By Pelu Awofeso
Lagos is perhaps known more for its traffic jams than for anything else. But is that a fair representation of a city also reputed for its ‘aquatic spendour’? I have lived in Lagos for many years and I confess that I can’t put the city in a particular mould.
So when on February 4, The African Artist Foundation (AAF), with the support of telecoms operator etisalat, hosted an exhibition based on the works of 25 amateur photographers on the theme: “This Is Lagos”, I thought it was my opportunity to see what the visual artists thought the city represented to them. What would it be like to see Lagos through the eyes of other residents?
As expected, the walls of the exhibition room at the Civic Centre had very familiar scenes of Lagos city life splashed over them: the 3rd Mainland Bridge (Jumoke Sanwo), the Bar Beach (Tope Akinmade), Badagry Beach (Ife Odedere), Falomo Roundabout (Isi Etomi), Makoko slum (Bayo Omoboriowo), 1004 (Rolake Job), logging and ferries on the lagoon (Adewole Ajao), communications masts (tunji Nelson), fishing nets, canoes (Yacoub Adeleke), and all.
From Isi Etomi, who believes that “Lagos is a city in flux, constantly on the move, in spite of all its obstacles,” to Akinlabi Akinbulumo, whose pictures, “tell the story of a series of beautiful things I believe the people of Lagos do not stop to see, the beauty amidst the seeming chaos,” Lagos is rendered in all its repellent and stimulating appeal. And there were quite a number of Lagosians in the room, viewing and discussing the photos.
“The question is: which is the real Lagos,” wonders Tolu Alabi, whose images show a vastly crowded and busy side of Lagos. “Lagos, like a lot of developing cities, is a place of stark contrasts between the rich and the poor, chaos and order.” As Lagosians will already know, both extremes are a reality, just like they are in Jo’bourg or Rio de Jeneiro. And Alabi, like me, is one who prefers to see the cup as half full. “Underneath it all, something works,” he concludes.
But to Famuyiwa Adedapo, Lagos lives up to its reputation as a motorist’s nightmare. “Lagos is traffic. Anyone who has ever moved around in Lagos has either seen a serious traffic jam or has been involved in one,” he says. And his two photographs (one of early morning rush hour and the other of bumper-to-bumper after-work traffic) present that view in undeniable detail.
Tunji Nelson’s shots –taken outside his office on the Island–of rain clouds at sunset, taking in the surrounding masts and utility poles, appealed to me a great deal. “My mission is to capture normal and sometimes rarely viewed scenes and environments and present them in an interesting way,” he says in the description tagged to the two images.
So was Austin Azoganokhai’s bright shots of sand-dredging canoes, all huddled together and fanning out from their mid-points outwards. “As a photographer, I see every moment as a photograph just waiting to be taken,” he says. “It’s all about being right there at the moment, as no passing moment ever repeats itself.”
Then there were Rolake Job’s soothing views of the contentious 1004 Flats and the Lekki toll gates. Looking at them, and having walked past a couple of unflattering shots, my spirits literally just relaxed. Both her images show a part of Lagos familiar to residents as a high-traffic zone but here presented in its deserted charm. “Even though Lagos is known as the city that never sleeps, at some point there is CALM (her emphasis) and serenity we all long for,” she says.
But these weren’t the images that won the top prizes. The five-person judging panel, who had to pore through the 50 competing images (there were 170-plus entries according to the organizers), narrowed the winners down to Tolu Alabi (3rd position), Bayo Omoboriowo (2nd position) and Isi Etomi (1st position).
“The Lagos Story is right here in this room,” says professional photographer Toye Gbade, who was on the judging panel. “I can tell you this for sure: the next movement after the music movement is the media movement. And photography will play a major role in that movement.”
You know what? There is no faulting that vision.