Yetunde Babaeko is an advertising photographer. She was raised in Germany. When she came to Nigeria for a six month internship, she found that there was a gap that needed to be bridged in that genre of photography. She also discovered that there was a demand for it.
So she quickly ran back to Germany, picked up her things and bade them goodbye.
Today, not only has she carved a niche for herself in commercial advertising, she has also established a thriving photography studio where she trains budding photographers
Why did you choose photography?
I studied advertising photography in Germany. My plan was to be in Nigeria for six months for my internship but things turned out differently. Overseas, there are many advertising photographers. When I came here, I saw that there was a gap and a demand. I saw a niche in Nigeria. In 2004, there were many advertising agencies that were doing great but they didn’t have advertising photographers. So, I just jumped in and started working from home.
First, I interned with SA Studios where I worked for the six months internship period. After that, I went from one ad agency to the other. I met a lot of potential clients in those six months. I decided to stay in Nigeria. I quickly went to Germany, packed my things, tidied up and returned to Nigeria. I started working from home as a freelance photographer. I had no studio so I was going to meet people in their various places. I did more of family shoots, video shoots and covered events.
Once in a while, I would transform a living room into a studio but I realized that I couldn’t continue like that. I managed to rent a studio two or three years later. The idea was also to start the studio but not with my name
I wanted it to be a neutral place. I wanted it to be an entity where photographers can come together and work. I didn’t want people to expect me to always be there because also I am a mother and I can’t do everything by myself.
So, I called it Camara Studios and hopefully a few years down the line there would be some branches and franchise.
Later on, I also wanted to establish myself as an artist. I decided that there should be a face to it and so I started doing some more artistic works that fulfill me as an artist. I realized that that this is not something I can infuse with Camara Studios, because in Camara Studios, you have the family shoots, commercial works and advertising agencies, and now all of a sudden, there were arts works. I thought it didn’t fit in. It is not good to mix up things. I have been able to do some exhibitions. I have worked with organizations, charities and NGOs as an artist. But I still keep my photography studio where my photographers work while I supervise.
For a person wanting to go in this line of business, what do you need to set up apart from education?
What I always tell people who want to go into photography is first of all is to analyze. You have to do some self-reflection on who you are, what you love to do and that will determine what you need. There are different aspects to photography. There is documentary photography, advertising photography, event photography and family photography. These aspects all have clear distinction in their operations. So, if you truly want to go into photography, you must determine and finalize on what kind of photographer you want to be.
I understand that you also train female photographers and have a lot of them working for you. Can you tell us about this?
Women in photography have their struggles and peculiar challenges. I am aware of these and that is why I have always liked to work with women. In the past, we have had workshops for women only and we got some backlash from men that felt discriminated but we didn’t care.
I felt that sometimes when women are together with men, they speak a different language. In photography, men are more technical while women focus on emotions. So, a lot of time, women are overruled by men in the industry. It was great organizing these workshops and working with them.
You work with children and want to catch them young. What are some of the things you have done with children?
Funny enough, I don’t know what it is. People keep asking and I would say send them over but I think it is also a bit of time. It is difficult with children. They are supposed to do your homework after school and you need to drive them around because they cannot come here all by themselves. I think it isn’t just the infrastructure that makes it. It is a bit difficult for the children and working with them.
You are of mixed background, Nigeria and Germany. How was it like merging the two cultures through the eyes of the lens?
Coming from Germany, it is quite interesting and also an advantage. Most of the things, I see from fresh perspective. I had never seen somebody frying things by the roadside or seen chickens running around.
Meanwhile, these things are normal for you. For me, it was totally strange and I was just taking pictures of people running on the street. And people said that the way I captured these things added a sort of fresh perspective to it. It helps to enter a place with a fresh eye. I had an exhibition in 2013 called Itan .
It was a chronicle of what shocked me when I initially came to Nigeria and the way Nigerians marry religion. I am talking about Christianity and fetish belief. I was surprised at how they can put everything under one heart. When I traveled to the villages, I saw that on Sundays people would go to church in the morning but later sacrifice chicken on a mountain.
That was totally strange to me. And out of that and all the stories about mammy water and babalawo, I created a body of work that was inspired from that. I was inspired by that by the culture. What people take for granted in Nigeria, I recreated it in my photography, Itan. Lagos provides a backdrop for creativity and I have no regret coming into Nigeria. It is a very interesting place and the motivation that is going on here. I don’t think I would have got that in Germany.
How do people perceive these works when you take them outside and how do they react to some of these images?
They love it. Foreigners are actually the ones who buy most of the works. I have curators here that set up exhibitions. Unfortunately, most of the clients and the people who acquire artworks are still expatriates. Some Nigerians definitely appreciate art but majority expatriates.
There was a time, Africans weren’t proud of their one in music and fashion. There is a consciousness now, where everything African is given a pride of place. if you are talking to photographers on how to make impressions when they are exhibiting abroad, what are the things they should look out for to capture the interest of the outside world?
It is a new era. Like you said that before we would go out outside and buy all the expensive things from foreign labels and spend our money on international products, now, we are proudly African, It is a new vibe and high time, we began to place value on what is ours.
I also think that the expatriates are encouraging us to do that. For instance, they listen to us speaking to our children and they wonder why are you speaking English to your children, shouldn’t you be speaking your native language to them. A lot of foreigners are asking us that. So, I encourage everybody to jump on this train because other countries are not doing it differently. They put themselves first. We also have to learn to put ourselves first.
What is your project for 2019?
I have a project with an NGO. We are expecting to hold an exhibition in July, 2019. Camara Studios is going into videography and music video and all that. As a photographer it is the next thing to do.
Have your works been shown on international art platforms?
I haven’t featured on any international art platform, per se but I have been online. America and Germany have exhibited my works.
Where are some of the interesting places you have travelled to?
I have been to Umuahia. I have travelled to Enugu, on a long project. We go to different cities to cover some events. That was amazing as well. Sokoto was fun and the farthest I think I have gone, so far. I would like to do Jos, but because of the unrest there, I am just taking my time
Two years ago you started Mara Models. How has it been?
I am not a model. As a photo studio owner, we always have models coming in. We deal with models. It is either because we need them for a job or they want to shoot their portfolios.
They are always here. We are not a modeling agency either. We don’t have contracts involving these models rather we work with them whenever we have jobs. We also help to groom and put them in the jobs. We have professional trainings and workshop with them. We only just try to keep good relationships with them
Has it been what you expected?
Yes, it has been good because a lot of time we have clients asking us to give them recommendation as photographers on particular models who would best for some jobs
What makes a good photograph?
I think sharpness, composition and colours make a good photograph. Naturally, if somebody looks at your picture longer than 10 to 20 seconds, you would know that it is a good picture. If it brings some message across to the person and engages his attention longer, what it simply means is that it is a good photograph. A totally blurred image can still be a good image if the message comes across, then you can start to build a conversation with the spectators.
One area of photography that people mostly engage in now is the pre-wedding shoot. Do you see that sector as lucrative?
Yes, weddings, especially, in Nigeria will never go out of style. People will always engage photographers for their weddings. There is nothing to fear about that. It is not artistry-minded.
I can see that wedding photographers keep reinventing themselves, their styles, their products and what they can offer after the wedding to the clients both before and after the wedding. They are highly creative and I admire them.