Thursday 15 September 2011

Akinbode Akinbiyi:A Photoman’s Motion

(First published in March 18, 2006)
ABOUT two weeks before the opening of his Overstanding the City: Recent Images of Berlin at the Goethe Institut, Lagos, Germany-based photographer, Akinbode Akinbiyi, hosted a few young Nigerian photography enthusiasts to a workshop.
  Fishing out Akinbiyi from that little gathering inside the hall of Goethe was a task. His stature and soft mien nearly dwarfed his accomplishment as a widely travelled professional photographer.
  More curious; how did he make a breakthrough across the world, in nearly 30 years career with his frame and unassuming attitude? 

Traditional Yoruba religion worshippers in Brssil captured by Akinbode

  During lunchtime at the workshop, he took time out to have a chat with The Guardian Life.
  "In Germany, it’s tough breaking through as a photographer because competition is high," Akinbiyi stated, with lifted eyebrows for emphasis. He added that being black makes it even tougher. "But because I have been there for a long time, the issue of race, colour or nationality no longer matters to me, even though it’s still a tough terrain," he said.
  Ironically, in spite of his feat of having conquered fear and racial barrier in Germany, Akinbiyi would not encourage Nigerian photographers to go to Germany because "competition is still strong there," he said.
  In Germany, there are about 20 photography schools in addition to the fact that nearly all universities offer photography as a course, he said.
  Akinbiyi’s subjects cut across geographical and class boundaries. From Lagos to Kinshasa, Johannesburg to Berlin, the artist explores fresh challenges.
  He says, "I don’t choose my subjects, the subjects come to me. I like nature, cities, and landscape photography a lot."
  Currently in Nigeria as part of his African tour of Lagos, Kinshasa, Cairo and Johannesburg with the project, Overstanding the City: Recent Images of Berlin, the artist also hosts professionals to a roundtable section after the opening of the exhibition. The exhibition, which opened on March 18, ends on March 31.
Part of the exhibits are shots taken by the artist in his city of residence, Berlin.
  But he has a cheering news for would-be professional photographers. The lens profession, he predicts, has a future in Nigeria.
  He, however, advises that as a vital medium of communication, both as a passion and journalism, photography should be allowed to grow in the country, noting that there are hindrances to free photography in the country.
  "Experience has revealed to me that it is not easy to photograph, here, say Lagos for example. There are both official and private hindrances everywhere," he says.
  For photography to thrive in Nigeria as art, Akinbiyi revealed he would like to come home and settle to contribute his bit, but confessed that, "Berlin is a home away from home."  To him, Lagos is all right, but the situation is not right to work.
  "For example, in Berlin, I don’t drive because you don’t need a car to move around over there. And my job has to do with walking about. But in Lagos, you can’t work without a personal car."
Having left the country for UK in 1969, and moved to Germany in 1974, Akinbiyi reveals he has been coming home "once or twice a year since 1998."
The artist was born in Oxford, England, in 1946 to Nigerian parents and studied Literature at the University of Ibadan in 1969. He did his post graduate studies in literature at Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany.
  He started photographing in earnest as from 1974 and "has concentrated on the urban scape and large cities since the early 1980s."
Akinbode Akinbiyi
He has exhibited widely, received several awards and stipends; and has been published in numerous periodicals and magazines.
Akinbiyi has also worked as a perceptive curator. He was one of the curators of the Bamako, Mali photography exhibitions, Encounters, in 2001 and 2003.
  Some of his exhibitions include group shows like, Ilanga — New African Images in Kassel, 1992, Africas, The Artist And The City, Barcelona, 2001, 4th African Photography Encounters, Bamako, Mali, 2001.
  He has had several solo shows in Germany from 1993 at Durhammer Galerie, Frankfurt, Werkstatt, Berlin, 1995, Sea Never Dry at Museum Dresden, Germany, 2005, to mention but a few.
Akinbiyi is a hardworking photoman whose lens fears no cultural boundaries.

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