Recently, I was selected to participate in the “Invisible Borders Trans-African Photography Project,” which involved photographers, visual artists, and filmmakers. Every year, this collective welcomes new participants who travel through five to six countries in Africa all together in a van to tell African stories (by Africans) and build inter-relationships amongst participating artists and artists in countries visited. We traveled from Nigeria through Cameroon and Gabon this year before returning to Lagos, Nigeria. The featured image is one of the photographs I took while 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 four nights we spent here trying to pull our van across roughly ten kilometers of severely muddy forest pathways. It was a challenging experience for me; we slept in the truck 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 job helping stuck vehicles out of the woods. Due to land issues between the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments, the road that connects the south of Nigeria to the west of Cameroon has been left unattended for years. The contract had just been awarded to a Chinese construction company recently working on the road. The scene is one I will never forget in a hurry.
The following image is one I 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. Several Nigerians who fled Nigeria during the Biafran war now reside in Gabon. Others arrived, traveling through a deadly sea for 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, the challenges of starting a new life in a Francophone country, a frictional relationship with the authorities, and the threatening fear of returning to their homeland as empty as when they came.
I met Daniel on the 4th day we got into Gabon while still walking around 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 a 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 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 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 coastline. 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 Gabonese said, it’s much more difficult for somebody from a neighboring country to come to 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 favorites from the Invisible Borders trip. While coming back from the trip, traveling several kilometers during the night through the hilly and mountainous landscapes of Cameroon, we got to a village called Tiben as the day broke. Tiben has stunning 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 incredible spectacle, this girl appeared on my viewfinder out of nowhere. I was astonished! I never thought any human being, let alone a little girl could live in that region.
The 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 how 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. Still, it is difficult to assume this lies at the crux of the growth and prosperity of churches. When I began photographing the evidence 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 how invitations stood out and how church leaders (with varying titles) used their posters as advertisements and 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 a struggle? Was there some unity in the similarity of posters, postures, and worship? I immediately understood that I was trying to capture a landscape that captures attention through words and images. Out of all the photos, the one above stands out as it appears to have been inspired by Prison Break, an American TV series.
- 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 “A Day in the World (Creek Road Market)“, ‘Kids in Makoko’, ‘Lazy Obalende’ or ‘The Business of Worship’. (Postscript by Tom Devriendt, who interviewed Odukoya).