PHOTOGRAPHY AS A NOBLE PROFESSION*
Photography is a noble profession. It is a profession which, since its introduction one and a half centuries ago, has faithfully served all humanity. Photography continues to serve humanity globally, by being the keeper of visual records and history, bringing joy, happiness and beauty into the lives of a cross-section of people and, providing jobs for millions of people. It is, also very important, at this juncture, to be informed that Photography is one of the oldest western professions introduced into Nigeria.
The first recognised indigenous Nigerian professional photographer is Jonathan Adagogo Green, an Ibani-Ijo, who practised his profession well more than one hundred years ago, as from the 1880s, in his hometown of Bonny now in Rivers State. Since then, there has been multi-thousands of professional photographers, male and female, who have practised and are still practising in Nigeria today. Now, you are about to join the noble rank of professional photographers. I sincerely welcome you and, wish you long, creative and prosperous careers.
What are the requirements you need to efficiently perform in this noble profession of photography? What are the expectations, ethics and code of conduct, you are supposed to abide by in the profession of photography? These are many, varied and, yet inter-related. I advise you, that if you want to have a successful and fulfilling career as a professional photographer, you should acquire these requirements and, abide by the ethics and code of conduct throughout your career. Photography is serious business and there are no short-cuts. You require dedication, hard work and discipline.
First, you must be properly groomed. You must learn about the technical aspects of photography and the human relations procedures in practising the profession. Photography is a specialist academic discipline, as well as a skilled craft. You can obtain a genuine PhD degree in Photography from reputable universities worldwide. Proper training is essential. You have now acquired the basic foundation. You now have to continually strive for further training to improve yourself and to successfully survive in this very competitive profession. You cannot be stagnant or static.
You cannot downplay or ignore the intellectual aspect of photography in today’s world. New equipments, platforms and techniques are being introduced every day. We have gone from the large camera glass plate era, to the SLR celluloid film era, to the digital era and beyond. Improve yourself. Update yourself. Seek further knowledge. Go to the internet. Ask older photographers. Share your experience and knowledge with fellow photographers. Don’t run away from criticism and advice. Attend exhibitions and see the work of other photographers.
Again, I emphasise that photography is a noble profession. This means that professional photographers must always show dignity both in appearance and behaviour. Remember that the first generations of professional photographers abroad and in Nigeria, were nobility, scientists, middleclass and responsible people. Photography as a profession has never been, and is not, for drop-outs and riffraff. Respect yourself and your profession and, your profession, in turn, will surely earn you respect.
Your appearance and carriage matter a lot. Do not wear branded T-shirts of telecommunications companies and football clubs and, slippers to assignments. Be neat, smartly dressed and, courteous. Learn to say, please and thank you. Respect the privacy of people as they have the right to say no to your request to photograph them. Be confident but not arrogant. Be friendly. Acquire the right equipment like telephoto lenses, to avoid the nasty and unacceptable behaviour of crowding the high table and blocking the view of other photographers and especially the audience at events. Co-operate with other photographers so that everyone gets his or her shots.
There are many genres or branches of photography. These include Documentary, Press, Advertising, Glamour/Fashion/Celebrity, Wedding, Art, Nature, Aerial, Underwater photography, to name some. The era of being a jack-of-all-trade professional photographer is virtually over. Pick one or two genres/branches you are passionate about and comfortable with. Stick to them and learn more about them as they might require different techniques. You might have to buy specialist equipment. However, the basic principles of photography – composition, exposure – apply to all these branches of photography. Practise and experiment, because the more photographs you take, the better you become.
The camera has always been a very powerful tool. It can be used to produce good/positive and bad/negative images. These images are used for cultural propaganda. Right from the beginning of your career, you must be very aware and learn more, about the power of photographic images. Photographs don’t lie and they are permanent. So you must know the purpose of your images. You must therefore have a sense of socio-cultural responsibility and pride in the photographic images you produce. Photography is not about making money alone. You have the noble duty to project and promote the beauty and positive aspects of our people and nation.
For centuries, the white western world has projected to the rest of the world through photographic images, that their people, especially their women, are the most beautiful and that their countries are paradises on earth. They have also used photographic images to tell the world that Africa is an ugly continent of famine, disease, conflict and poverty.
Unfortunately, our women, people and photographers seem to agree with this western view and copy them. One photograph is worth a million words and charity, they say, begins at home. Very fortunately for us, our late great photographer J. D. Okhai Ojeikere spent many decades photographing the beauty and aesthetic creativity of Nigerian hairstyles and headgears. These photographs have been exhibited worldwide to great acclaim. Ojeikere’s photographs are now in permanent display in the section for World Masters in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Whilst some individuals and organisations here in Nigeria, obliquely give the impression that Nigerian photographers are not world class, the Smithsonian Museum has spent millions of dollars in exhibiting the Benin photographer S. A. Alonge in Washington D.C, while the Indiana University Press is publishing a book on J. A. Green. Don’t let anyone fool or deceive you. Nigerian photographers have been and, are still, as good as any photographers anywhere in the world. Do your homework and research into the history of photography. Discover the past and present masters of photography in Nigeria. Let their work inspire you.
Just as our great writers have used the English language, to tell our Nigerian story to the world and, won acclaim and prizes, I urge you, to use the camera and photography to tell the visual story of Nigeria to the whole world.
A final word of advice. There is no such thing as the greatest photographer. There is no competition per se in photography. There is room for everybody. There are very many good and, a few great photographers, in the world and Nigeria. Each photographer has his own individual and unique eye. It is when we see a collection of these different eyes and views, that we really fully appreciate the importance, power, historical value and lasting beauty of photography. So, keep shooting!
(c) Tam Fiofori, 2017. Tam Fiofori is a renowned professional photographer and member of the Photographers Association of Nigeria.
*Being an address presented at the official launching of the Fashola Photographic Foundation at the Lagos City Hall, Lagos, on Saturday,5th August, 2017.