Thursday, 10 November 2011

Emmanuel in a Conversation with Jumoke on her project "Photo 4 U"

Photo 4 U project II, Abuja (by Jumoke Sanwo)

Emmanuel Iduma: So basically I'll like to know what your project is about, what you will like to do, simply.

Jumoke Sanwo: My personal project is called 'Photo for you' and it is basically me going around photographing people and also having them have a copy of the photograph taken. Because, usually when you go out on this kind of project you find that you photograph people but then you leave them and they don't have any copy or any image to remember the process. So, what this project is all about is just about sharing instant images with people and I am doing this by using a Polaroid camera which is like an instant camera. The plan is actually to take people with the instant camera first and after that is developed I take them afterward with the digital camera holding the picture that was taken with the instant camera. And this will probably be the pictures that I will showcase for exhibitions or things later, but at the same time sharing the image by giving them a copy of the picture that was taken.

So I started the project on 8 November by going around; I went to a village called Durumi, and it is a village in Abuja where there are predominantly workers, mechanics, food vendors, farmers, and things like that. I started the project with them, because I intend to do 45 pictures which depict our journey. It is like 45 pictures, 45 people on this trip.

I got two subjects today. The first person I photographed was a mechanic who repairs tricyles, what we call 'NAPEP' (Keke NAPEP). I approached him and told him that I would like to photograph him and he obliged me. I did first a Polaroid of him after which I had him pose for a digital shot of that and as I was doing this, this lady (second subject) saw what I was doing and approached me and asked me what I was trying to do. I explained to her what the project was about and she said she'll like to pose as well. I took her on.

Seriously, the effect was amazing; I actually wish I wanted to do a lot more because every other person was interested in being photographed. Unfortunately, because I have limited exposures to work with I just told them that I will take their photos using a digital camera and just showed them the picture. So that basically is it.

Photo 4 U project I, Abuja (by Jumoke Sanwo)

Emmanuel Iduma: I am equally interested in where this project is going. One of the things that is interesting to me is that this is a trip across certain parts of Africa – I mean the trip that is instigating this project or the trip in which you will be fulfilling this project. At the end of our journey, when you've given 45 people these pictures, what kind of thing do you think will be happening in this space called Africa as regards those people? If you had the luxury of giving a million people these pictures, what do you think you would have achieved? And then, what do you think is the lesson we can learn from this project as a group of people who exist within this space?

Jumoke Sanwo: What I think I will achieve from this project is that [I hope that] by this simple action, I have made this person a happier person. I just realize that in life simple things make people happy, things that you don't even think that matter... And I think that if I had the opportunity to do a million pictures it is, first of all, for history. If they look at the pictures taken over a couple of years, there is a record that this guy existed at some point in Abuja, in Durumi village, and he was a mechanic. Secondly, what I intend to do is to tell a story of Africa, but I am not exploiting this people. I am not making them look malnourished, I am just taking photographs of them and giving them their pictures. It is just a simple thing. I hope that, yeah, if possible, I will like to do more of this. You will realize that across the continent – which is where we are getting to at the end of 45 days – we are all the same. 

Photo 4 U Project V, Abuja (by Jumoke Sanwo)

Photo 4 U Project IV, Abuja (by Jumoke Sanwo)

You can refer to Jumoke's blog for a more intimate and detailed take on her subjects during the  Invisible Borders road trip :

Those Who Seek Exceptions Will be Safe (by Emmanuel Iduma)

"Many Have Gone" Forest/Jos Road, Plateau State (by Emeka Okereke)

There are those who consider us foolhardy, judging that we are insecure from far-flung distances. They speak of the insecurity of our journey without having travelled the roads we are travelling – and the gist is that there are more people who are on this side of the those-parts-are-insecure divide than those who are on the other. But we find that we cannot be more secure than security, that all it takes is a decision to move, that the tale we are telling is compellingly relevant, that it will be foolhardy to turn our backs based on the speculation of distant mediums.

I will illustrate why/how I came to the conclusion that foolhardiness lies in not making this journey. On Tuesday, while we were yet at Abuja, we went to the Jabi Motor park to hire a van that would take us from Abuja until Gambaru, the town that separates Nigeria from Tchad. We asked specific questions about the safety of travelling the route, and our respondents were surprised at our fears. We spoke to drivers who were from Maiduguri, who drove on the roads on constant basis.

Now, I am already thinking that there is no point in expending several words on this subject. Truth is, I am not so short-sighted to think that the words of our ‘respondents’ suggest that all risks that we might encounter have disappeared. Yet, I think it is important to discuss this subject, to decry the manner in which ignorance is unfolded by our country people. One speaks about Jos with so much certainty when the farthest such person has travelled is Abuja. And in Enugu, Maiduguri is spoken about with definiteness. For once, I find relevance in the ‘danger of a single story.’ Or perhaps, for the sake of individuality, I will call this the ‘danger of a single dialogue.’ The basis for this consideration is based on the annoying fact that ‘places’ and existences have been derogatorily simplified. I, like Yvonne Owuor, is “…being cautious, terrified of the convenient habit of a single story…That horrible sickness of a sustained single point of view, which never changes, cannot be allowed to change, repeated often enough so it becomes reality.”

We are, I daresay, seeking the exception to the single dialogue – that refrain being repeated by those who are too fearful to see for themselves and those who think they have seen it all. And I perceive, and believe, that our success and safety will lie in the organized effort we are making at seeing exceptions, the attempts to make the exception the general rule.

The fact that the story of Maiduguri as a lynching zone, a Boko Haram constituency, is terrifying because it is sustained and repeated so often that hearsay has become the basis of our joint conviction. Yet, I will speak little about this, despite the nagging noise in my head that wants me to negate a single dialogue with all the literary powers at my disposal.

We headed to Jos with a driver named Emmanuel, who hails from Abuja. I asked him what he thought of the changes in his hometown. He confessed that his house had been demolished a year earlier, but it was a good thing, watching your home transform before your eyes. And he said he had two wives, his voice having no shame, as it is otherwise possible, given the emphasis on nuclear families. There it is, then – we are surrounded by people for whom life is an act of the pursuit of survival and happiness; I tell the truth: those two words, ‘survival’ and ‘happiness,’ summarize the lives of people I have encountered in the cities we have crossed so far.

And while heading to Jos, it was clear to see that part of the single dialogue had become real in our heads. Our van had tinted glasses, which meant that it was difficult or impossible for someone out of the van to see through us. But when Tom tried to make a photo, Kemi and Jumoke shouted him down, saying he should be careful. There was a soldier outside the van – I should add that we gave 200 naira twice to soldiers at roadblocks, easily falling prey to their look-that-tells-I-want-money, easily falling prey to the fear of being frisked, of being detained for long hours. This, again, results from the stories told about the soldiers and police which has been aggrandized and forced into reality. 

Tom said, and we saw, that Jos is a beautiful town. This is rarely told – a peaceful Jos – and it is disheartening. To think that the hills in sight count for nothing, the serenity, the cold, is to be shamelessly untruthful. I am hoping that in the less than 24 hours we have left in this town, we would emphasize Jos’ moreness. I am hoping that our work will not tend to condone violence, but will reinforce that there is more than violence. And who knows, we could also establish the impression that Jos is peaceful, after all.

I will not forget to mention Akachukwu Chukwuemeka, in whose house we lived while at Abuja. I have been asked to state that we fulfilled a residency there, in Weird World Studios. He is a visual artist; his house is filled with his paintings – and I speak of a large house, with two wings, complete with all the fittings and furnishings an artist will crave for. His generosity is stunning, his open-handedness. We owe him more than just the following words: Thank you!

I end with a poem:

You too can be part of our speaking
Our seeing
This temerity
Shameless rendering
Of memories, existences
Microtones, gamuts,

I tell you this:
You too can be part
Yes, you.