Born to click
Andrew Esiebo is in love with photography. In fact, it was love at first sight from the moment the 33-year-old freelance photographer got his first camera as a gift at a tender age. He knew immediately it was the way to go.
But he had to bide his time. His parents didn’t want him lugging cameras for a living so he had to wait until he became independent to live his dream. In the meantime, he set about preparing himself by reading books on photography and relating online with a mentor based in the US.
The member of Black Box, a Lagos-based photography collective, later attended the International Institute of Journalism, Ibadan, before taking up employment with the French Institute for Research in Africa at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. However, the nine-to-five job couldn’t quench his love for photography.
“The job didn’t stop me from pursuing my passion; in between work, I still had time for photography. I made sure I took my leave towards events for my art. Most times, after collecting my salary, I use it for travelling around the country to take landscape images. It is more fun to me than any other thing,” he said.
It was during these trips around Nigeria that he built an impressive body of work including landscape images of Akure, Kano and Enugu. He also has captivating portraits of peoples and cultures of Nigeria.
After years of deciding whether to stay on to enjoy the comfort of a monthly paid job or fully commit to his art, Esiebo chose the latter in 2006 and he has not looked back since. Fate, it appeared, also intervened.
“There was this big company in Spain who wanted to do a photography book on Nigerian cultures and they approached me to be their fixer in Nigeria, not their photographer. They intended to bring in their own photographer but I showed them my archive. When they saw it, they were impressed and immediately decided to hire me as the only photographer for the big job.”
The assignment turned out to be his much-needed break as it took him around the country for three months.
“The company bought me high-tech equipment and computer; it was a big turnaround for me. After this, I didn’t see any reason why I will still be in paid employment.”
But like Oliver Twist, Esiebo wanted more. He wanted international exposure and went about applying for grants. He got one to study in Paris, France for six months in 2007 and another in England. He spent six months developing projects in photography which earned him international renown.
The artist, who loves travelling, disclosed that his hobby has also boosted his art. “I travel a lot. This, I think, has helped my photography even before I started freelancing. Then I used to take students on excursions to places like Ghana and Togo. Photography and travelling are what I really enjoy. There is no better thing than doing what one loves. I have been to countries including France, South Africa, Brazil, and lots more.”
Though he travels a lot, Esiebo doesn’t take his family for granted and always makes sure to incorporate them in his schedule. “I love my family and they understand the kind of job I do. Anytime I am in Nigeria, I make sure I spend enough time with them. They don’t suffer at the expense of my job; both my family and photography are well-balanced.”
The passionate photographer is also committed to letting the public enjoy his art through exhibitions. “Since 2006, I have been deeply involved in various exhibitions both inside Nigeria and outside. I do a minimum of three exhibitions per year. Most of them are largely from abroad. I am always on the road.”
Though a freelance artist, Esiebo enjoys sponsorships from various organisations that appreciate his works. He has also benefited from several international trainings and has given talks and lectures at the Goldsmith University, University of Lagos and the Wits University in South Africa
Living on art
The man who sees photography as an art and not a commercial venture believes that “an artist should be able to make a living out of his art, no matter how.” Consequently, he covers weddings and other social events whenever he has an opportunity. “This, at least, keeps me going. I work for production companies who have at various times handled events, including Koko Concert, Rhythm Unplugged and Akon’s concert in Kwara State. I worked for ARISE magazine also.”
Though he has no regrets, Esiebo has a secret wish: that he had studied photography formally. Nonetheless, he is happy photography is growing in Nigeria, even if it is not offered as a course in tertiary institutions. “Photography is growing in Nigeria; people are no longer ashamed to be known as photographers. This is a big step,” he reiterated.
He however notes that photographers can do with government assistance. “Government should see it as a responsibility to give grants and funds to aspiring photographers. There should be a school of photography for upcoming artists; this will go a long way.”
One of Esiebo’s ambitions is to build a communication empire where all art forms including advertising, music and theatre will be used to positively impact people. As to when the empire will be set up, “It may be 50, 20 and in two years time. Only God can determine that.”