Lagos the commercial nerve center of Africa’s most populous nation is opening up to the trend of documenting what is happening in and around on a daily basis. Over the last 1 year that I’ve been a street photographer I’ve come to discover that this country isn’t as most people think it is. Before I went into Street photography (aged 17) my mum was very skeptical about it, I can still remember her warning chant whenever am about to go out, “Don’t take photographs of area boys on, I don’t have money for hospital bill o” 😝 She saw Street photography as “looking for trouble”. Instantly on my first day out I shot with fear because of her chants, I wasn’t even 18 so I dare not come home with an injury because I went to take what she saw then as “free photos of unknown people”. After my first 3 attempts I gained buoyancy and shot with zeal and freedom. So incase you want to go into Street photography either as your main genre as a photographer or you just want to do Street photography one of these days, I have five rules for you that will make Street photography in Nigeria look like it’s NY.
1)Dress simple : the dress code of street photography is the same all over the world : keep it simple and not colourful. When you dress to colourful with high shoes you create the chance to be known by everyone else on the street. No one will ignore a lady nicely dressed in some fitted gown and high heels with a camera but when u wearing a shirt and some buggy feminine trousers and a strap bag then you’ve created a room to become free to take your images. You don’t need big bags, in fact no bag at all will do the dew just put your extra batteries in some pockets.
2) Walk, Don’t bury yourself at a spot: so let me share you my experience the day I made this mistake. I went to shoot my friends Annabel and Temiloluwa some months back. Initially, they were scared of me shooting them on the street but I persuaded them. Once they conceited, they insisted we shouldn’t go too far from their neighborhood as their mums too were skeptical about it. After we started shooting they refused to move to a new location stating their nativity as a reason they didn’t want to leave their comfort zone. Unknowingly some area boys were already watching me and after about 30mins shooting in one area they approached me (this will lead us to discuss on how to diffuse confrontations in Street photography in Nigeria) We had a calm discussion and soon they wanted to take things to boiling point but then I used my experience of the streets + walking with essential identity cards that proved am just an 18 year old photographer freed me from them. They were permutating that I was taking photographs of buildings to use for Internet fraud or when they saw my street portraits they said I wanted to use it for rituals 😂. So since that day I made my mind that if am having a street portrait session I won’t stick to one area. Once you move from place to place, people who suspect you for their own personal calculations wouldn’t have enough time to come and harass or embarrass you before you leave. I do say never spend more than 5 minutes at a place.
3) see a uniform, seal your shutter blades: Now this sounds funny but its the truth. In Nigeria,should you see a uniformed office avoid to take care photos of either him or the environment. this is because they possess the power with the gun and you don’t know who’s annoyed at the moment or needs some money. If a police man should quiz you on the street it could be difficult getting him to understand what you are doing. My uncle who is a broadcaster and started with photography too once took a street photograph of a car being towed by another van then the towing van broke down then they had to call a second towing van to tow the 2 other cars. Now unknowingly a police officer was in the frame and upon seeing him holding his phone to take the picture he went up to him and started to quiz him. He didn’t see the humor in the image he was personally concerned about himself. He was on uniform and wouldn’t want the image to circulate so he was a bit worried, cutting the story short, he had to delete the image just to let dogs die. So you see, it’s not gonna be funny when you get caught, wherever am about to shoot and I spot a police officer I walk up to him and tell him my mission and seek his approval. Sometimes I get a no but most times I get a yes.
4) Don’t photograph the mentally challenged: For no reason should you photograph a mentally challenged individual because in this part of the world we’ve heard of stories of them being used for rituals etc. So if you are seen photographing one, people around may think you have a bad motive to the image and this might be hard to explain to an angry mob should one stir up. I do take photographs of beggars tho but with their permission always and am kind enough to give them some money.
5) never be secretive : I once thought being stealth in Street photography would make me a better photographer but then I discovered that it doesn’t pay in this part of the world. The thing is some people’s duty is to sit all day by the streets and either while away time or sell. Nigerians are naturally environment conscious and if u don’t know someone will be watching you as you take pictures. Now being secretive makes them think that you have a bad motive, rather be open. I always have my camera around my neck so people can see me (people will always stare at you as you work, it’s normal) This creates a feeling of uncertainty within the people as they can see that you are not taking images with hiding techniques nor are you trying to be smart with it.
So guys I know these five rules should help you out on your next street photography, it would definitely safe you problems and arguments that ain’t worth it. In my next post I will discuss on how to diffuse confrontations in Street photography in Nigeria. Before then, take care of yourself and happy shooting!
Kindly drop a comment and I’ll be glad to answer you, let’s take Street photography to a whole new level.