Akhuemonkhan Olu Gbenga James, is one Nigerian unsung award winning professional photographer in far away Tuscany, Italy at the prestigious art exhibition organised by the Chianciano International Award for Digital and Photographic Art. A graduate of International Studies and Diplomacy from the Ambrose Alli University, Edo State, James stood tall when he won 1st Prize in photography and another Premio Di Merito award which was keenly contested for with other works from 100 participants in 30 countries. In an encounter with leadership weekend, he shared his experience with Patrick Ochoga.
Photographers and lovers of the art took time out in Benin City to celebrate World Photography day which is marked on the 19th of August every year in most parts of the world where the art is given centre stage. In Nigeria, however, there is no recorded history of the celebration of this form of art which dates back to more than a century.
The importance of photography from old to modern day cannot be over-emphasised in our contemporary environment as admirers and professional photographers in Benin City, Edo State took pupils between the ages of 12 and 18 on a photo-exhibition training tour of the city as part of activities to commemorate the world event for photographers.
The catch them young initiative tagged "The World Through My Eyes", a brain-child of a Nigerian based international award winning photographer, Akhuemonkhan Olu Gbenga James said the idea behind the project is aimed at preparing young people to be 21st century leaders through a process of community engagement and contemporary art.
The free training program, he noted, offered an opportunity for youths to be coached by acclaimed professionals and to have their works exhibited on international stages along other renowned photographers.
The organiser revealed to LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that the only way to sustain the culture of arts and it’s continuity is to impress on young minds what photography is about.
According to him, "as a photographer, I am celebrating it the way other photographers in the world would. It is a day to expose what you have joy and passion for. So, I’m celebrating mine by bringing my pupils out to the streets to have a feel and passion of photography."
He disclosed that putting all the pupils together was challenging in the beginning mostly because he had to submit flyers in schools inviting the young ones to enroll at no cost. "I had to go to schools to speak to students on photography. If we actually want to have better leaders, I think we should start from the teens and people of that age since they are usually very passionate about what they see and they imbibe such things easily. If we want to have a better world I think we must capture them young. For me, this is part of giving back to society what I have learnt over the years"
Recounting how he got into photography, he said he wanted to be a medical doctor as a teenager but noted that the call for the camera was stronger even when he could not afford a personal camera. However, fortune smiled on him when he was allowed to use a camera belonging to a family friend without any formal training. "It was a rough path but worth treading", he added.
Speaking on challenges while ascending the ladder, he further stressed that, "the challenges are enormous but the common one is finance to buy modern equipment. Photography is diverse and is much more than just taking a camera to snap people. Another challenge is getting people to appreciate it because a lot of people in our part of the world see photographers as school drop outs. Even the government needs to do a lot rather than pay rhetorics to arts, my reason for saying this is that, I think I should be one of those who have been honoured with a national award for having done the country proud but nobody shows interest. I was at the Chianciano International Award for Photography for Digital and Photographic Art at the Museo D ARTE DI Chianciano Terme, Tuscany, Italy in September, 2010.
I won first prize in photography; we were like 100 artists from 35 nations and to have won 1st prize is something that deserves commendation. If it were in other countries, that would have been appreciated."
While lamenting government’s lack of interest in recognising photography as a form of art, he noted that other nominees who contested from other countries had the support and backing of their governments. I paid my visa fee while some of my friends that came had their visas paid for by their governments but to God be the glory, I came back with the awards for 1st prize in photography. It was a beautiful experience because over there, if you turn a camera to the people, they will smile at you but you can’t find that here, the awareness is really not there.
Tourism cannot grow without photography and it needs to be encouraged. I keep telling people that tourist sights listed in developed countries are actually shrines of old deity but here, nobody wants to go into our shrines because of the way it is. We need to package our shrines to make them attractive. There are foreigners who want to come to Benin to look at our shrines but how many pictures of it do we have? We need to open them up for people to come and see", he concluded.