Phhotograph of a Canon E)S 1D

How Much A Picture Worth?

X.

I struggle. To write, to take photographs, to capture alluring moments, to freeze memories, to do the work. I would rather sit with strangers, have conversations and observe than lift my camera, but the work needs to be done so I yield.

 

Xi.

I remind myself that I am not a voyeur. I am not here just to take pictures. To intrude people’s privacy, force myself into their personal space and insert a preconceived narrative on them. I re-echo Emeka Okereke’s sentiment that I do not have the right to tell other people’s stories. I am not a savior appearing with a halo disguise as a camera to shine the light on their dark world. They have always been telling their stories and because these stories haven’t been heard by others outside their space doesn’t make them less valid.

I remind myself that the end game is to acquire a fresh perception, to let the scales of bias fall off my eyes. Hence I need their permission. I need to be vulnerable, to exchange my story for theirs. To enter their spaces by letting them enter mine.

 

Xii.

Every day as we transit between cities, I redefine what it means to own our narrative, to tell our story differently and correctly. I remind myself to always remember what pisses me off about the Western Media. About how they photograph things relating to Africa, about how they capture Nigeria, and about photographs by Nigerian documentary photographers I consider demeaning. I remind myself that I ought to do things differently, I have to do things differently, I must do things differently.

I have been getting more nos than yes. In Sokoto, I waited hours at a school, explained several times what my project was about but didn’t get permission to go ahead. I was heartbroken, but I understood. Who am I to waltz into a place and expect everyone to bow in subservience and grant my wishes? Who died and made me King?

 

Xiii.

As a photographer, I want to capture moments, as a documentary photographer, I want to capture even more. But like Kendrick Lamar asked, “How much a dollar cost?” “How much a picture worth?”

How far do I go to get the perfect shot? Is it worth it to get a person’s picture without consent? Is there a line between stolen shots and voyeurism? Does a picture cease being candid when I ask for permission? Is a picture’s worth in the aesthetic and composition or the emotional connection between my camera, my subject and myself?

I remind myself of the few yeses I have had. Of people who have granted me the privilege to step into their spaces. Of  Jamiu’s professionalism despite his young age, of John Paul’s dedication to his art, of  Olaitan’s mountain size knowledge of Ori Oke Sobi, of Madam Dorothy’s motherly fire, of the Queen of Kabula who governs over 300 villages, of Sarkin Muhammed and his army of builders in Zaria City, of the many strangers whose lives have intermingled with mine, leaving specks of themselves in me. These yeses make the road less traveled less gruesome.

 

Xiv.

I struggle. To write, to take photographs, to capture alluring moments, to freeze memories, to do the work. I would rather sit with strangers, have conversations and observe than lift my camera, but the work needs to be done so I yield.

The work needs to be done properly, and it must be done properly, for a picture is worth more than what is in its frame.