He asked some deep questions.

I enjoy talking. I enjoy the stimuli of intelligent conversation. And I hope to see underlying questions in retrospective. I talk some more when asked a question. I learn from talking. I learn from sharing. Let me share this fantastic interview with Omenka Online, the magazine for the Ben Enwonwu Foundation. Oliver Enwonwu, the son holds the grounds very well. He is also the President of the Society of Nigérian Artists.

Here is the link to my interview- https://www.omenkaonline.com/tony-nsofor-on-language-the-subconscious-and-the-mundane/

The Family House

Our home in the village sits at the crossroads where 3 roads meet. So it must be a magical place to live in. I remember waking up on some mornings to find a basket full of sacrifices on the road. My young friend Nonso is a thriving native doctor. I must ask him why this is important. The sacrifices seem to have reduced, since I put a strong searchlight in front of my house. I needed to light up the area, as some young vandals had come to steal the battery from the NDDC solar lamp post. Apart from playing soccer, people come to the field of Trinity High School to learn to drive. I have taught some friends on this field. The cattle sellers drive their cows to graze here also. From my vantage point on the second floor, I drew inspiration for some of the images in my series of paintings A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills. As night falls, people come there to smoke weed, etcetra… The vast space has allowed me to enjoy working on larger canvases. My latest canvas cannot even fit into the door to my studio, so I have to paint outdoors. I am free here. The spaces are for flying. The air is light. The lake is nearby. This is truly home.

You Don’t Always Have to Shoot To Kill, Love Leica!

L1137183I don’t recall if it was that article of the man who covered events with his small Leica that I saw in an edition of Vanity Fair magazine that did it. But it was easy to start getting bored with the APS-C sensor, full or medium frame cameras after shooting over 3000 images for 4 years in a row for a secondary school’s yearbook! Some of these things we do allows one to add the suffix ‘photographer’ in introductions.

I have intense bouts of love for things. This causes me to go to the limits till I fully own the object of my desire. At some point it was mobile phones. I read all the ‘To Do’ books on phones on my journeys from Ikeja to Victoria Island to visit the art galleries. (You recall those cheap small booklets that the authors peddled in the yellow buses?)I also ‘upgraded’ to the newer versions of mobile phones as soon as they came into the market. Those were the days when the Nokia phone reigned – from the famous 3300 to the 660, etcetera. The various models that hit the market were differentiated with mysterious ‘x’s, e’s after the number- that got me hooked, thinking something mind-blowing just landed on earth! I fell easy prey to the marketing strategies of those companies.

Later, I returned to my first love with cameras that dated to as far back as when I was in secondary school. My uncle gave me a Canon AE that used film. It served me well into university where it was easy to rub on young girls’ vanity of visualizing self as gorgeous. This I loved. It was akin to the recent love for taking selfies, using filters, Snapchat and Instagram.L1137810L1141498

For about 6 years, I was the parish photographer at the church in Ajah. I filled 5 terabytes of storage space with images from events, landscapes that spanned as far back as 2005. Photography was easy money for me while I pitched to sell paintings on the streets of Lagos. It was a way of looking intensely, closely at the world. I soon realized that it was not a perfect world. Beauty is affected by distance, by the space between the beautiful one and the viewer.

I made friends with Maigida, an Igbo seller of fairly used cameras and accessories on Lagos Island. It became routine to visit his shop weekly to gush over the latest cameras and lenses. He soon saw my love for photography and cameras, and would introduce me to his customers. I enjoyed sharing photography tips with them, and particularly meeting the old babas that must have been Pa Ojeikere’s contemporaries. They still shot with negative film.L1142228

The old ways of taking photographs intrigued me. I imbibed the patience, the comportment of the negative film days. I loved how each pose was well thought-out, each moment quietly recorded. One day, Maigida called to tell me of the new Leica cameras he just got from America. One of them looked a bit funny with a big body lens, but the other had a metallic retro look that I fell in love with. It reminded me of the Vanity Fair photographer. It dangled nicely at the right angle from my waist, and it shot madly crisp-sharp images! From the Elmarit 24mm f/2.8 ASPH lens, to the precise focusing, the pop-up flash, I knew I had found true love in my Leica X2.

It came at a point when I already understood that Photography was not about taking focused, crystal clear images. I had seen enough World Press Photos at exhibitions to convince me. My Leica was featherweight with monster-sized big performance. After carrying many heavy cameras with huge battery grip and flash attached, photography suddenly became a breeze. The idea became the reason for the shot. It wasn’t about the size of the camera any more.

With my Leica, the blades of grass showed up in colors that went near psychedelic. With the coming of age, one definitely needs to lighten the load of life. I capture the moments more frequently in a casual way. Moving around with a massively expensive camera has never been easier- the retro look of my Leica gives it a pass mark for street photography. Those area boys don’t know that my Leica got them covered. People still wonder if it is a film camera. I wonder how the little things in life can make precious memories. The L in my images does not just stand for images taken with my Leica. L is for Love- love of photography.

 

The South African

I got lucky to snap these photographs of Andile Buka. He is one of the artists (Andile is a photographer), who share the huge studio rooms at Anstey’s Building on Joubert Street. Of course photographers rarely have their personal portraits taken. He got his.

Actually I got lucky when Andile offered to take portraits of me with his mad Mamiya R67 film camera with the total manual settings! These shots were more of a complimentary payment for getting shot with that exotic vintage item. I even was willing to sell my Canon 5D Mark II for that camera because I know that it is a hard find. Here are my pictures with my good old 5D Mark II. We are still waiting for Andile’s photographs of me to be developed, and what other processes it will take before we see the finished image. I know he will scan whatever he gets at a point. Photography is old and complex. It didn’t just appear as digital overnight. I am still shooting; maybe I will trap a human soul in an image!

Reasons to Return To SOuth AFrica

The things in the day of the life of an artist in a new land! It started on a Sunday afternoon when I walked to Arts on Main in Maboneng Province to see all that Art- from craft to fine art! Though I don’t really have the arrogance to differentiate between ‘craft’ and ‘fine art’. There are really no lines between creative work, only perceptions of exclusive inclusion and stuff.

Anyway, I enjoyed seeing all the creativity on display at Art on Main, that open bazaar! Then parked by the corner of the street I saw this mad mercedes benz! Some passersby saw me ogling at it and actually thought the car belonged to me. I wish! But one of them, a lady, said the car really would fit me. So that got me day-dreaming! Afterwards, she asked me to pose by the car as though I was the owner so that she could snap us. It wouldn’t hurt any, so I did, grinning like a proud father.  Who would know the difference between one man and the other, anyway?! I guess they possibly thought the car fitted me because I had my retro Leica X2 camera slung across my shoulder.

Some of the pictures come from another night in Johannesburg, as I hung out with my neighbour Que and his brother as they smoked. I enjoy rides on the Gautrain because it is fast and hassle-free. I just load money in the card and don’t wait to queue. The clean, well-lighted coaches are just so refreshing pauses as one transits. On one of those journeys to Pretoria, I got into conversation with this boy. He was moved that I was an artist. He felt a kinship. But he later decided to become a lawyer. My case was different- dad had wanted me to be a lawyer but I preferred to study Arts, and at a later date, study Law. Maybe, when the rule of law is being obeyed in my country. Then I may actually have a chance at it.

On another day, I went to see Kemang’s exhibition at the Stevenson. I had seen his work in May in Dakar. This show was fuller. My view? Does it really matter? Opinions are like assholes-everyone has his! It would be interesting if you formed yours independent of another person. Afterall, we see the world differently, individually.

Portraits of Mandela light up the cityscape. Then there are the militant-looking political campaign posters…The graffiti artists of Johannesburg are hard at work. They deface where they will, just to put a message across, to add some colour. Art really has some importance in this society. The landscape is replete with colours. Of course there are lower, subcity zones, places where you find abandoned and dilapidated skyscrappers with dirt and clothing hanging from broken windows. Yes, I also went to Hillbrow. I had to hide my camera as I passed by. This was on good advice from my friends. I am loving it all. What is life if there are no contrasts? Things come in shades of grey, fading to white, or black, depending on one’s way of seeing things. I enjoy the colours.

 

Painting and Photography, my yin-yang.

Painting and photography as media for expression to me are like the yin-yang effect. They are complimentary tools that help me communicate in totally different ways, to express myself fully. I usually paint these stylized, or pure abstract works. I draw relatively well, transcribing the reality of objects as they appear. I also paint well. But I let go of this ability when I paint. I would rather paint with feeling like an African. I want to interpret form for its importance to the overall message. I want to paint the nose for its functionality-because you use it to breathe, not just as a well-formed cone on a cylinder. In breathing, the nose rises and falls. I want to ‘think’ like it happens in real life, not just record physical appearances. I want to get at the substance of things-the meaning and use for the eyes. Usually, every part of the human body has a function. I would like to suggest that in my drawing. Realism doesn’t allow me to achieve that. Realism is more like a small scratch, like you have a cup and you scratch the cup. If one wants to drink water, one pours it inside the cup. I am working this way generally in my paintings. I accept though, that there is a place for realism even in painting-in recording history, social documentary etc. In my paintings generally, I am doing proverbs (poetry). In my photography, it is prose. I look at the scene before me and take the photograph. This is enough realism. Then I go away and fantasize. I tell stories that are sometimes hyperboles, deeper than surface meanings. So, through painting and photography, I achieve a balance in my work. I can’t just continue taking photographs and using them as references for paintings. I take a lot of photography portraits. This allows me the liberty, when I paint, to close my eyes to immediate appearances, to unveil emotions.   
 The photographs I take are social documents with a double meaning. It’s a retelling of a story, and also it is archival, storing up memories. It’s exciting for me to find ways of retelling the story (when I tear them up and use them as ‘colour’ in my paintings). Every time I have this opportunity to eat into a story, I enjoy the new interpretation that emerges. After amassing and printing so many photographs, it became necessary for me to find ways of recycling them, to find new use for them by giving them new life. I sometimes don’t give the printed photographs to the owner-maybe they don’t come back for it, or I don’t have the time to start looking for them to give the pictures, or I think the colour synchrony of the print does not match what I had in mind when I took the shot. The joy is not immediately commercial- to print and sell the picture. The joy is to take the photograph. The photographs started speaking back at me. I began to study them for their colour as a common element I could inculcate in my painting. I found that certain colours appear more often in my society. So I would cut up the pictures for the colours. This discovery affected my vision in photography. Colour gained importance for me while taking the shot. I looked for ways to highlight hitherto subdued colours, to create contrasts. I would emphasize certain colours by framing my shot. Sometimes I emphasize the colour in post-editing, since I usually shoot in RAW image format.

 Every time I look at a scene, I think of squeezing out colour. This is particularly interesting in night photography when colours are not bleached by the sun. At this time, colours are most intense. These small bursts of colour contrast very well with the black of night. 

 
 

Tournament

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Ok, it’s not so much about pictures, but what do you do when you enjoyed shooting them? It was the second edition of the Lagos International Badminton Classics, the second time I was shooting the event. I thoroughly enjoyed it, because this time I was in a more comfortable place.

I shot the first edition of the event which hosted 16 nations. This year, there were 28 nations. The event is getting more recognition, and yes, the price money increased.

I recall the first time I played badminton, in the long vacation that followed the junior secondary school examinations in Federal Government College, Okigwe. We converted the backyard of our house into a quasi-court, brought out rackets and the net from mother’s box (she studied Physical and Health education, and so had all these sports equipment) after a few swings of the racket, I gave up. It seemed tedious work.

Watching the professionals play it, I admired their gracefulness, their poise as they waited for the shuttlecock which seemed to glide in the air, and the strength with which the players struck the shuttlecock. They flailed, swung and dived into the air, sometimes staying suspended as if to defy gravity of its hold of reality.

The first edition of the Lagos International Badminton Classics ended for me on a sad note. I was robbed of cameras, lenses, laptop etc. on my way home from the exhaustive photo shoot. It has taken nearly a year to replace the equipment, and this time I was prepared. I also realize the wisdom of not moving around late with your equipment.

The newly elected governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode was there on the last day of the tournament to hand out trophies and pledge the state’s continued support for the sport.Also in attendance was the Director General, National Sports Commission, Alhaji Alhassan Yakmu. During the qualifiers, the expansive hall accommodated the play of four sets at a go. It was a very grand event. And when the event ended, I didn’t go home to far-away Ajah. I stayed at a nearby hotel. I have learned. Maybe I will swing the racket better, if I take to the sport beyond shooting during tournaments.

Pictures within pictures.

Over the years I have taken tens of thousands of shots. That’s the digital luxury we enjoy these days. I was able to print at least a third of these shots for individuals, particularly members of my local church where I was given the title of parish photographer by the Irish priest in charge. This meant I covered parish events for about five years- most Sundays at Mass, during baptisms, weddings, Easter vigil nights(a favourite shooting time),harvest and bazaar sales etc. Some of the pictures never got printed, some were never collected by the owners, and I was just too busy to care. Call it poor business skills on my side, at the worst.
I also worked extensively with a school capturing images for their yearbooks. There were events I covered just to record history my way, places I saw and froze for posterity. I learnt steadily on the job, as each image was seen mainly as a challenge- a means to improving how I capture images, and tell stories. I made a lot of digital noise, to put it mildly.
Recently, the printed images have piled up in my studio, and I started looking for other ways to use them. I now cut the unclaimed pictures into small rectangles to form large picture mosaics. The problem of space and what to do with the printed photographs solved, for now.

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Way to go in Makoko

Map of Lagos, Nigeria showing urban areas, lag...
Map of Lagos, Nigeria showing urban areas, lagoon, harbour, port areas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This could be my subtext for the ongoing photography exhibition Where We Live at the Floating School in Makoko, Lagos.