Photographer and technology enthusiast, Emmanuel Oyeleke tells MOBOLA SADIQ about his career as a photographer and other issues
Why have you become a photographer?
I was a professional scrabble player and traveled the world playing scrabble for Nigeria. On some of my trips I wanted to bring back memories of where I went. I then decided to learn photography, so that it could be useful to me during my travels. There was a workshop organized by RED Media that I attended. The workshop aimed to empower young people. Two weeks after learning the art of photography, I quit my job. I started photography professionally in 2012.
Tell us about your family background and education.
I am the first of four children and I am from Ibadan, Oyo State. My father was a lecturer, who also became an administrator at Ibadan Polytechnic. My mother is an interior manager. I come from a modest family. I studied computer science at Ibadan Polytechnic. After I graduated from the Ordinary National Diploma, I did a BS in Computer Science at Lead City University.
What excites you about photography?
Every day I try to rediscover my passion because passions can die or change. But, I have to stay passionate and curious because of what I’m doing. Photography helps me tell stories and express myself. I don’t talk too much, so I like to let my photographs speak for me. Photography helps me express the things that I cannot say. Also, I love photography because it is a tool that I use to keep the good times forever. Pictures have the ability to tell stories in unique ways. Photographs are a powerful tool and I would like to use them more.
What challenges do you face in your career?
There have been a number of challenges, but they should inspire you to do better. Life without challenges would be pretty boring. One of the first challenges I encountered in photography was that at one point there was a proliferation in the profession. So many people were getting into it. It started to affect the value of professionals but some of us had to keep doing a good job to make it more valuable and gently put the profession back into the place of pride it should be.
Additionally, the high cost of purchasing equipment can be daunting. The exchange rate doesn’t help either, although everyone faces it. For example, five years ago I bought a camera bag for N60,000, but recently when I wanted to buy the same bag it was sold for over N200,000.
There are many photographers. Does it affect your business?
The scenario here is simple economics. When there is so much supply in the market, the prices of the commodity go down, but when there is more demand than supply, the prices will go up. There are more people doing the job for less. This is the effect of too many people in the company, whether they are experienced or not. A lot of the time, people don’t know much about the profession; they just want to do it to make themselves known. The result is that it paints the entire industry in a similar light. Some customers complained about the price because they could have gotten it for a lower price elsewhere.
What is your area of specialization in photography?
I am best known for fashion and portrait photography. I also do architectural photography, commercial photography, portraits, documentary and wedding photography. I have learned all aspects of photography but show what I love.
You were the official wedding photographer for Hanan Buhari, a daughter of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retired). How did you feel when you were contacted for the job?
I generally feel good when clients contact me. The experience is actually what I appreciate. But the truth is, every time some people call for a job, we jump with excitement. I was really happy when I was contacted to photograph the president’s daughter. It is also because she is also a photographer; not just because of his status. I asked her why she chose me and she said, “I really want your style. I would like (wish) that you photograph us ”. This return was more important to me; much more than its status. I like when people credit my work. It’s such an honor to me and I don’t take it for granted. I think it is also interesting to note that I did the current official portrait of the president. I shot it in 2018 or 2019.
What impact has this had on your photography?
It is a privilege for any photographer to be called in to take the photos of the President. While taking the photos, we would have discussions like, “Sir, I need you to relax your hand, move your hand a little, do this and that. This is a rare privilege for anyone. No matter what profession you find yourself in, it is always good to set goals. At each point, you have to aim high. It’s not the highest I should go though. I should also aim higher. It’s also not about how much money you earn; it is about the value placed on my work. I never thought I could represent a global brand so early on, especially since there are people who have practiced the profession before me.
Which personalities on the list would you like to work with?
At the top of my list is American singer Beyoncé Knowles-Carter; and a former President of the United States, Barack Obama. These are people who inspire me.
Tell us about your unforgettable moments as a photographer?
I have a lot of unforgettable and memorable moments. But, one of the highlights was when (the camera maker) Canon took me and some creative people to Kenya to learn about their culture and way of life. It was an unforgettable trip filled with so many breathtaking adventures. Another unforgettable moment was when I went on a trip with my wife. I was taking pictures with my phone, not knowing that the really expensive camera I had hung around my neck would go down the drain. I will never forget this experience.
How do you deal with copyright infringement issues?
I am still learning how to deal with copyright infringement issues, especially in Nigeria. So far, I have had no reason to sue anyone. I know there are a lot of issues like this, but when you look at the people you want to sue, it seems like a wasted effort.
How do you get your inspiration?
The ultimate goal is to express myself as I wish. This is the message that I like to convey with my photographs. However, I am inspired by so many things, such as past events, nature, history, people and other artists. Sometimes I could also watch a movie and be inspired by it.
How do you see nude photography?
This is one of the photography courses I took when I was learning the trade. The human body is art itself. No two bodies are the same. It is therefore worthy of the attention it receives. However, while nude photography can be fantastic, it shouldn’t be overused. I also think that nude photography should not be practiced by everyone.
Have you ever felt threatened by some of the people you trained?
Life is short, so the question is, what legacy to leave behind? It’s not about the number of photos I took, but the impact I had on others. Also, how many have succeeded because of my actions? The more I teach, the more I learn. I don’t refuse anything when I teach others. What is secret today can be known to everyone tomorrow, so nothing remains hidden forever. The trick for me is to reinvent myself every day and continuously create magic. There is something special about each individual that people cannot copy.
Are you engaged in other activities besides photography?
My goal is not to take pictures every day. If I do this, I will burn myself out. I also paint backdrops for photographers. Some people rent them while others buy them.
What’s the most difficult photo you’ve ever taken?
Each image presents its own challenges. Customers come to me with all kinds of ideas that might sound strange to me, but serious business for them. I took different types of photographs but if that’s too much for me, I won’t. I have a very crazy imagination but if this is to have a negative impact on me, I would rather not.
Do you think foreign photographers are better recognized than their Nigerian counterparts?
Even though it seems that foreign photographers are more famous and better recognized than photographers in Nigeria, this country has one of the most talented sets of photographers in the world.
Which Nigerian photographer inspires you?
First on the list is my mentor, Isaac Emokpae. He is a visual artist, painter and photographer, from whom I learned most of the things. Kelechi Amadi-Obi, TY Bello, Henry Oji and a few others are also big influences on me.
What is your advice to budding photographers?
My advice is simply: “Know yourself and above all, know your worth”.
What do you do to have fun ?
If I didn’t take pictures, I would be spending time with my family. I also love to paint and practice archery. I also like to listen to music.
Are you in fashion?
I like to dress comfortably and showcase Nigerian brands. I also like to wear my wife’s mark; she makes clothes for men and naturally I am her first model.
Are you an active husband?
Yes. I help with everything in the house. I can change diapers, rock the baby to sleep, cook and clean.
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