It really is no surprise that the Photography Essays featured in the exhibition Work In Progress currently being staged at the Thought Pyramid Art Centre in Lagos, are very creative and attractive beautiful visual stories; technically well-crafted and, stylistically individual in content and approach.

These photography essays are the works of Emeka Mbaebie, Samuel Dickson, Toju Eyesan, Israel Ophori, Mrs. Afolake Ogunbajo, Peter Obue, Gbemile Oluwatosin and Adeleke Adedipe; the eight participants/students who had the privilege to attend a unique first-of-its-kind Creative Photography Masterclass organised by the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Ogba, Lagos in collaboration with Great African Ventures, as from April 3RD 2018.

These lucky Nigerian photographers; some of them already established and others fairly new in the profession, were students of thirteen recognised and proven Nigerian master photographers – Tam Fiofori, Don Barber, Kelechi Amadi-Obi, Uche James Iroha, George Osodi, Hakeem Salaam, Godwin Anaebonam, Yetunde Ayeni Babaeko, Andrew Esiebo, Gbile Osadipe, Boye Ola, Femi Coker, David Asumah, Toye Gbade and Adolphus Opara – who shared their valuable knowledge and vast experience; in theory and outdoor-location sessions across the various genres of professional photography as well as the history of photography in Nigeria, and understanding the Intellectual Property, Copyright and Image licensing laws.

The significance and usefulness of this NIJ-Great African Ventures Creative Photography Masterclass are enormous; given the calibre of trainers involved, the course content and its appropriateness within the environment of professional photography training in Nigeria over the past one hundred years!

Bonny-born Sierra Leone-trained Jonathan Adagogo Green, unquestionably recognised as Nigeria’s first indigenous professional photographer worked as from the 1880s in what is now the Niger Delta of Nigeria. He laid down the mode of working for future professional photographers and established the apprenticeship hands-on system of training. The ripple effect of this system of training ensured that at the end of the forties there were hundreds of professional photographers across Nigeria.

As from the fifties right beyond the nineties some privileged Nigerians went abroad to study photography in tertiary institutions in Britain, Germany and the United States of America. To their credit, these Nigerians on their return trained many more professionals under the apprenticeship hands-on system; updating them and guiding them through the changes from the celluloid analogue era to the present digital/computer era of photography. Meanwhile the number of practising professional photographers in Nigeria now; young and old, male and female is conveniently in the multi-thousands across Nigeria.

For one of the oldest imported professions in Nigeria, it is surprising that photography unlike some other imported professions like accountancy, law, surveying, medicine, pharmacy to name a few, has not enjoyed the benefit of being taught at the 100-odd tertiary institutions in Nigeria today; except for a few like the Yaba College of Technology and the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, both in Lagos. There are a few private schools/workshops of photography.

As in every profession there is always the need for more training. So, the vast majority of the present generation of professional photographers in Nigeria have continued to be beneficiaries of the apprenticeship hands-one system of training. The adventurous few go to the internet to seek further and much-needed advanced training. Hence the prime need and importance of the three-month intensive NIJ-African Great Ventures Creative Photography Masterclass; which will hopefully be a continuous exercise!

Interestingly, the thirteen master photographers who were teachers were a mix of overseas-tertiary institution-trained and local apprenticeship hands-on-trained; with some of them beneficiaries of both systems of training. Their impact on the students was very clear and noticeable in the photographic essays exhibited by the students in WORK IN PROGRESS.

The essays were the works from independently-chosen documentary assignments by the students themselves, exploring diverse themes in various locations outside and around Lagos.

Samuel Dickson’s theme BUFF is a study of the amazing bodybuilding exercises undertaken by bouncers to attain their huge intimidating ‘perfect’ bodies rippling with muscles.

Leke Dipe’s SUNDAY LOOK is an interesting study of the sartorial fashion statements made by mostly female worshippers dressed-up in their Sunday-best in ‘religious spaces.’

THE HUNTER AND THE HUNTED by Emeka Mbaebie is an impressive in-depth project “throwing light on the hunting culture in Nigeria,” with an advocacy message about over-hunting, excessive bush meat consumption and the need to protect endangered species like the ant-eater.

Adefolake Ogunbajo took the video route with a touching human-angle study SPECIAL CHILDREN featuring Princewill Sotanmi, an intellectually-disabled 18 year old with the prospects of representing Nigeria in the 2019 Special Olympics in Dubai in 2019.

Gbemile Oluwatosin’s study on Agriculture PALM OIL PRODUCTION in Ikire, IITA, Ago Owu, Osun, investigates its production as well the uses of palm kernel and palm oil for food, medicinal and industrial purposes.

Israel Ophori, a dedicated and very observant visual chronicler of the degradation of the fragile environment of the crude oil-rich Niger Delta; in WOMEN AND CHILDREN OF OPOROMA has documented the struggles of the people of this area of Nigeria. His photograph of children innocently playing around an abandoned oil-well Christmas tree is subtle and damning.

THE CHILD AND EDUCATION SYSTEM by Obue Peter visually mocks the very poor state of ‘foundation’ education in Nigeria; aptly posing a bewildered boy in a run-down classroom.

BRAIN WASTE by Toju Eyesan is a visual wake-up call to prospective migrants to Europe, examining the sad realities that trained medical doctors might end up in Europe and the West as mere toilet-cleaners in their misguided search for instant wealth.

The eyes of these photographers have definitely been sharpened by their training and they in turn, are now better aware of the camera as a powerful tool of communication, and, have successfully focused their eyes on various areas of social commentary for our critical attention. They demonstrate the hard fact that photography must have some philosophy and purpose behind clicking the camera. This exhibition definitely deserves to be a photographic book!

MAT EBENEBO Lagos, 9th April, 2018.