Nigerian photographer Jide Odukoya’s portfolio offers an exceptional insight into the social fabric of Lagos. His Facebook page documents fashion events, open mic ‘happenings’ and weddings, while his official website reveals focused street photography series, such as ‘ADay in the World (Creek Road Market)’, ‘Kids in Makoko’, ‘Lazy Obalende’ or ‘The Business of Worship’. As part of our “favorite photographs” series, we asked Odukoya to pick his 5 favorite shots, and share some words about how and where the images were made.
Recently I was selected to be a part of the Invisible Borders Trans-African Photography Project, which involved photographers, visual artists and film makers. Every year this collective welcomes new participants who travel through five to six countries in Africa all together in a van with the aim of telling African stories (by Africans) and building inter-relationships amongst participating artists and artists in countries visited. This year we travelled from Nigeria through Cameroon and Gabon before heading back to Lagos, Nigeria. The image above is one of the photographs I took in the process of passing through the muddy border village of Ejumoyock. It shows local villagers trying to pull out our van at Ejumoyock on our first night in the rain forests of Cameroon. I particularly like this photograph because it reminds me of the first of four nights we spent here trying to pull our van across roughly ten kilometres of severely muddy forest pathways. It was a tough experience for me; we slept in the van for five days and engaged only with the nearby village boys and the forest ants who kept us company through the night in the cold forest. These boys had just found a new job of helping stuck vehicles out of the forest. Due to land issues between the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments, the road which connects the south of Nigeria to the west of Cameroon has been left unattended to for years. The contract had just been awarded to a Chinese construction company which just recently began working on the road. The scene is one I would never forget in a hurry.
The following image is one I really love from the series Nigerians in Libreville, a documentary I did in Gabon which explores the paradoxical stories of Africans living on African soil, but in countries other than their respective native countries. There have been reported incidents of xenophobic discrimination and socio-political nightmare. A number of Nigerians who fled Nigeria during the Biafran war are now resident in Gabon. There are also others who arrived travelling through a deadly sea in search of a promised greener pasture. Most would agree that the economy of Gabon is far better than Nigeria while some, entrapped in circumstances far beyond their control, feel there is no place like home. Their stories recount their experiences; the dangers of migrating through the sea, challenges of starting a new life in a francophone country, a frictional relationship with the authorities, and the threatening fear of returning back to their homeland as empty as when they came.
I met Daniel on the 4th day we got into Gabon while still doing a street walk round a nearby market close to where we stayed. He saw me with my camera and was happy. For the first time I met someone who understood English and I asked to take a shot. Libreville is a photophobic city and people would readily shy away at the sight of a camera. I got into conversation with Daniel and got to know he was also a Nigerian. He told me how he had been managing his small business as an ice cream seller and how he wished to return to Nigeria later in December. I later returned days after our first meeting to take this shot of him. Although content with his current work and status, he says it’s time for him to visit his homeland Nigeria since he left as a child 23 years ago.
As part of my daily work on the trip, I documented the daily lives of Gabonese on the country’s coast line. I came across this French man playing with the kids on the beach. This brings to mind the long-time relationship between France and Gabon, as noted by a Gabonese who said it’s much more difficult for somebody from a neighbouring country to come into Gabon than a visitor from France. Interestingly, it had been rather tedious for our team to get Visas into the country.
Next is one of my favourites from the Invisible Borders trip. While coming back from the trip, travelling several kilometres during the night through hilly and mountainous landscapes of Cameroon, we got to a village called Tiben as the day broke. Tiben has a very beautiful scenery and was very chilly with the clouds at sea level. I quickly grabbed my camera and ran down towards the hill. As I tried to capture the awesome spectacle, this girl appeared on my viewfinder out of nowhere. I was astonished! I never thought any human being could be living in that region, let alone a little girl.
French language proved a painful barrier as I tried to ask the girl some questions and have some small talk. She didn’t understand English either, I thought. She walked away. I now focused on the beautiful scenery. I am proud to be an African, living in a place called Africa.
It is hard to reflect objectively on the proliferation of Churches in Nigeria. There are many reasons for this, the major one being the manner in which spirituality has formed a sensitive layer in the subconscious of Christians, especially in the country’s southern parts. The proliferation touches on media, the economy, and social structure. Many have attributed this quest for a better life to underdevelopment and poverty, but it is difficult to assume this lies at the crux of the growth and prosperity of churches. When I began to photograph the evidences of Christian life in Port Harcourt (where I currently live), I wanted to discover the subtleties inherent in Port Harcourt’s Christianity. I was interested in the way invitations stood out, how church leaders (with varying titles) used their posters not simply as advertisement but as self-aggrandizement.
It bothered me to question how these churches, in their numbers, and with thousands of worshippers, struggled for space, credibility and relevance. Was it really a struggle? Was there some unity in the similarity of posters, of postures, of worship? I understood, immediately, that I was trying to capture a landscape that captures attention through words and images. Out of all the images, the one above particularly stands out as it appears to have been inspired by Prison Break, the popular American prison series.
* Jide Odukoya resides in Lagos, Nigeria. His website: http://www.jideodukoya.com.