On a Sunday morning, while attending church service in Leeds, United Kingdom. A young Slyvanus Oddy Oboh was inadvertently handed a camera to take a few photos of the congregants; “My photography journey started right there in the house of the lord, to this day, I still feel like I was anointed to be a photographer.” He said.
Years later, he saved a month’s worth of Salary from his first job, purchased a Sony A37 (About $550) in July 2012, an SLT-style camera, and immediately delved into photography. He would contact local photographers, request meet-ups, pay for coffee and soak in all their insights about the ins and outs of the industry. He was thirsty to learn, and as inspiration is available everywhere these days, He doubled his efforts and went online; scouted, and followed a bunch of fashion photographers on Instagram – he was inspired by photographers such as New York Based Brandon Woelfel and Jamaican Photographer; Adrian Mcdonald’s.
His yearning to learn the ins and outs of fashion photography was also fueled by an inspiration to represent his traditional fashion and culture in his work, ” The kingdom of Benin still lingers on even as Nigeria modernizes, our people will always be connected to its relics, modes of dressing and history. I knew I had a duty to capture and share its vibrancy in every photo.” Oddy emphasized.
He kickstarted his fashion photography business in 2019. A journey that would see the eager Nigerian creator master the reigns of infusing Afro-centric fashion in every photo. Overcoming challenges to steadily create stunning portraits, never has African fashion been so gracefully presented.
In his first-ever media feature, 32-year-old; Oddy Oboh spoke to Vazi Couture about his photography journey in Benin, Edo State – Nigeria; the west-African country that is known for its oil more than its photographers, and his mission to ensure African Fashion is globally recognized.
1. Fashion Photography.
VAZI COUTURE; How do you manage your operations? Do you have a team to assist with the logistics?
ODDY; On operations, my work is divided into portrait photography and weddings; for the weddings, we shoot the prewedding, bridal showers, and the wedding; whether it is a church wedding or a traditional wedding. The logistics for portrait photography are not as demanding as those of wedding photography. For the portraits, I enlist the help of a stylist or make-up artist depending on the project’s needs and the client’s budget. On the other side wedding, photography is a lot more demanding, I have a partner; Harrison Igiehon, and a team that may include up to 3 photographers for stills and a team of 4 videographers. The number fluctuates depending on the client’s requests, as mostly is the case with traditional weddings which tend to be more extravagant.
How do you monetize your craft and what are some of your revenue streams from photography?
In order to get the most out of my work, I have diversified my earnings to include streams from Client bookings on personal photography projects, collaborations with models and brands, wedding production packages that include videography and full coverage and consultancy to connect clients with my network of stylists, make up artists and respond to any project queries they may have.
Do you incur expenses, in operations, administration and equipment upgrade, and maintenance, break it down for us?
Yes, I do, as with any business, photography also incurs expenses on operations. For equipment we have to spend on live streaming equipment such as video cards, routers, and laptops for clients who may request to have their weddings and functions broadcasted to audiences, there are also costs associated with photography such as additional camera lenses, lights, and backdrops. I also have to facilitate the teams I work with in productions, and the people I collaborate with on social media projects. Administratively I have to pay for operating licenses and access to some venues. There are also miscellaneous costs such as car repairs especially when we venture to locations with dilapidated roads.
What are some of the platforms where you exhibit your art and photos?
I prefer to grow on a platform at a time rather than scatter across every social and exhibition platform, therefore I use Instagram and Facebook to reach my audience.
Have you taken any courses in finance, administration, fashion styling, color grading, or any other areas of focus that have been helpful in your craft?
As a creator one of the most vital things to do is to keep broadening your skills and knowledge base, for instance, I practice and set aside 30 minutes every day for research on color grading and new editing skills for photography. Education-wise, I have a masters in Finance, which comes in handy when managing operations and finances.
What are some of the challenges you experience running a photography business/ operation as a photographer in Lagos and Africa by extension?
There are numerous challenges we face as photographers in West Africa, including the threat of insecurity by rebels, gangs, and cartels who operate entire territories. Photographers are sometimes forced to pay these gangs to operate and access certain regions and locations. Another challenge lies in the bureaucracy we experience to acquire licenses and permits from township councils that suffer from systemic corruption and extortionists.
Nigeria also has numerous superstitions and taboos which may restrict certain photography concepts, and shoot locations that have been branded as voodoo hotspots. We also have terrible infrastructure here, especially the roads, this adds to our overhead as we pile up repair bills for our car it also means we have to hire or acquire an all-terrain vehicle to transverse shooting locations.
The bigger, more philosophical challenge is the one surrounding the perception of our own culture, a growing number of African photographers prefer more western-inspired photography which connects better with global audiences at the expense of their own tradition and cultural representation something that has seen our own original art forms deteriorate and fail to stand out competitively.
What is the best thing about being a photographer in Nigeria?
The vibrancy and pride of the West-African culture is infectious, people love their traditions and love to incorporate them into their clothing, food, materials, and general aesthetics. Here in Benin the Old Kingdom still lingers to date, from its carvings, brass, and ivory accessories, it presents magnificent locations to shoot from, including museums, heritage centers, and historic places. There is also an abundance of traditional outfitters, regalia, and stylists. The inspiration for the old never dries out.
What are some of the awards you have scooped as a photographer? Have you been featured in any publications and if yes what was the impact of the said feature?
Sadly I have not won any photography awards, I have had my work mentioned in online-based publications however this is my first in-depth feature.
2. Wedding Photography.
What is the Brand Jeriah weddings?
It’s a segment of our photography business where my partner and I cover both contemporary and traditional weddings through photography and videography.
Do you think weddings are a mirror of African fashion and how do weddings influence fashion trends and photography trends in your country?
Weddings are definitely exhibitors of a culture, for instance, the traditional weddings in my country and generally across western Africa are explosions of color, extravagance, finesse, and craftmanship. Every wedding adds its own touch and elevates our cultural and traditional fashion appeal, and the best part is audiences globally are taking notice. Contemporary weddings on their part show a more chic and artsy side of African fashion which can compete and be noticed by high fashion enthusiasts.
What are some of the logistics involved in Wedding photography; in terms of teams, equipment, production, and post-production?
The first step is to meet with the client and go over the details for the specific wedding, then there’s a pre-wedding, the main wedding, and a reception. We plan all the details, assemble a team, inspect the equipment, and if there’s a need; we hire additional equipment. The team will then arrive at the venue and each member will handle their specific bits before we meet to aggregate the content and begin post-production. During post-production; editing and grading will be custom to the client’s desires.
When did you venture into wedding photography and what was the motivation behind it?
I got into wedding photography in 2018, I needed an additional source of income and a source of content especially since through traditional weddings, I could further showcase my culture and fashion.
How do acquire clients and how much do you charge, is it a profitable venture?
Covering weddings can be profitable, the amount we charge depends on the client’s needs and specified budget, that’s why it’s important to be a good negotiator so that the payment you settle on is able to cover the day’s expenses and pay the team. Normally I acquire clients through Instagram, through exposure from influencers I’ve worked with, and referrals from former clients.
What would you advise young photographers who wish to venture into Fashion Photography with an eye for native cultural representation in their crafts?
To get started, they should study their culture, they can do this by following photographers in their own countries; carefully studying their images analyzing the traditional styling tenets, and expanding this interest to stylists, designers, and influencers who are passionate about African culture and traditions. The youngsters also have to learn how to engage their audiences through polls, updates, and revealing some of their content creation process behind the scenes.
It is also vital to learn how to associate and interact with people, I would recommend reading “How to make friends and influence people”, a book by Dale Carnegie to get more ‘people skills’. Along with that, young photographers should also learn how to manage teams, and projects and acquire technical skills such as photo editing and using various photography equipment.
Editor’s Note; This article appears in Pacemakers– A list of African creatives impacting the continent’s fashion social sustainability. An in-depth version of this feature will be published in our forthcoming magazine.