Today’s photographer is one of our all time favourites. James Ikpe is a celebrated street photographer from Nigeria who works under the name tall_brown_boi. Take a look at his instagram here!
AG: What drew you to photography? How did you start taking photographs?
Ikpe: Truly, I started photography out of boredom. It first started as my escape from the pressure of writing my university project. So whenever I felt less inspired, I would pick up my mobile phone and head out into the quiet lushes to take photos. I was amazed by the results so I kept on doing it. I was also inspired by the works of brilliant phone photographers like Victor Adewale and Victor Eyo; I sought to improve everyday.
AG: Your work centres around street photography in your local area. What attracted you to street photography?
Ikpe: I like to describe myself as a people person. I have always been intrigued by activities of everyday people. You know those day to day human activities that are not camouflaged by filters or poses, just humans doing regular human things. These are the kind of pictures that interest me, hence my love for street photography. Street documenting my local area is like a lifelong personal project. Everywhere I go, wherever I find myself I like to keep this pictorial diary that every and anyone can actually relate to. The idea that photos can help ensure that people accept each other’s unique perspective on life has always been the driving force behind my local area documentaries. AG: What do you hope to share with people around the world about Africa, your country or your community? What do you want people to know?
Ikpe: It has always been my goal to aid everyone seen that beyond racial lines, geographical boundaries and cultural heritage. We are humans first and foremost. This is what makes these boundaries and lines actually beautiful. Accepting us as we are ensures you are open to experiencing what is truly outstanding about who we as a people, or who we as Africans. As I always say Africa is a masterpiece, a mind boggling terrain, our interesting cultures and our beautiful souls make for one delightful experience. To enjoy what is truly special about us, one must first open ones mind and heart to us. By continuously sharing this photostories, it is my hope that no one misses out on this.
AG: What are the benefits of working in your local area? How is this reflected in your photos?
Ikpe: One word! Enlightening. Working within my locale has been an eye-opener in all aspects of my photography journey. Firstly, it has helped developed me as a person, teaching me to understand the beauty in our diversity as humans. Listening and sharing stories and experiences with total strangers is one of life’s refreshing moments. Tolerance, open mindedness and knowledge are some of the few upsides to it all. Importantly, consistently working within my locale gives me a chance to keep learning and improving on my art. You know one doesn’t have to wait to be on a photowalk or a commissioned project to enjoy photography. Simple documentation of activities of residents gives a chance to be better daily. This influences my photos in a lot of positive ways. The undiluted stories of humans from different walks of life shared to inspire and educate is the primary benefit to it all.
AG: Does photography in Nigeria present unique challenges? What challenges, if any, do you face being a Nigerian photographer?
Ikpe: Photography in Nigeria is currently in a good place with a massive leap from just regular commercial photographers looking to make ends meet to amazingly creative persons making beautiful frames whilst still making the art lucrative. However, it is still plagued by some peculiar challenges. Such as societal distrust and the age long problem of plagiarism. This factors limit the potential of photography within Nigeria. Personally, whilst collecting stories it is not rare to get the usual backlash or ethnic slurs that deter the process. I once was accosted by a group of men who pointed to my place of origin as the reason they won’t let me document their community.
AG: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about life in Nigeria?
Ikpe: Haha! That we are violent people, a lot of people I interact with have this stereotypical thinking that we as Nigerians can’t stand each other. Maybe aided by misguided information, they tend to conclude that we are an accident waiting to happen. On the contrary though, Nigerians are a special people, welcoming and industrious. Living amongst us explains this better than words. From the hustle and bustle noise on the streets of Lagos to the serene corporate doors of abuja to the fields of makurdi all the way to industrious cries in aba and the delicacies of calabar. Nigeria is a destination.
AG: How do you use the medium of photography to represent that which is important to you?
Ikpe: I believe my photography showcases the positivity in everything and every situation. Always driven by my “happiness is a choice mantra”, my photography ensures this ideal is shared with everyone who discovers my work.
AG: What advice would you give to young photographers trying to make it professionally?
Ikpe: If you are not passionate about it, don’t do it at all. When sharing my personal experiences with people, I like to remind them about this because this is the only reason we wake up each day looking to create more. Then gear, a lot of budding photographers are discouraged because they don’t have the right lens or the right DSLR but I say if you truly want to make something special, work with what is available to you. I have never owned a DSLR and all my photos are shot with a smartphone but I enjoy what I do which helps me learn, practice and seek to be better at all times. “Someday when I get a DSLR, at least I’ll be ready”
A big thank you to James Ikpe for his incredible work!