Ijora Badia, Lagos, Nigeria – 1997
(Before the advent of GSM phones in Nigeria)
Tayo woke up with a start! His eyes darted instantly like a pendulum clock around his room, as though unsure of where he was. Jumping out of his bed, he ran to where he kept his camera; and finding the device still intact, heaved a sigh of relief.
‘Thank God, it was just a dream!’ he muttered to himself.
Tayo Ayinde, could afford to joke with anything in the world, but not with his Cannon camera. His photography business had spanned over a decade within the Ijora Badia area, in Lagos. Riding on the goodwill of his father, popularly-known as Baba Foto in his lifetime, Tayo had enjoyed the monopoly of the business in the whole of his environs.
‘No man would ever take my daily bread from me!’ he chanted as he returned to his bed.
Although, he was not easily given to fear, the nightmare had shaken him right to his bone marrow.
‘How is it possible for someone to smash my camera, my only means of survival right under my nose?’ he muttered to himself, ‘not in my lifetime!’
‘Sir, please bear with me, let me retake your photograph,’ Tayo explained painstakingly to an aggrieved customer.
‘Retake what?’ the angry man retorted, ‘I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. I need my picture this very moment, otherwise…’
‘Sir, it’s not my fault, something just went wrong with the film when I went to…’
Before he knew it, the middle-aged man seized him by the collar, almost strangling him.
‘You had better produce my photograph right now otherwise you won’t like what I’d do to you.’
‘Pl…please…’ he stammered, ‘I would give…you the picture today, right now…’
‘Okay, but mind you, I’m not going to pay an extra kobo for a wait-and-take photo,’ the angry man stressed.
And as Tayo made preparations to retake his picture, another customer stormed into his studio.
‘Mr. Photographer, I want my money back!’ a distraught lady roared as though she was ready for a big fight.
Although Tayo’s photo business had not been spared from one or two hassles in the past, something told him that the dream he had the previous night was about to replay itself.
‘Just take a look at the way my daughter’s eyes is looking like someone possessed by an evil spirit,’ the lady waved a copy of the picture angrily for other customers to see.
‘I’m sorry, ma, I’m going to retake your pictures for free,’ he pacified.
And so the day wore on, but not on a very good note for the young man. Photography was the trade which brought his father into limelight, and if his stark illiterate old man was successful in his time, nothing should stop him, a secondary school certificate holder from doubling his achievements.
Tayo was already contemplating consulting a native doctor concerning the series of threats to his business, when his nephew, who just arrived Nigeria from France, visited him one afternoon.
‘I doubt if we can ever have this type of work in Nigeria,’ Tayo shook his head as he went through some of his nephew’s pictures.
‘You’re wrong, uncle Tayo,’ his nephew Kunle dismissed, ‘I’m sure this might sound strange to you, I saw some young Nigeria guys abroad studying the act of photography!’
‘That’s madness,’ Tayo laughed, ‘they don’t know what they are doing with their time, please when you travel back and come in contact with any one of them, tell them to call me, Tayo Ayinde, omo Baba Foto, and I would teach them the ABC of the photo business.’
The duo laughed heartily.
‘On a more serious note, uncle Tayo, digital photography, is the next big thing about to happen in the world of photography.’
‘And what does that mean?’ Tayo asked naively.
‘In a layman’s language, digital photography, does not involve the use of films,’ Kunle explained, ‘the photographer has the opportunity of reviewing the pictures first, before printing them out.’
‘But can our people be able to afford that?’ Tayo’s skeptic instincts soared, ‘this is Nigeria, for your information.’
‘Whatever be the case, uncle Tayo,’ the benefits are more than the costs, I can arrange for someone at Akoka that could train you on this; after all, you can afford to pay for the training.’
‘Thanks for your advice, Kunle, I don’t need it.’
Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria. 2007
(Six years after the emergence of GSM phones in Nigeria)
‘Anybody that wants to take my daily bread from me, God would also deny him of his daily bread,’ Tayo prayed aloud few minutes after he resumed work.
It was no longer business as usual for the young man, as his business had greatly dwindled. He blamed himself for not tackling his problem spiritually all the while; perhaps, things would have turned out differently. Now saddled with the responsibilities of taking care of a wife and four children, his income was no longer enough.
‘You have to pay the PTA levy for Kemi,’ his wife reminded him that morning before he left home for work.
‘I don’t have a kobo, woman!’ he had barked at her, ‘you’re such an insensitive woman!’
The moment he finished praying, he ran his gaze through the window and spotted one of his onetime customers passing by.
‘Madam Chichi!’ he called out, ‘long time; you’ve not been patronizing me again.’
‘It’s not my fault,’ the lady answered, ‘snapping photographs is no longer a priority; besides that, we now have all sorts of camera phones here and there…’
‘But at least you can still come for passport photographs, I would give you at a discount.’
‘Oga Tayo, most of the applications these days are usually done online where soft copies passport photographs are usually required. ’
‘What about birthday pictures?’ he persisted.
‘I have three different camera phones and I avail myself the use of any of them…’
Tayo shook his head. The message was very clear. His services were no longer relevant. Although he had long switched over to the use of the digital camera, yet he never bothered to learn the rudiments involved in making his work exceptional.
Bodija, Ibadan, Oyo State, 2017
‘Campus gate! Campus gate!!’ Tayo called out as he parked his KEKE NAPEP tricycle to pick some passengers waiting at the bus-stop.
Within a twinkling of an eye, the tricycle was filled up, and he drove off immediately.
Man must survive, he pondered as he drove along the way. It had been ten years he left Lagos and his erstwhile photo profession, and relocated to Ibadan. Although life had not been all that easy for him, yet he had been able to meet the bare necessities of his family.
‘I can’t wait to meet TY Bello,’ one of his passengers began.
‘You can say that again,’ another passenger responded, ‘that lady has really taken photography to another level.’
‘Please excuse me,’ Tayo interjected, ‘are you saying that we still have photographers making it big in this country?’
‘Oga driver, we have a lot of them,’ one of the passengers answered, ‘Kelechi Amadi, is another photo celebrity for your information…’
The moment he discharged his passengers, Tayo ran his eyes through a poster on the wall, and his eyes welled in tears. Without anyone telling him, he knew he was the architect of his own downfall. Having been advised by his nephew several years ago on the need to prepare for the emergence of the new face of photography, he had merely swept the idea under the carpet.
Moved by curiosity, he took a step further by going into the campus main auditorium, the venue of the program.
‘And before we invite the renowned and internationally acclaimed photographer to the podium,’ he heard the voice of the moderator filter out from the loudspeakers, ‘I want to leave us with this short charge.’
‘No matter what your profession is, most of the threats now facing our present day employment has gone beyond the ones from the witches and wizards in our villages…’
A wild laughter traveled around the hall.
‘For your information, ladies and gentlemen, there’s a new threat called digital interruption,’ the moderator continued, ‘everything now has gone digital, and if people do not prepare themselves in advance to face the emerging technology, a lot of people would naturally lose their jobs or be thrown out of their businesses in the future…’
Without waiting to see the celebrity photographer, Tayo sadly left the venue. His pride had been his undoing.
Final Remarks: Digital interruption is sweeping across virtually every profession in Nigeria. The future starts now; don’t just be contented with the norm. You’re either proactive or reactive, an aggressor or a prey; the choice is yours.
Until I come again your way next time, KEEP MOVING…