By Christine Onwuachumba
Photography has gone beyond just click and run. It is an integral unit of the digital world. Unlike what it was before, it is now more sophisticated and lucrative. Professionalism and passion are the hallmarks of modern photography and one needs a certain driving passion to stay on top of the game.
Yetunde Ayeni Babaeko is head of Camara Studios. Last week, she launched the modelling arm of her business, Mara Models, in Lagos.
In this interview, she talks to Daily Sun about the need to encourage young people to take up photography as a profession and how best to help them explore their potential.
How did your passion for photography start?
I was always a creative person in school. I would either be drawing or doing arts and craft, especially things you could do with the hands. I was very active in it and, at a point, I did a photography course in school.
After my A-levels, I wanted to become a graphic artist. I looked around, but when I applied to different offices, they would tell me that they didn’t have space for a graphic artist but only for a photographer. There was always space for a photographer. That was in Germany where I grew up. I was young and I did photography in school and enjoyed it. So I said let me just do that.
Would you say being creative runs in the family?
Yes. My grandfather always had a camera. I know he influenced me when it comes to photography. In fact, my first camera came from my grandfather.
How long have you been in this line of business?
I started photography professionally when I was about 22 years old. And I have been doing this for 15 years.
Let’s compare when you started and now, what has changed ?
Of course, back then, when I started with the analogue camera and analogue films, I was doing mostly advertising photography in Germany. Then I moved back to Nigeria and continued as a photographer. That was definitely a big step for me. From there, in 2004, till now, I would say there is a big difference.
First of all, there are more professional photographers today. Of course, everything is digital now. All of us need more equipment, have to be professionally equipped. We have to be more creative and faster because the demands of the client have changed. The expectation of the client has changed from then and now. A lot has changed.
What were the initial challenges?
When I started back then, the advantage was that I was the only advertising photographer. I started advertising photography in Germany and when I got here, I worked with some agencies. Back then, I was working with a couple of agencies. I was working with all these agencies and other photographers picked it up. But I think that I had a mission in advertising photography, which was a good thing. The major challenge was poor power supply, infrastructure, importation of equipment as an advertising photographer were all difficult. Even now, I am still not equipped the way I would love to. I would have loved to have more equipment. I would love to have more space but we cannot afford it now.
Do you have young people under your mentorship?
Yes, right now I have some young people that I am mentoring. They come and go. When new people come in, others are leaving. It is fun and because they also bring ideas we all enjoy the creativity because, sometimes, I get carried away with my arts, family and my kids. It is interesting as these young people know all the corners in Lagos. They know what is happening in the city and it is always interesting working with them.
What is your typical day like?
My typical day as a photographer, as a self-employed woman and a mother is interesting. In the morning, you have to get the kids ready, then you come into the studio to have a shoot, post-production or meeting clients. Then normally by 2pm I have to go and pick the kids once again. If I am busy, I can come back to the studio, If not, I would continue working from home. So, it is the balancing of so many things.
What is motherhood like?
It is fantastic and can be stressful but being a mother is something that I live for. It is fulfilling and I enjoy it to the core. It’s something that I need to do.
What role does your husband play in your inspiration?
My husband and I actually run two businesses that are actually alike, that go hand-in-hand. But at the same time, we also leave each other alone and give each other space. We compliment and respect one another’s business and no one forces anything on the other person.
He is in advertising and I am in advertising photography. Definitely, we give each other advice, feedbacks on things we feel are going wrong or could be better, but he hardly comes to the studio. I also go to his office once in a while. If we have issues, we talk about them but we don’t actively get involved that much.
Did you meet your husband on the job?
Yes, we did. Back then in 2003 at Prima Garnet. That was the first time we met. I was going to Prima Garnet to advertise our business as a photographer and he was working there.
Was it love at first sight?
Yes, it was definitely something that was worth following up. My father is from Ekiti State, my maiden name is Ayeni and my mum is German.
Do you speak the Yoruba language ?
No! I tried to pick it up but I would rather say I can’t speak it, before you ask me to say something in Yoruba.
Let’s talk about some memorable moments on the job.
There are so many jobs that I really did enjoy. But I think my most cherished goes beyond the arts, especially when I do a project, like the Breast Cancer Survivors. It was a project that came more from my initiative with the breast cancer organisation. I did another one with the Society of Performing Arts for dancers. We took dancers to different parts of Lagos and had to work on the exhibitions.
That is what really keeps me going and what I look forward to. There are interesting jobs and also jobs that fulfil my days. But there is nothing compared to doing your own art.
You mentioned the breast cancer project, what inspired the idea?
It was a coincidence that I met this breast cancer organisation based in Lagos. I proposed the idea and said let’s do a photography exhibition to shed light on the disease. It was tough because there were not many volunteers. In Nigeria, women are still trying to keep to themselves but we were able to pull it off. It was a nice exhibition.
What do you consider as the greatest influence in your life?
There are so many people, I don’t think I can pinpoint a particular person. Although my parents were the first to come up to my mind, but then there are also my husband and my kids. I left Germany in 2003 and I came here and diving into Nigeria was like diving into a whole new world, where I needed other people to be part of my life. Of course, my mum and my dad are still there and they are still very important.
But when it comes to the part in Nigeria, they didn’t play that kind of a great role.
Are there other things that occupy your time apart from photography?
I am a child of many things. If it is not photography, it is sports, scuba driving, baking, cooking and more. For sports, I work out a lot. I have a gym in the house. I play tennis and I am always very active. Then baking is something I just started for myself. I have a sweet tooth.
Do you have mentors in your career?
Every year, when I go back to Germany, I try to do workshops and still learn because photography is something you never stop learning about. You improve yourself, even as a professional photographer, I don’t see any shame in it, if you find other photographers to be mentored.
Here in Nigeria, I remembered that we formed a group of photographers and we met on a regular basis. We found that there was no togetherness with photographers. Up till today, they are still very dear to me and they are the first group of people that I would call up when I have issues.
We kept meeting and strategising on how to take photography forward in Nigeria and how to take it to the next level, give photographers more rights.
What do you think about the craze for selfies that is common these days ?
I think it is part of life. It is part of who we are. We are all vain to a certain extent and taking selfies is about looking out for yourself in a different way. Also, manipulating your images by filter is a sort of experimenting, giving yourself a bit of a boost and not necessarily a bad thing. It is still a form of visual communication and expressing yourself. It also helps people to be conscious of how they look.
Let’s also talk about surviving in a recession. How has it affected photography ?
I hear people say recession is over but I am still feeling it. Photography is not a necessity. When it comes to pure surviving, this is something that people put secondary and so we feel it. Also, the exchange rate means that everything has doubled or tripled in terms of prices for our equipment.
Normally, we try to upgrade and this year we had to stretch it a bit. We just need to work harder and find more clients. As much as we complain, it won’t go. We just have to go through it. All the things that I do are photography-related. I would not start something that is totally different.
How would you assess the modelling sector at the moment?
We definitely have talents here.We only need to groom them more professionally. What we concentrate on more is not the high glamour model but we are working more on the advertising industry. These are models that can fit into products.
Interestingly, we find that more people are interested in this because the pay is much better than working on runways and going out in the night, stressing yourself and the risk is higher. Sadly, they are just getting peanuts because the fashion industry is having problems and it is all intertwined. I believe that the advertising industry is good for the next door kind of models that we have and it is a bit more lucrative.
If you had to advice Nigerian women, what would you tell them?
No man or woman is an Island. You can’t do it on your own. We always think that you have to be a superwoman and want to do things by ourselves. In a city like Lagos, working and raising children without any help as such is not possible. It is good to accept help from people that you trust.
Then this guilty conscience that we always have that you are neglecting one side. Yes, it would always be there but don’t beat yourselves up over it. Just try and spend a couple of hours with your children. It may not be a full day but spend quality time with them and they would appreciate it. That way, you would see that they are not lacking in anything.
How do you relax or take a break from work?
I love going on holidays. That is something that my husband and I have been able to sustain over the years. I don’t think that there has been a year that we have not gone on holiday. It doesn’t have to be something expensive. Sometimes, it could also be somewhere in Lagos. We take a break, move into a hotel or a beach resort. Since I have family in Germany, our main destination is usually in Germany.
People say Nigerian men are not romantic. How would you describe your husband?
Yes, he is. However, I am not the romantic type. I care more about loyalty, quality time, trustworthiness and a bit of attention. It doesn’t have to be too much but somebody that you can always rely on. Those are the things that I look out for and I know that my husband can give me. I don’t need the romantic type per se.
What type of books do you like reading?
I love suspense, thrillers, and the last book I just read was “The Girl On the Train.” That was the best thriller that I have ever read. Once in a while, I do love stories, if they are well written, not too cheesy. I also love going to the movies. I am also having a group exhibition that I am excited about. I am working on a workshop for children on photography. It is a way of catching them young.