‘Too many brilliant, fantastic minds doing something very good, but their presentation is poor’
‘Dayo Adedayo trained as a photographer at Wesminster College and University of Wesminster, U.K., and has done great works on various aspects of Nigeria. He hopes that his works will add to the growing canon of contemporary African photography that seeks to challenge perspectives, broaden audiences and show the world the beauty of Nigeria like never before. In this interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU, Adedayo bares it all’
How commercially viable is photography art in Nigeria?
Very commercially viable and, viability is relative, depending on the work and the inputs you choose. The truth of the matter is, people are looking for a very good product, which is lacking in our environment. It has to be very well packaged because those things are not there at the moment. For example, you are looking to make a book on the portraits of great Nigerians, not in terms of politics, but people who have made their marks, whether in arts, or in business or social-economic development of the country; there is nothing like that.
So, people will buy into it, but are you ready to invest in it? The answer is ‘no,’ because we have this notion that art doesn’t sell; but for me, art sells. It all depends on the way it is packaged and the way it is marketed. Unfortunately in Nigeria, majority of artists put a lot of technicality into what they are doing, forgetting that they have their family to feed, they have a life to live and they just dabble into arts, into the creative industry, whether it is music, whether it is the proper art itself, whether it is photography, whether it is in Nollywood.
Money is not coming out because people don’t know how to make money. Majority of them do not really study the profession. They dabble into it because it is the next available thing and they believe that it is the way it should be, but the most important thing is how we ought to learn. I mean, you watch some Nollywood movies and you see bottles of beer, raspberry and cars with their logos showing. Nobody does that abroad. They have to sponsor with the names of the brands showing but here they don’t do that. They just drive around; ‘oh, I’m driving a car, a jeep,’ instead of approaching Toyota and the rest of them to say, “Oh, we are having this movie o,’ or approach Nigerian breweries – ‘we want to use beer in our movie, let’s talk.’
Abroad, in Hollywood, you see people using these things and deliberately they will use the logo of that phone without you knowing. But here, because people don’t study the art of film, they dabble into it and that is why a lot of people are hungry. Generally, art is something that is commercially viable. The good thing about art, for example, is that if you ask me how much I’m worth, I will tell you all the money that Nigeria has, what CBN has, is not up to what I’m worth because you can’t buy yesterday, no matter how rich you are and I have it in my hand. Yesterday is gone but I have it in my pocket. I have it because I documented it and anyone who needs it will come to me.
For example, if you need the picture of old Bar Beach, Ahmadu Bello Way, when it was really flooded and all that, I have those pictures. So, if you want them, what do you do? It is going to be on my basis, not on your basis. It is my account.
For a majority of individuals in the creative industry, how to successfully market their talent is a great issue. How do you advise on defining the relationship between art and business in Nigeria?
One, you have to create a market niche for yourself. You don’t do things because people are doing it. Business is about creativity. It is about innovation. If you do things like everybody, of course, you will be like everybody. You don’t follow the crowd. If you are doing it like everybody, then how do you market it? Why should I pay more for it when I can get it for less from somebody else? But if you are doing it differently, something they have never seen before, that is the only way you can differentiate yourself and name your price. That is the first rule.
The second rule is, no matter what you do in life, education is key. So, I will advise anybody who is going into the creative industry to get education. Even though you know what you are doing, the question is, are you properly trained in what you are doing? If not, you have to go back to school to know what you are doing.
That is very key. It could be good. In fact, it is good. They didn’t go to school, but even those who had even gone to school properly still grope in the dark on how to market their art properly.
It is only in Nigeria that someone will say, ‘Oh, Dayo, come and snap me!’ They take your photograph but they don’t even see the value in what you have done. In most cases, the artists look and act very hungry. They act very desperately. In that kind of situation, people will take you on the face value. There should be a correlation between your image and what you are selling. For example, you can’t call Ali Baba to come and host your event. Even his presentation alone, where he lives, what he eats, what he drives is all part of it. You see a lot of artists with dreadlocks, smelly jeans; no matter how good your work is, no matter how beautiful you are, people will not see you that way.
There are too many brilliant and fantastic minds that are doing something very good, but unfortunately, their presentation is poor. Presentation matters a lot in everything you do. A fantastic picture, if not presented well, becomes a problem. Look at the painting we have on the wall, fantastic; but look at the presentation; it is crap. So, what is going to attract the buyer? That is what we are saying.
All these things are not what you can pick up on the street. What stops someone working in the creative industry to have an MBA? What stops you from going to the market to talk people, go to university to have doctorate degree? Go out, read. That is where education comes in. You have to read autobiographies of successful people in the world, not just in Nigeria. Unfortunately, most successful Nigerians don’t even write their stories so people don’t know where they started from and how they made it.
There is someone I really respect a lot in this country and the country has not even taken him serious. He is Razaq Okoya, the owner of Eleganza. Education itself doesn’t necessarily mean success. Some things are in-born. For Razaq Okoya to know so much, to impact so much, the man is a genius. I have not read about him anywhere. The government is not celebrating him. Instead, we are celebrating people who are failures in their personal lives, but just because they can fight their way into political leadership, we now think that they are great.
You also mentioned something about art appreciation. How can we get people to see art as something that should really command real value?
It boils down to the education of the society as well. It boils down to the values we have in the society. In a situation whereby people who are going to buy your work are the same people who buy pirated works, what happens? We don’t have values. If not, you see a bricklayer living a wretched life and you are told that bricklayer built a $10 billion house you are looking at, but you don’t see N1,000 on that guy! It shows the value system of the society. Personally, I can’t turn that around. I am neither Jesus nor Mohammed. There is little you can do in the society.
So, my business idea is, I draw a triangle. At the tip of the triangle is little space. At the bottom, we have a lot of volume. My work is not pure water. I only work four times in a year, maximum. We are in July going to August, I have not done any job this year but I am not bothered. I want to work with the pinnacle of the society. If I can get just 50 clients, which is quite a lot a year, I am okay because you have to make your work not to be all over the place. It is not the volume of what you produce that counts. It is like a photographer opening studios all over the place; it becomes commercial as anybody can just come in and take photos.
But when you don’t have a studio and someone tells you to come and take their portrait or painting, on that basis, you can charge what a bank MD earns a whole year. So, you have people who can pay N1 million; not a lot of people have that kind of money in Nigeria, but I bet you that there are 20 people who can pay for that in Nigeria.
So for me, my own strategy is to work like a cockroach and eat like an elephant rather than work like an elephant and eat like a cockroach! Why do I have to work everyday? Why do I have to wake up everyday and rush to work? You have to be contented within you. I love what I do. I love myself. When money comes, I speak to it. So that is my own formula for the way I work. Initially, it was not about money. Unfortunately, not everybody will be able to key into that. There will be some special people who can key into that. The way people look for money is different. If you are comfortable in your skin and don’t compare yourself with other people, i.e. you are working on your own trajectory, then money will come if you know what you are doing. If you are doing your work conscieniously and with love, someone up there will look at you and say ‘this guy has really tried; let me patronise him!’
How do we differentiate between photography as an art and photography as a commercial venture?
It is really tough, but thank God things are changing a lot. Nigeria wasn’t like this 10 years ago. People are now appreciating photography as art and photography as a commercial venture. The commercial photography is not something that lasts for long. It fizzles out after a while. Even across the world, you see people having studios.
What has been constant from time immemorial is fine art photography that Sunmi Smart Cole did some years ago before people started knowing what fine art photography is all about. That is what George Esiri is doing. You see things and you will be wondering, ‘What is this? How did it happen?’ You find it very hard to place what the object is. That is fine art and that stays forever. It commands a lot of money because a lot of thinking, a lot of creativity goes into it. You find serious photographers doing such work.
Of late, some of the young ones have started doing fine art photography. But their major challenge is how to market for the generality of the public and it seems a lot of them want to be doing the same thing, which is going to kill the market. When supply is more than demand, what you realise is loss and your price will just drop. But if you are doing yours differently, then you can command more patronage. In Nigeria, I have sold one image for N5 million. The way I work is different. You work with the people that appreciate what you are doing.
What kind of image are you talking about here? Human image or nature?
It is an image of nature. When I was taking the image, I was with some people in the car and I said, ‘Stop!’ They asked why but I answered that they shouldn’t worry. After I finished taking the image, I spent about 30 minutes on that spot. Thereafter, we got back into the car. This was where they lived. They passed there everyday but couldn’t see it. I have sold several of that same image, but I promised the first patron that nobody would have the kind of presentation I did for him.
Do you exhibit your photographs?
No, I don’t. How much money can one realise from exhibition? That’s part of what I am saying. You exhibit and at the end of the day, what is next?
How many people come for exhibitions in Nigeria?
How many coffee-table books have you done so far?
Six. I have done Nigeria. I have done Lagos State. After that I did Nigeria the Magical and Nigeria the Magical. So, that is part of the creativity we are talking about. You have to be different. You see, it is not about doing the regular thing; money is very good in life. That is the first thing I usually tell young people. The most important thing is yourself, your work, and your name. When we were growing up, the cliche was ‘always remember the child of whom you are’ so you don’t ruin the name of the family. You have to add value to that name.
When I was in school, I hardly did research before doing my work, which shouldn’t be. Most times, I just do what comes to me. You have to do research before doing your work. I have done up to six books, the new one is Nigeria 2.0.
For me, this book is something that every Nigerian should see, including friends of Nigeria and foreigners alike, who are interested in Nigeria. We all complain about power failure and bad roads in Nigeria, but do we really see the beauty of Nigeria? As far as I am concerned, Nigeria is the most beautiful country in the world. I want somebody to come and tell me the country that is more beautiful than Nigeria. The person should come and debate with me and I will give that person one million and one reasons why Nigeria is the most beautiful country. Let’s forget about the infrastructural part of it. The best thing a country can have are its people. Nigerians are the most fantastically good people in the world.
Ask every foreigner: what is your perception about Nigeria now that you are here? What was your perception before you came into Nigeria? I won’t say it more than that. A lot of foreigners are coming into the system to milk us and we are not seeing it. All we see is the bad government. That is what brought me to what I am doing. Are we all going to be politicians? The answer is no. Are we all going to be doctors? The answer is no.
There are better people who are more knowledgeable than I am. The way we apply our brains is just different. What I am trying to say now is that I am a photographer. This is the way I would like my country to be seen.
All images of Nigeria were done by Europeans. If you google Nigeria images, all you will see are dirty and rough images. That is not my country. Can a foreigner know my country more than I? The answer is no. I can’t go to America and take a shot of America. What do I know about America? I don’t know the culture. But here, I know so many things because I am a Nigerian, born and breed in Nigeria. I have seen Africa’s beauty. I have seen the dew, smelt the rain. I have gone into the forest and more. When I put them into perspective, I will come up with a beautiful Africa, which nobody talks about. Art is like food. Even food is art. Once you put food into your mouth, you say this is nice. That is the way I see it. Probably because I work in the creative industry, I see things differently. I am working on a book, The Art and Facts of Nigeria, to bring out the beauty of Nigeria. I am not doing it from the intellectual perspective. I am doing it from the common man’s perspective so that people will be able to relate with it.
But here you are, a private individual not commissioned by the government, but who is doing these Nigeria-centric projects. Who is the target audience?
There are too many people who can buy it. To be very sincere with you, I can see over 100,000 people buying the book. You won’t tell me that we don’t have up to 100,000 educated Nigerians who are interested in Nigeria. We should not always wait for government. As a matter of fact, it is not something government should do. It has nothing to do with the government. If the government should do it, how will the money come into the private sector? That will be so impossible. So it is the private sector that will bring the opportunities and people will say, ‘Wow! This is a land of opportunities.’ That was what happened to me. My first time in Nigeria in 2003, and passing through Murtala Mohammed Airport, I told I am going to be a multi-millionaire in this country. I just told myself that I am going to make it. I gave myself two years. Probably you may have to leave Nigeria. Nigeria is a country whereby, you live in it but you don’t value it. But when you leave Nigeria for one reason or the other, you then come back. Nigeria is a land of opportunities.