It isn’t very often that you see the city of Lagos void of it’s kaleidoscope of colours, extracted from the noise and yet steeped in poetry and rhythm. It sounds like the stuff of post apocalyptic zombie films. But photographer Logor Oluwamuyiwa or Logor as he is popularly known came to prominence through his black and white photographs documenting one of Africa’s most vibrant and chaotic cities. His Monochrome Lagos Project sees a distilled city showcasing lines and forms, landscapes becoming characters as much as the individuals in them. In many years to come the project seeks to avail itself as an archive of the metamorphosis of our metropolis; gentrified, dislocated and more.
Though a photographer in the age of the digital disruption, Logor was introduced to the wider public through a group exhibition titled Lagos;Hustle and hope curated by Adebola Rayo. Since then he has covered stories about communities living on dump sites in the Philippines and the Mirabel rape centre story for Aljazeera. He is currently showing at Re.Le gallery as part of the 2016 Young Contemporaries group exhibition. In this interview we talk about striping Lagos of its colour, visual poetry,migration and the aesthetic versus the didactic.
When I Look at your photographs, I get this sense that as an artist you are a bit of a lone ranger, you don’t want to be distracted. How important is stillness to you as an artist? How are you able to extract yourself from the noise?
My role as Photographer is to give a review, my review of the reality I partake in and the reality around me. It expects me to have some level of detachment as well as involvement. To enjoy this solo observation of the human carnival and equally produce satisfying quality work either for an observing audience, or myself. I may have to work alone. However I do enjoy collaborations.
Technically I am sort of a familiar entity in the lives of a lot of the people and places that I photograph but I can still exist in a bubble, that way I can photograph my world unstaged.
A friend and I were arguing about your images. He said he couldn’t understand how anyone could devoid Lagos of its colour. Though I felt quite the opposite. Because Lagos as a city is such an assault on the senses, the more reason to distill it of all noise and colour. What would be your response to this critique that shooting this city in Monochrome and making it devoid of colour is taking away an essential part of what the city is?
“There is a widespread assumption that if one is interested in the visual one must be limited to a technique..”
These are the starting lines of John Berger’s words when he described Paul Strands work. Paul took us visually to a place we have never seen before.
Monochrome Lagos is an attempt to pull this off amidst an established database of work that might argue differently, not because I am doing it first, but contemporarily engaging this growing metropolis.
Lagos has been creatively documented with a huge fascination for its vibrant colours both visually and contextually. This is a populated city of about 20million residents, famous for its manic move from a depressing zero to an impressive hundred in all its beauty . What I am trying to do is ask ,if I strip such a space of its vibrancy like the masters before me did but by reducing mine to a palette of strong contrasts of black and white tones, What will I find?” A study and a journey to new sights I suppose and a hopeful attempt to show something else too. With these Black and White photographs, these records, Monochrome Lagos offers us the sights of a number of places and people in such a way that our view of the – City Lagos – can be qualitatively extended.
You are a migrant to Lagos, How do you think that makes you see the city compared to people who have been immersed in it for so long?
Lagos has always fascinated me, considering where I was at that time in my life when I relocated – Lagos represented the place where dreams was possible without the hassle of a visa. The prospect of that made me hit the ground running and of course I had my fair share of its feistiness, but all of that excited me instead of scare me off. It was unreal to see life happen at that pace. Naturally I turned to poetry which was my go-to-hobby for appraising the world and my life. Poetry slows things down in its attempt to make sense in the shortest possible way, The average Lagosian is faster than that poem.
2015 was quite a meteoric year for you with over six exhibitions. Was it something deliberate or do you think a lot of it was serendipitous?
The opportunities that happened in 2015 were not deliberate and a lot of it can truly be credited to serendipity, most of my efforts were focused on the virtual sharing of the work which is primarily the objective for the project. The first exhibition was curated by a friend who had seen the photos online, however I was also showing a few individuals as well, so I guess all of that must have worked together resulting to an exciting series of other exhibitions and collaborations.
Photography is in many ways visual poetry. Looking at your images, I feel like Landscapes are as much characters as people. You sort of breathe life into them by not cluttering the image. What is the process like for you when capturing these images both psychologically and technically?
One of my favorite photographers of all time is Phillipe Halsman and he had some interesting advice to aid creating images which I try to take very seriously. Being as straightforward and clear with my message is very important. Once that is established, breaking the rules comes next. The hybrid of that discipline and rebellion either psychologically or technically is exciting for me. Humbling myself to learn the craft without sentiment or rush is also bound to create interesting images in any given space.
We both worked on the Mirabel Centre story together for Al Jazeera. A lot of the time street photographers are more enamored by the composition and fluidity of spaces. But with this assignment, you got to sit with me through interviews, which I can imagine would be a more full on visceral experience. I want to know if that process changed and altered you in anyway or even your work or its process?
The Mirabel Centre story would remain an important part of the work I have engaged in especially for the surprising and startling revelations about the society that I was exposed to. I had innocently walked in on a story that showed me a bigger picture and action exists beyond the aesthetic framing of an image, more can be done to raise awareness about social ills. I also learnt about the unassuming power of text and imagery. I definitely took my work, process and its possibilities much more serious after that story.
As a young and emerging photographer, do you feel any pressure to find your style or your voice and stick to particular interests or do you permit yourself room to try out new things and discover?
I wouldn’t refer to it as a pressure, but more like an anticipation for the journey. Youth is an exciting gift and talent is often misleading, my interest is mostly to make the best of the available time and create impactful work and that takes time. My approach with my creative expressions is a study of the world around me to help make sense of it for myself, helping me find a place in it. My contribution is fueled more by curiosity and enthusiasm than an attempt to make a statement. I like to tinker and experiment with ideas but I enjoy long term body of work the most. Most of all, I want to have a fulfilling time at this. You can’t have fun dancing on one spot, in my experience, Moonwalks are necessary, so is the split, if you get what I mean.
There is no pressure when it’s a journey embarked for self. Style and voice comes with time, besides no creative or creation are alike. Technically there is already a style and voice maturing.
You are a part of Re.Le gallery’s 2016 Young contemporaries’ exhibition. What do you think being a part of this group exhibition does for you and your work?
Re.Le gallery since it opened has given young artist opportunities to thrive and platforms to showcase alongside established names thus building confidence in the prospects of the contemporary arts in the country. To be highlighted and showcased with that collective is humbling feedback and a vote of confidence in my work. That invariably puts me in the right light to possible new opportunities, audiences and other important personnel that makes up the world of the arts as we know it.
What has been your biggest challenge as a photographer working in Nigeria?
My biggest challenge would be the peculiar troubles of shooting outdoors, although somedays, the ability to get away with the photos adds to the thrill but it could be a lot easier to focus on the work without the pressure of being too questioned or ultimately harassed.
Another challenge is the mindset towards the craft of photography. It will be fulfilling to find a lot of young photographers that are interested in photography as an art. However I am not averse to the entrepreneurial prospects of the craft I just wish there was a balance of some sort, which might have been encouraged in forms of grants and other support systems.
What are your plans for the Monochrome Lagos project and do you wonder if people will get tired?
Monochrome Lagos like the city in focus – its inexhaustible, everyday newer creative directions seem to form for the project but I am currently at a “creative collaboration” phase whereby a proper virtual platform will be created to fully reflect the dynamics of the project and also there is a plan to collaborate with other individuals who share common fascinations with the space to release a monthly downloadable PDF magazine. One that seeks and showcases literary collaborators curated as a digital photobook project. Working with poetry, essays, stories or whatever it is they’re inspired to write by the photographs from the Monochrome Lagos photography project. Although, inspiration for these pieces do not necessarily have to be limited to the photographs. The writers are free to write without constraints of photographs.
An archive of short time lapse films of significant aesthetics of the city will be created in the first quarter of 2016 and of course it will be in Monochrome. Other outdoor art intervention ideas are in the pipeline with potential collaborators as well. All of this will run concurrently with the usual daily documenting and virtual sharing.
As for people getting tired, I doubt if that will happen because like I said earlier the subject is inexhaustible, instead there will be an increase in audience followership – it is worth mentioning that the project is most importantly a muse and canvass relationship between myself and the space. So it is first off created for me and if I am not tired, then the show goes on regardless of audience.
What kind of stories are you hoping to work on?
I am hoping to work around an ambitious photo essay that studies the migration within the continent amongst countries especially the West African countries. Also stories on youth delinquency and females behind bars.
What are your hopes for the Future?
My hope is that I can continue to create fulfilling work while getting appropriate support and remunerations that will make the goals and prospects achievable.
What do you think people from Lagos take for granted?
Time. Too much of it is spent in unnecessary situations like Traffic.
I would like to know your thoughts on aesthetic and the didactic in Photography. Do you prefer one over the other or do you think either is more powerful or more important?
James McNeill Whistler once mentioned that “Art should be independent of all claptrap – should stand alone and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism and the like.”
“Art for art’s sake” affirmed that art was valuable as art, that artistic pursuits were their own justification and that art did not need moral justification – and indeed, was allowed to be morally neutral or subversive.
As liberating as the above might seem it limits the possibilities, If photography can be effectively used to push propaganda ideas as well as advertisements then it should be gladly utilized for positive agendas and causes. It will be hugely pretentious to hide behind the cloak of aesthetics alone.
My preference however stands with the didactic advantages, as my approach to photography is to study the world around me, and to add to it as much as I take from its aesthetics. Mirabel Centre story makes me very happy every time it crosses my mind. Priceless fulfilment came from the project and ironically it was the aesthetic arrangement of the photographs that worked well with the powerful text.
I think an understanding of both and clever application where each will be most effective or a mix is the way to go, besides I think I am too young in my career to pick sides entirely, I am still discovering.
Do you ever think of an audience while creating or is that thought something you divorce yourself from?
No I do not, it is humbling to see one forming since word got out about the Monochrome Lagos project and I seek and welcome reviews and advice but I learnt a long time ago to live from inside out than the other way. The idea is to take the audience on a journey to new sights and I think they will appreciate that themselves.
You can find more of his work on http://logorofafrica.tumblr.com