Saturday, 20 February 2010

The photographer’s life through another lens

IT was the singer-song writer, Regina Spektor, who said the real price artists pay for success is the glare it subjects their subsequent works to. Recently, Uche Okpa-Iroha’s works were subjected to such public scrutiny after his success at the African Biennale of Photography Encounters held in Bamako, Mali, where he won the Seydou Keita Grand Prize for Best Photographic Creation.
The venue, La’ Saison Restaurant, Ikoyi, Lagos, was filled to the brims. While some sat, a sizeable number stood and watched the works displayed on screen, including those that won him awards in the past.
In attendance were seasoned artists, photographers, painters and writers such as the Artistic Director of Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Bisi Silva; Amaize Ojeikere; Duke Asidere; Chris Nwobu; Uche James-Iroha and members of IB09 Travel Photographers and the Black Box Photography Collective.
There was a discussion on Okpa-Iroha and his art, the origin and usefulness of photography in contemporary art in Nigeria, on which Silva said, “photography has been in existence for a long time. It has been a tool since the colonial era and was used to document the people, their culture and of course, the resources, which the colonialists were out to cart away.”
She noted that the medium, over the years, evolved into an art form, but pointed out that Nigeria has a lot to do to carve a niche for itself in the genre.
She said that among other genres, narrative photography is yet to be explored by Nigerian photographers. “The potential is there but is yet to be utilised,” she said.
According to the curator, photography and video art are veritable tools for contemporary art in Nigeria. “ Nigeria has the best environment for photography and could compete favourably in the world,” she noted.
While commending Okpa-Iroha, who also won the Fondation Blachère Prize for Emerging Artist at the Bamako Encounters, Silva said, “it is good, but he is yet to arrive; he still has a long way to go. With his exhibited drive and passion, he is bound to get there.”
Having won at the Bamako Encounters, Uche will proceed on a residency programme in France soon.

THOUGH born in Enugu, South-east of Nigeria, the 1997 graduate of Food Science and Technology from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), Imo State, became interested in photography in 2004, while under-studying his cousin, Uche James-Iroha, who is an established photo-artist.
His cousin, in company of Amaize and other photographers of Depth of Field (DOF), visited London where he was residing then. He saw their works, got inspired by them and the following day, he went out to get a camera.
He started by photographing ‘moving waters’ including the River Thames.
Back in Nigeria, he continued taking pictures of rivers but was not satisfied doing that, he took up street photography. His break came during an event at the Goethe Institut, Lagos.
“Much like what I experienced with photographing the Thames, I felt this doesn’t make sense to me. Suddenly, I began to take pleasure in street photographing. And this has helped me to appreciate my society and enabled me to create works that are more narrative,” he stated.

SOME of his works that were displayed at the Lagos event include Intrusion — snapped from a cousin’s living room. “The people were not aware, it was like using binoculars to spy on people’s lives,” he explained. “I am still working on the Molue Series and the Unknown Soldiers they are done in silhouette in order to disguise the men engaged in back breaking work.”
He also disclosed how his Me came into existence. He had to wash an aluminum kettle thoroughly so it could reflect very well. “I am the subject here and I had to read the lights well enough to get this shot.”
As for Ghana Vs Guinea, which shows football fans waving their hands, Okpa-Iroha revealed that he captured the image from his television set.
Of the shots he had taken so far, the artist confessed a fondness for Bright, depicting a boy holding a ball.
“I went for a three weeks workshop in Ajegunle, Lagos and this young man named Bright followed me around asking that I took his photograph. I obliged him.” The photograph was used by Farafina Magazine as a cover in one of its editions.
Most of his works, he disclosed are done in series. One of such is Under Bridge Life, which won him the Keita Prize. The judges felt it adequately fitted in with the theme of the festival, Borders.
He stated, “you find people living under the bridge in Lagos while the exotic fast cars move over them. There is this invincible line between the super rich and the super poor in Nigeria, yet these people living under the bridge, just like the rich, are working hard and dreaming of owning a home. Don’t be surprised that there’s a school under the bridge too.”

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