Imagine The Scenery - an essay by Nigerian artist Aderemi Adegbite (Lagos)
The Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence has asked African artists how the current situation is affecting their work and wanted to know about the impact on their respective creative process. In this essay, Nigerian multimedia artist Aderemi Adegbite is contemplating the unique situation from his point of view.
by Aderemi Adegbite, photographer, video and performance artist from Lagos, Nigeria
Imagine The Scenery
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, alias Mark Twain, once said that “you can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” The American humorist made this note at the time photography was still at its early stage where precision and patience were virtue of the photography profession. He must have envisioned the future of photography at the pulpit of technology which is what today puts camera in the hands of every smart individual around the world. Although smart phones are made for smart individuals, somehow, smart phones are found in the hands of scruffy people everywhere as well. Tens of thousands of images are made per second and instantly distributed across social media platforms. The makers, or rather the takers, of those images have different motives on the images published second by second but predominantly to gather likes, earn cheesy comments and trend with sharing speed of their followers. They are interested in the statistics not the essence of the image. Little are said about precision, composition, theme and possibly sub-thematic features in the captured image within the frame presented.
At a time like this in the history of humanity, this new age of COVID-19, a discerning photographer shoots with imagination than relying on the zoom lens to keep the dignity of people s/he had shot intact. For such photographer, a question throbs my mind. How do you capture the happenings in a low-incoming community where people cluster together through the streets at the demand of government? Bear in mind that the same people were ordered to stay at home to avert the migrating-virus which holds the world hostage at the moment. The situation is real. Thousands of people have died and millions of people have been diagnosed positive. Billion of the world population is affected, while there are measures to stop the spread. This is not some chartbuster pandemic film at the cinema. Neither is it a bestseller sci-fiction book at some airport bookstores.
Dear photographer, before you make a click on your trigger button, remember that they are in a real-life situation that makes panic a constant threat to their existence. They are vulnerable too. They want to be photographed, but they do not want to fit into the rash assumption of the person behind the lens about their collective realities. These are people whose daily lives depend solely on their daily income. They make their noble moderate earnings from daily sales of their goods and services. And for more than two weeks, their daily routines have been altered by the government without a convincing subsidy measure. The palliative measure announced in the news has been nothing but a swiftly migrating word on television and other news platforms. Just a hint for your answer, as a photographer, if you find yourself in such environment, imagination should be employed as your best tool not a 200mm lens or more that is strapped to your shoulder. Relying on your zoom lens at a time like this could be a huge deficit to your gear and perhaps dismembered parts of your body.
Shooting at the warfront/zone is quite different from shooting this kind of situation where some things are constantly being questioned by both victims and assailants. The world have been so concerned with the power tussle between world powers. Kim Jong-un is not backing down at taunting Donald Trump with his nuclear missile testing. A New Year nuclear missile compliance message from the president of United States to the Iranian government was enveloped in a drone strike that claimed the life of Major General Qasem Sulaimani and ten others. Birthed at Hubei province of Wuhan in China, COVID-19 became the biggest invincible missile unleashed on the world and the world powers/leaders are fighting the battle.
Could this be the “Third World War?” The director of the World Health Organization is on the hot-seat as he races to perform the function for which his office is reputed, same as two French scientists for ever suggesting that black people on the African continent are only good statistics in the test of newly developed vaccine. Instead of food, ventilator is the new essential commodity. People in certain parts of the world feel the heat differently. Unlimited access to the internet is key to some people's existence during this period. They do not mind the higher frequency of waves of 5G, nor are they afraid of the electromagnetic radio levels estimated at over 30-300 gigahertz. Food is the ultimate need of some households in this world of what has become “isolation festivity.” While some mix their wines and beers in public spaces, albeit secretly, for some other people Oktober 1st celebration looks bleak already.
Cause and Effect of Lockdown
It is a trying time for the world. Things are different everywhere. In a phone conversation with a friend, despite the fact that we live in the same city, our shared experiences made it clear that we are living in different worlds. My economist friend is concerned about sales strategies of essential commodities post-COVID-19. She reasons that if you are in food business and do not make exceedingly huge profit during this crisis, you are simply not smart a business person, for she thinks people are inventing new means of getting their products to the buyers, either through the internet or phone call order. I was in total agreement with her submission even though her ordered breakfast was yet to be delivered after one hour of ordering it. Even so, people living in certain parts of the city do not have the luxury of ordering food over the internet or phone calls. They simply cannot afford it.
I live in a suburb by the coastline of the Lagos lagoon. I mean, I live on the mainland just at the exit of 3rd mainland bridge from Lagos Island, and in the past seven days I have seen local canteens closed. This is expected in a low-income community. Most customers are daily earners. The money saved from their small businesses have been spent during the first week of isolation and the rush of customers at canteens reduced by 70% as they turn to garri with groundnuts or bread, supporting it with even sugar mixed with water. Balanced diet is a luxury in this part of the city. The promised palliative measure by both the Federal and State government are more than ever needed in densely populated low-income communities in Lagos. Poor people are suffering. Rich people also lament, and banks are closed. Money is generally scarce in circulation; situations continue to deteriorate, while it seems that the Government is confused about the right policies or measures to adopt in order to ease people’s agitation.
Over the past fourteen days, I have gone out daily to monitor and document the effects of the lockdown and state imposed self-isolation on the people. Each morning, I hop on my bicycle with my rucksack strapped to my back and my Nikon FM3a, hung on my left shoulder. It is depressing seeing traffic logjam everywhere despite warnings to stay at home. At news-stands, I read about the latest discovery and how the world is dealing with the virus. I shoot when I find the scenery worthy of my expensive film but when the scenery is dull or rather objectifying, I make mental pictures. The imaginary images are of immediate use than the films I might have to send abroad for processing before I could see the images due to shift to digital photography in Nigeria. It might take a few months before I see the images but that’s part of the beauty of shooting with analog camera. The orthodox way of image making is about imagination and anticipation. To document scenes and happenings with a still camera is not as easy as it seems because the camera is only but a recording tool. The image envisioned must go through mental processing before being captured through the lens.