Prior to becoming the veteran documenter of Nigeria in images that he is today, ‘Dayo Adedayo started out as a social events, then portrait photographer capturing weddings, events, societal big wigs until boredom and the desire to challenge the negative images and narratives about Nigeria veered him to his life’s calling.
Eighteen years since his plunge into documentary photography, he has published fifteen photo books on Nigeria and several states, including his two bestsellers Nigeria 2.0 and Yoruba Proverbs, and soon to be published photobooks on Abuja and Rivers State, among others.
His work has taken him across 774 local governments and over 50 countries. His images are watermarked on Nigeria’s ePassport and graces the 2014 N100 note produced to mark Nigeria’s centenary.
What is Documentary Photography?
Documentary photography is the act of documenting a particular subject. You might want to document a day in your life and have someone follow you around in a day to document that. I may want to go about and document the life of a rabbit. Generally, it is about documenting a particular subject. We use it chronicle things or events, or an environment, which are relevant.
We all take pictures, but while it’s just a picture while you are taking it, tomorrow, it is no longer a picture, it is a document, because it can be used in a court of law. For instance, you and I may be together now, and someone randomly takes our picture. Your pictures have what is called metadata, which tells the time, date and day etc the photo was taken. And this can be accessed even in our mobile phone. One year down the line, someone says Dayo committed murder at that particular time we were together, while I wasn’t around the place where the murder occurred. That picture is now an evidence that will be taken to the court, of which the metadata will be investigated as proof that Dayo was not in the scene of murder. You see, it is no longer a picture but a document. That is what documentary photography does. It is to record events and document issues. Instead of using the word document, we use the word record. So, I am recording Nigeria.
Tools for documentary photography include education. I am an advocate of education. No matter what you do in life try to get an education (or get trained on the subject). Even if you pick up photography, try to get an education on the subject. Don’t say, “I know how to take pictures, so I am now a photographer. No.” Once you are trained in your art or craft, it is a different ball game entirely. And the way you would craft what you are doing will be different. All you need is your brain.
Second tool is read. Read, read and read. There can never be too much reading. Reading broadens your mind, expands your horizon, and enables you see things from different perspectives.
What are the inherent opportunities in documentary photography?
The opportunities are enormous, because we have not even started scratching the surface of the opportunities in documentary photography. For instance, a typical Nigerian food, culture etc. these are things we can document or record photographically. The only problem therein is the capital to do the work, because nobody will give you the money to do this, and create a body of work. Unfortunately, people take one or two pictures and call it documentary photography. You need to have a body of work or a serious body of works to show that you are at the level of a documentary photography. But the most difficult aspect, is the capital outflow to do the work. Because while you are doing that, you need to figure out how to feed yourself and take care of your logistics. Where that will come from I don’t know. I am not a commerce expert but you have to figure out a way to do what you have to do.
How do Nigerians position themselves to benefit from these opportunities?
You can do anything legal to make money. You can become a labourer, a bus conductor, or a taxi driver just to raise capital. You don’t have to do anything dodgy to start. Let me put it this way, most of the people shouting “No, jobs” are unemployable. There are so many available jobs but you cannot find the right people to do them. There are opportunities in the construction sector at the moment, but people don’t want to get their hands dirty. But people don’t want to get their hands dirty, they think life is a piece of cake where you can make easy money. Get your hands dirty doing legitimate work or labour to make money and once you have done that, you have your story. We all have our stories of struggles to tell. We were not all born with silver spoons. Go out and get your money legitimately. Because whatever you do in life will come back to haunt you. If you are doing something illegal, it will come back to haunt you. That’s when you will know there is karma.
With capital in hand, the next step is getting the equipment and training. Thank God for technology. Today’s generation of Nigerians are very lucky. We were not so lucky. They have the internet and YouTube to search for whatever they want. Anything you want to do you can get on the internet. Then, get the equipment. And you don’t have to get the best. It’s like buying a pot for N1million and another for N1000. If you don’t know how to cook, your N1million pot cannot cook for you. And you don’t have to get the best, because it is not your camera that takes the photo but your brain. It is images that you put into the camera that helps you get what you are looking for.