It’s going to be a long process.
I have been exploring physical awareness and the process of recognising a new body as your own.Through my photography, I hope to address a few thoughts. What happens when a body you have known for so long changes? Some scars do that. What role does culture play in a person appreciating their bodies intimately? In Nigeria, are we taught recognition and acceptance with self? Or do we come into it on our own?
I started asking myself these questions at a young age in the process of learning my body when I realised I was doing that learning on my own. Where does family and community enter?
I wasn’t sure of what I would find in Benin. I knew I wanted to start with women, but how to meet them? Walk to the street and talk to a wary stranger? I decided to braid my hair on a whim and was unexplainably confident that the hairdressers would know the right individual for my work. They did.
My process started with my hair. Several hours of braiding passed with light conversation thrown in and I could the feebleness of our communication. So I talked about braiding my own hair and showed them videos of my technique. Together, we had the art of hair braiding in common and that relaxed us to move on and talk about work.
This is how I came to meet Endwell and his mother, Patience, survivors of a kerosene explosion. Endwell is a confident boy. He has the face of one fully set in his ways, skin drawn taut and shiny over his features. A portion of his head is bare with scars with a firm promise of permanence.
I was curious about Endwell because he didn’t have a re-learning process. The severe burns he had received occurred at the age of one when his mother had been filling the kerosene lamp. The explosion had hit him the hardest, spilling onto his face and hands. This body of thick veins and splotchy shades darker than his skin tone was all he knew.
His mother physically, had light scarring. She was eager to share, quick to bare her shoulder to my lens and tell me her process of learning to love herself and teaching her son the same. I am still working on fully recounting our conversation into my work so I’ll leave that out for now. It was obvious however, that there was an existing transference of self-acceptance from mother to son.
My process of photography is built off long or brief moments of intimacies with people, usually strangers. In the brief moments, there are smiles exchanged and a door is open. For the longer moments, a deeper understanding is shared because we simply have the luxury of time.
Days into the journey and I have realised the difficulty of my project. It’s one thing to smile and compliment a stranger for a picture. It’s another thing to walk up to a stranger and have them share with you a traumatic experience AND photograph the proof of that past. There is little to no time to build the intimacies I am familiar with. Two days have passed and I am yet to meet people with the openness of Endwell and Patience.