Illustration by Ayo Arogunmati
Mr. Alakija, tell me a quote that resonates with you.
Henri Cartier Bressons says you’ve only just started taking photographs once you’ve taken your thousandth photo. This is about a film camera.
What number would that be for a digital camera?
Do you identify with a particular camera manufacturer?
I picked up photography as a hobby in 2004 and up until 2014 I was definitely a Canon user. Two years ago I moved over to the Nikon system because of a new product release that made sense for my work and the price point made the purchase more persuasive. Statistically, most Africans use Canons but Africans tend to use what the next person is using. As a matter of fact, many professional photographers switched to the Nikon system around the same time I made the change because it made financial sense.
Did your experience with marriage help with your photography?
I think it does help especially if you have been a groom or a bride in a wedding. There is a certain perspective that you can tap into and you are able to capture what you see not just as a spectator but also as the main star of the occasion. I definitely would say my experience and understanding of my marriage and weddings influenced what I capture.
Can you do it without having this experience?
The experience has no impact on the images you are able to capture. You can come at the event with a different approach. It certainly helps but I would be careful to suggest that it is an important requirement. One advantage you have with not having the experience is objectivity. As a photographer, you want to manage your biases and capture the moment not because of what you think works.
Does cultural familiarity matter to a wedding photographer?
If you are asking whether or not a photographer from the culture has an advantage, then I disagree. Your duty as a photographer is to familiarize yourself with the culture. I don’t just shoot Nigerian weddings and I’ve had the opportunity to lead the photography for different weddings, which has helped me when I am hired for a Nigerian wedding. The lack of familiarity at these non-Nigerian weddings leads to me capturing the unique moments as well as, the generic moments at every wedding.
Do you prefer portraiture or moments?
They are different. Portraiture is a still representation of a moment. It is more wrestling than it is boxing. I fix the moments by presenting something based on an idea and what I think it should look like. For example, I can present you with an image of someone with a bloody knife and you would think they were a killer. This is just me creating an image I want you to feel when you come across the portrait.
I have no real control over the interpretation. This is more journalistic in nature and is similar to a boxing match that is not fixed. You are hoping for that sudden uniqueness to appear and hopefully you are ready to capture it.
Is curiosity an important trait for a photographer?
Curiosity is interesting but it is not the term I would use. You certainly need to have a bit of nosiness but you should also be impactful in your work. There is a bit of mind in the sky that applies to portrait shooters, for example, as well as an eccentricity to their personalities. Your role in this capacity is really not to preserve the truth, as say a journalist is required to do, but more so to find your own truth in the image you capture.