultural anthropologist pursuing long-form visual narratives on Nigeria. Through his works, Nigeria has been placed on the global map. Having traversed, captured and documented over 10 out of 36 Nigerian states in over 30 years, he knows that Nigeria is the best-kept secret to the world. In this interview, he tells Adedayo Adejobi about his exploits across the country, challenges of documenting nature, monuments and people, the
Inspiring And Captivating Moments Of His Life

What have you been up to lately?
In the last two years, I have embarked on three major projects and I’ve since launched three books, Rivers State Our Proud Heritage, Tour Nigeria and Lagos StateA Visual Portrait. It’s been good and with new challenges but interesting. The landscape is changing and
 the reception has been very fantastic.

Your most recent work, Lagos State – A Visual Portrait, is acclaimed to be a masterpiece. What influenced the project?
I am influenced by the changing environment. We are losing a lot, and our children are looking to see another narration of the country. Eko Atlanic and Lekki are typical examples of the changing landscape. 25 years ago, Lekki was not on our landscape and 15 years ago, we were battling ocean surge on Ahmadu Bello Way. The Bar Beach is no longer in existence and gone forever. In another 10 years, no one will recognise Lagos State again due to the ever-changing landscape.

What have been the highs and the lows for you?
The greatest challenge is the financing of projects that I took upon. It cost a fortune to, for instance, document Lagos State. If I weren’t living in Lagos State, I can’t imagine how much more I would have spent. The bulk of the money went into logistics, top of the range from equipment to a great dose of creativity. I’ve been very lucky. I count myself an extremely lucky man because all that
 I am, and all that I have, I attribute to someone high up there who looks after me. For instance, I’ve been driving on Nigeria roads on these projects since 2003, and not for once have I had an accident. I’ve had to sleep sometimes on the road, and not for once have I recorded any incidence.

The high points are getting to see the most beautiful places around Nigeria: Sungbo Eredo, the burial site of the Queen of Sheba in Oke-Eri, Ogun State; Obudu Mountain Range; Mambilla Plateau; Riyom Rock; Damasak Sand Dunes; Awhum Cave; Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library; Ogbunike Cave; Ebomi Lake; Sun rise at the Yankari Games Reserve; the boat used by Bishop Ajayi Crowther from Sierra Leone to Bonny; St. Stephen’s cathedral Church; Grand Bonny consecrated in January 24, 1889, with the Bishop’s throne still standing; sunrise and sunsets on several water bodies around the country; and several others beautiful places I was lucky to have captured. On the last count, I have over four million images of Nigeria in my archives.

The quality of work that you churn out, shows great effort, passion, and creativity. What is the life of an ideal documentary photographer and what are the experiences that have remained with you?
Looking back, it’s been great. There are beautiful memories and wonderful moments. This is the best profession in the world. I can gladly say I’ve never worked in the last 30 years; I’ve just been having fun. It’s fun because I’ve seen sunrises, sunsets, deserts, the lush greenery, tropical rain, sandstorms, springs, and rivers. I’ve been to the longest and deepest caves in Nigeria. I’ve seen the highest and lowest waterfalls in Nigeria. I’ve been to the coldest part in Nigeria, Gembu on the Mambilla Plateau and the hottest, Yola in Adamawa State.
I’ve been to the highest mountain; I’ve seen sources of so many rivers, I have captured countless exhilarating moments. Nothing is as good as nature. Nature doesn’t need us; instead, we need nature. And that’s what I’ve seen. These are things people pay for and travel thousands of miles to see. I have seen them for free. In all my life, I can tell you Nigeria is the most beautiful place in the world. I am so lucky to be a Nigerian. These 30 years of my life as a photographer have been the most inspiring and captivating moments. If I weren’t a photographer, I wouldn’t have been able to see a fraction of what I’ve been able to see.

Having traversed almost the 
full length and breadth of Nigeria, could there still be new hidden treasures yet undiscovered?
The beauty of Nigeria is inexhaustible. There are still lots of treasures to capture. We have foods, clothes, festivals, architecture, tribal marks, sports and personalities yet to be captured. The dream is for me to say, at the end of the day, that I’ve captured everything in Nigeria.
There are still new discoveries. A case in question is Osun State, where two new waterfalls were discovered. Nigeria is vast and until we start seeing the beauty in this country, our economy will not be where it should be. Tourism is the largest employer of labour anywhere in the world. Nigeria should not be different from the rest of the world.

With the huge workload that comes with your job, what inspires you?
I get inspired
 by looking out of my window; seeing trees in the raining season with green leaves and fruits, and in the dry season going brown to signify the end of life and time to rest; and come back to life in another season. The best time though, is when I’m having my bath that’s when ideas come. I spend most of my time in the bathroom, but my wife doesn’t like 
it. If I have to go out with my wife, she has to give me two or three hours’ notice. Most times, she’s always upset with me for never getting ready on time. Everything I’ve achieved in my life has been birthed in the bathroom.

Would you say being a documentary photographer has been financially rewarding?
Oh yeah, it’s been financially rewarding. I’ve been able to see two of my children and several other family members through university. All I have, and all I am, is from the same source. I don’t have another source of income apart from photography.

So why do you think today’s generation is not looking to your genre of photography?
Why they are not looking into
 the genre of photography I do is because majority of them are not trained photographers. They are also exposed to social photography and portraiture, which they think is photography. There are over 300 forms of photography, but we are yet to scrape the surface in Nigeria. Without proper education, you cannot achieve much in life in photography.

With your experience and the wide gap that exists in your sphere of influence, are you looking at bridging the gap by way of knowledge transfer?
I’m thinking of that seriously, because I want the generation coming behind to be greater, better than
 me. That way, I will be happy I started a revolution, which wouldn’t end with me.

Documentary photographers all over the world are rich. How much are you worth?

If you put the budget of Nigeria 
together for the next 10 years, my
 work is inestimable because I captured
 yesterday and you can’t capture yesterday again. It’s gone. I don’t think I’m making money from what I’m doing now. The money would come when I’m long gone. My work will become priceless. In any case, money is relative. I am highly successful not in terms of naira and kobo, but I’m at peace with myself. Generally, I am at peace with family, my friends, neigbours and myself. Those are the things that matter to me most. I love my job and I love all the people around me without condition.

But in terms of billing, what would it cost to commission a ‘dayo Adedayo to undertake a project?
Not as much as you think. Everything is relative in life.

What is your assessment of the culture and tourism landscape?
We are on ground zero. Those who are in charge of culture and tourism – Nigerian Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) – are not being funded at all. With funds, you will have a lot of advertisements, both for local and international markets and you will also be enabled to attend world tourism expos. Imagine the federal government of Nigeria giving both organizations $300m each for advertisements to market the country. The country can easily make twenty times or more returns on that investment. How? The blacks in diaspora are tired of where they are now, and they are looking to a black nation they can call their own, Nigeria being the largest black nation on earth, can use its size and influence to get this people back home to motherland Afrcia. Badagry, Ebonyi and Imo State States are full of slave relics. Until
 we start spending that kind of money, there is no way our unemployment, insecurity and economy will improve. Nigeria is the best-kept secret in the world.

Even if the government would make such investments in that sector, is the industry coordinated, organised and ripe for it?
I would say yes, to some extent, because a greater percentage of Nigerians come from a village. From the villages, there are festivals. There is no need for foreign influences being imbibed into our heritage. Religion is a good example. Some churches burned artifacts in the South East some years back, because they think they were fetish. These are our cultural heritage that has been in existence for hundreds of years, and religion just came in yesterday.

Our education also has a role to play. Without the teaching of history and civics in schools, how then do we
 value what we have? There was a
 day I saw an Ankara or Adire in Harrods being sold for a thousand pounds. We must be patriotic. Till then, nothing will happen. Of what use is there in a Nigerian going on summer holidays in Europe and America, when it’s really hot and not conducive. Here, we have summer almost all year round. It would have been more ideal for going in winter that we don’t experience. There is a lot that the government needs to do, but without the government promoting our festivals, cultural sites and heritage, food, drinks, and clothing, we are going nowhere.

What new project are you working on or planning to work on?
I am working on the first Museum of photographs in Nigeria to celebrate Nigeria and Nigerians. It is all for history. We are all passing through this space. How would they know about our civilization and our people? The whole idea is to document all these things to put them in a museum so that generation now and next would have a well of information about Nigeria. The largest man-made monument in the world is in Nigeria and nobody talks about it.

What is the largest monument and where is it in Nigeria?
It’s called the Sugbon Eredo, from the old Ijebu kingdom. It is in Epe. This is ten times larger than the Great Wall of China. It is over a hundred times more than the pyramid in Egypt. Those are parts of what I’ve been doing. I can gladly say I am the first person to bring the picture to life and that of Awhum Waterfalls in Enugu. I intend to bring more pictures to life for people to see our civilization.

Being so passionate about Nigeria, you must be displeased with some aspects of its growth and development. What is the Nigeria of your dream?
I would love to see a Nigeria that I’ll be proud of as a citizen. I want to see a Nigeria where opportunities abound for all. I want to see a Nigeria that brings dreams to 
life. I want to see a functional Nigeria, and one nation. In all, I want to see a Nigeria at peace with itself.