Nigeria is blessed with abundant talents. Most of these talents are are unknown or unheard of because no one has written about them. Today, we bring you the story of a budding photographer and his story will inspire his generation. In this chat with Lagos Convo, Tobi Tamo the photographer chronicles his journey so far.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Adebule Oluwatobi Micheal Ojonla. Ojonla means a great day, I am a visual artist. I like to call myself a visual artist because I do photography, and I’m a painter and a graphic artist,
Tell us about your educational background
I went to Yaba tech staff school afterwards I moved to Igbobi College, Yaba, Lagos, then I did my ND and HND in Yaba College of technology, I graduated in 2014
When did you start photography professionally?
Though photography started in 2010 but professionally I started in 2014 because that was when I registered the business
Is it a full time job?
For now photography is a major for me, even though I do some other things on the side as an entrepreneur, I do graphics and I paint
What is your reason for choosing photography?
Photography has always been my thing, right from my young age, I remember when I was in j.s.s1, my sister’s friend gave me a camera which I used to take pictures everywhere I go coupled with having an artistic background in Yaba tech, where I studied general art, also known as fine art, I loved taking pictures, I did a lot of photography manipulation, with the graphics, photography became an important part of me
Who were your major influences back then?
The people that inspired me then were Kelechi Amadi, Akeem Salami and Jesse Akerele
Was starting up very difficult?
Starting up was pretty difficult, far back in 2010, I was in ND1 and at that time we were to do our 3months SWES, we had to go to fine art related companies, most of my friends went to universal studio in National theater, some went to artists but I wanted to do photography. I met Jesse who was in Yaba tech then, I told him to help me learn about photography, at first, he was skeptical and he thought I wasn’t serious about it, but on the long run I convinced him. I started learning, there wasn’t much space in the studio because he was still learning from Kelechi, I go to his house anytime Kelechi is shooting a video in the studio, I would go to his office anytime Kelechi is not around and I would sneak into his office whenever Jesse is editing for Kelechi, he really helped me a lot, he introduced me to Folake Akinola, who also learnt from Kelechi and whose dad is also a notable photographer, I kept learning and never for once did I shoot with her camera. Folake was more into taking portrait pictures, I learnt for a while and then I realize I needed to learn other aspects of photography, after a month I left. I got my first camera two weeks after my birthday on 23rd of December, I had to beg my mum to get me my camera, she told me she don’t have enough money to get me one, eventually she did, she got me a canon 500D, that I started shooting randomly and manipulating pictures with Photoshop for fun, getting jobs was pretty hard for me, until I started getting jobs. The first job I got was on my street and it was a naming ceremony, let me say that one of my biggest dreams was to start really big and never small and then came a guy who told me that for any shot I took he would pay me a hundred naira, I agreed since I was doing what I loved and up until now (2016) he still owes me two thousand five hundred naira, afterwards I never stopped learning, I met people who became role models and mentors. In 2012, which I would call my breakthrough year, I was working for proximity for my IT as a graphic artist, along the line they converted me to the company’s photographer, it was a lot of work, though I wasn’t paid well for the job, people would look at my job and marvel at a young boy doing amazing things, they started to book me for their wedding and from there more jobs came in, though I had shot my first event at 2011 and was paid a hundred thousand, after making photo book and there was no gain at all but I kept doing what I love, I got Tamo images registered, I met a couple of photographers, guy that I looked up to in the industry, in 2013 I bought my very own camera, my laptop, I returned the money my mum used in buying my first camera to her and for me that was a great achievement
Is photography capital intensive?
Yes it is capital intensive, its expensive trust me, for you to start you need time, knowledge and money to buy your stuff and you are good to go. You can’t just go into photography without having a camera, fine I understand the fact that you can still rent but if you get a small job of say fifty thousand naira and you have to rent a camera of twenty thousand naira and you deliver maybe a frame or album of twenty thousand naira, you gained nothing
With all of these things you said about it being capital intensive which I believe shouldn’t put anyone off, would you advice anyone to go into it?
Yes definitely, photography is a very lucrative business, it being capital intensive should stop anyone from going into the business if it’s what they love, I know people who started six months ago and now they are everywhere, because we are friends I would give them my camera and because of what I went through I try as much as possible to help as many people that are just coming into the business
Do you train people?
No I don’t, because I feel that I’m still undergoing training myself but it doesn’t stop me from putting people through when they come to me, up until now I am still learning, I go to seminars, workshop to learn new things
What advice would you give upcoming photographers?
Photography is a great business, if you must do it be passionate about it, be hardworking, don’t stop learning.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’m actually where I said I wanted to be five years ago, in the next five years I would like to be one of the photographers on the Forbe’s list, I would like to be featured on CNN African voices, I want to have a notable photo gallery where people can come check out photography works and as it is five years is around the corner
Do you promote your work on social media?
Yes I do, I’m on facebook, instagram, twitter
Has it helped your work in anyway?
Yes it has, I get a lot of clients and referrals from social media
When you first started, did people believe in you amidst the frustration?
Yes a lot of people discouraged me, I remember a couple of guys in school that discouraged me, some of them did encourage me, some family members said a lot of mean things, some told me that my mates were busy doing great things and you want to do photography but I had a great source of inspiration which is my mum, she never for once told me not to do photography, she is just fantastic
But now what do they say about you?
I remember one of them chatted me up this morning and said ‘I’m very proud of you’ and I get a couple of phone calls, then in 2010-2011, the people I looked up to then are now my competitors, they would DM me, send me messages and tell me that I’m doing great and ask me how did you do this, I thank God for that because I know it’s not by my power
Which brand would you love to work with in the future?
For me the future is tomorrow, just a factor of grace. I work for a couple of brands, Guinness, baileys notable pharmacy Dortemag, because I love to do documentary photography, I would love to work with photo journalism agencies like routers, Getty images, AFP, Associate press and a couple of documentary brands like that
Words to live by
Don’t stop learning, be passionate about what you do, don’t give up, put God first because God works and another major advice is make money.
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