‘We aim to empower young people through visual storytelling’
Godwin Akpan Eti-Inyene is a documentary photographer and founder PhotoWaka Africa Development Initiative, a social enterprise focused on youth empowerment, creativity, job creation and creating a sustainable value chain in the photography and creative space. Eti-Inyene, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of SIR Inyene Company, a media outfit based in Lagos, is passionate about capacity building for budding photographers. He presently serves as the Lead Photographer for Social Good Lagos, a sub-community of the United Nations Foundation. He is a member of the African Photo Journalism Database (APJD) and Professional Photographers of America (PPA). In this interview with IJEOMA-THOMAS-ODIA, he shares his journey with the social enterprise as it marks its first year.
What’s the idea behind PhotoWaka and what was it set out to achieve?
It started with the need to help other photographers go out of their comfort zone. Some of them kept asking how I took my pictures on the street as they were scared to do that because of the police, thugs etc; most of them would want to really take pictures without fear. Till a day I pushed it out online that I need a few people to join me on a photo walk in Oshodi and in less that 24 hours, 20 people had registered and in about two days, we had more than 60 participants. On July 7, 2018, we had our first walk in Oshodi with two participants that came from Columbia, others from Ibadan, Epe and different areas in Lagos. It was a huge success and history was made that day because prior to that day, nobody had ever taken that number of photographers to Oshodi for a photo walk.
Most of the participants started asking if we could do it more often and that was how PhotoWaka Africa started. We have further expanded; the vision is broader as we aim towards empowering the next generation of African photographers and creatives.
What are some of the activities PhotoWaka Africa has been involved with in the last one year?
From inception, we’ve organised five successful photo walks with hundreds of participants in attendance. More than 500 people have been empowered with the knowledge of photography, story telling and creating social impact in their society via our photo walks and trainings. We also organised a three-day intensive photography masterpiece in April. During our first photo walk, a little girl and her mum, who were shot on camera by a participant were taken off the street by telling their story. Through the power of visual storytelling from the PhotoWaka Africa platforms, decisions have been made towards ensuring that some children have quality education.
What new projects are you working on?
We have lots of projects ahead of us and we will be collaborating with corporate and government parastatals. We will hold a Campus Invasion programme, which involves photography workshops and photowalks in tertiary institutions across the continent. Through the PhotoWaka Academy, we also plan on going to primary and secondary schools to enlighten them about visual storytelling and the importance of photography in the society. We will also create photography clubs in those schools and competitions among clubs nationwide, thereby, inspiring them to aim at being creative and pursuing a career in photography. Just as some of them are aiming to become Doctors, Lawyers, and Engineers, in the nearest future, some can also aim to become a photographer too.
Job creation, empowerment for the youths is key in our economy, how is PhotoWaka Africa living up to this vision?
Through our empowerment programmes like our PhotoWaka academy, we impact young minds in Nigeria and Africa with a creative mind set and those in our community are open to better job opportunities where we bring potential clients to our community.
What has kept this dream and social enterprise going? Are there challenges?
We have had challenges with sponsorships and partnerships for the brand. We have a target and we need more brands to collaborate and buy into the dream. I would say God’s grace has kept this going, the team has been awesome and supportive and also the zeal and passion to see PhotoWaka Africa meet global standards. As an organisation, we see each challenge as a class in the school of life. We learn from them; they make us better, after all it’s not just about how one acts in the face of comfort but adversity as well. We believe each challenge will prepare us for the greater opportunities that will come our way.
Photography seems to have evolved as nothing is barely done without documentation. What does photography mean to you?
Photography for me is about storytelling, preserving history (documenting today for the future), is about expression in different forms, culture, languages or background and just connecting with people. Photography is therapeutic.
How can young people key into their vision and live up their dreams just as you are doing?
My advice for the young ones is to start with what they have. Just start, both Rome and Lagos weren’t built in a day. Eventually, there comes a time when all the effort they’ve put in will be rewarded. They need to follow their dreams without listening to what society is saying. Just being passionate and zealous about their vision. They need to do their best with whatever they lay their hands to do. Success is relative in whatever sphere of life, just aim to be the best.
What key message do you have for the young person out there, who is trying to figure what to make out of their lives?
I will advise they go out to serve (volunteer); they need to serve wholly wherever they find themselves because in service they will find purpose, whether in church, school, just serve.
Where do you see PhotoWaka Africa in the nearest future?
I see PhotoWaka Africa as the number one and biggest photography community in the world. We are raising bold individuals that would retell the African story and change stereotypes for good. We would be the biggest platform to sort for African content.
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