Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Photographic Drama of Survival

Emmanuel Iduma in conversation with Ray-Daniels Okeugo on his project for Invisible Borders

Foreman 1 - Jos
Foreman 2 - Abuja

Emmanuel: What is the overall context of your project?

Ray-Daniels: If you go back to remember the things old members of Invisible Borders told you, if you look at it, you find out that they were exhibiting some fear of the unknown. We heard a lot of things about Tchad, but you can tell by the experience we met in Tchad (even though there was an agitation when you pick up your camera) Tchad was more fun than the stories told about it. And look at Sudan, Sudan is beautiful and peaceful, and the people are accommodating. They tell you to feel at home, that you are one with them. So, using what we met here to compare with what we heard, they are two different things. In everything we do, everyone takes some precaution. In our daily dealings, I feel we exhibit some fears that are unnecessary. So, I use the hard-hat to illustrate it, because it is used in construction locations, and helmets are used on bikes. I use hard-hats and helmets to illustrate that fear of uncertainty that goes on through people’s mind in things we do.

Foreman 3  - Jos
Foreman 4 - Jos
It seems you speak about the universality of risk; risk is universal, and everybody is exposed to one form of risk or the other. Is this assumption correct? Do you think we should direct some attention to the presence of risk in our lives?

You are right when you say risk is universal. But I don’t think we should concentrate on risk because there is a certain amount of risk in everything we do. If you concentrate on it, it will distract you from whatever thing you are gunning for. I feel we should concentrate on our goals. It is riskier not to take a risk.

Foreman 8 - Gamboru-Ngala
Foreman 10 - N'djamena
 That’s profound, and it leads to a second consideration. You know, in our world, and in all these places we’ve been travelling through, we can look for an element of survival. I think that when people begin to just live their lives on the assumption that it is more riskier not to take a risk, they are basically saying, “when I am in the world, living is about survival.” Whether or not we are in war zones or conflict situations or whatever form of risk the media tries to hyperbolize, the point is that we are, as humans, always in a quest for survival, and we have pledged our lives to survive. I think that is also important in the sense of what you are working on. Do you agree with this?

Definitely, I agree. I feel those who are running away from taking risks are not prepared to survive, and they are existing and not living. If you take risks, those risks would lead to your survival. You find out that when you came here, you just survived those fears that the media and those that heard from the media elaborated. I consider that taking the risk of entering into these crises zones lead to our survival.

Foreman 11 - N'djamena
Finally, in your project there is some element of drama. It is interesting to see how you have been able to fuse your acting background into your photography career. Can you let me in on how you have proceeded with defining your subject and getting your subject to agree to be your character in this (photographic) movie of risk and survival you are staging?

Two things led to how I presented my ideas – my character and my profession. My character (I play a lot) and my other profession (I am an actor). I have been in some (Invisible Borders) presentation where works were shown. When it came to my work, you see the otherwise quiet audience laughing. This is because I try to dramatize in my work. Art, I believe, is all about having fun. Actors say that acting is all about having fun and being paid for having fun. Presenting my ideas should not be in a manner that make people feel as though they are attending a funeral. After laughing over what you saw, you ask yourself what does this mean, and you get the message, and that’s the reason why I dramatize my ideas. If you look at some of the situations in my work, you see that the images speak – how would someone making up wear a helmet? What is the person running away from? Watch out for more of my works. My project would be on for the next 20 or 30 years, because people cannot stop living. The project will get into all forms of life, and I will keep dramatizing it. I hope that younger photographers will pick up from where I stop.

I think this a convenient way to stop. I look forward to the exhilaration and introspection that will come from looking at your images. Hopefully, the project will not end with this trip, but will extend throughout your photography career. 

Foreman 13 - N'djamena