Uche James-Iroha is a prominent Nigerian photographer and director of Photo Garage, an indigenous platform for domestic and global intellectual photography exchanges. In this interview with TONY OKUYEME, he shares his thoughts on love, marriage, music, developments in Nollywood and photography
As an artist, how do combine studio practice and playing your role as a husband and father?
I was discussing with somebody I trained in photography, his name is Abraham. He is getting married, and I encouraged him to do that, because it is a beautiful thing to have a family, because you are also part of someone’s family for you to exist and create works of art. But most of the artists who are popular and doing well are not interested in having a family. It is a crazy thing.
I am married for the past 11 years and I have two kids. My kids and my wife, they are massive inspiration to me. Marriage is wonderful. My role as a father is not negotiable. And it is a wonderful thing, because the young generation needs mentorship more than ever, because schools are not providing this mentorship, homes, most times, are not providing this mentorship. There is a young brilliant boy who loves photography a lot but his dad would not to hear that he wants to be a photographer. So he discussed it with me, and now he has a camera and he is creating works. When he dad saw the images he was pleasantly surprised. So I told him that his son is a brilliant boy and that he should give him all the support he can give to him.
So it is critical that we have family values, and that they are not eroded; it is critical that we keep pushing and find some kind of established fundamental mentorship programme.
What kind of music do you love best?
I love music, good music. I love music with content; I love reggae. I love jazz. I love music that speaks about the importance of humanity, critical issues about humanity.
What does love mean to you?
Love, for me, is not a feeling; it is not about being romantic; it is not such an emotion to me. I can’t say I used to love this guy then tomorrow I don’t love him any more now. Love is a person; his name is Jesus Christ, son of the living God. If you go to LUTH you see love. You see a young girl running to buy drugs to make sure the dad survives…
Do you follow developments in the Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood?
I come from a tradition of theatre artistes. You know, my father was an artiste. My younger brother and my sister, they are all artistes.
So, what is your take on Nollywood?
I think Nollywood has come to a point of saturation where there is a need to reinvent Nollywood. Everybody knows that it is the same old scripts, same old actors, same old style; same old cameramen. But now there is some pockets of freshness coming in. people are beginning to look at new stories, new ways of making movies, new equipment, new deal, new challenges. And the same thing is happening to photography. Everybody is going to be saturated in a few years. The very few people who are thinking will refine it.
Most people know you today as a photographer, but you actually studied sculpture. At what point did you decide to go into photography? Why?
Even before I left university – the University of Port Harcourt in 1995, where I studied sculpture – I was constantly thinking about the popularity even in traditional African arts context. You know, we are sculptors from time immemorial; we’ve seen colours in architecture; we’ve seen body paintings, we’ve seen traditional ceramics; we’ve seen the popularity of original communication designs. But there was something going on for photography as a medium of art that I didn’t see that presence. I was lured first of all by the immediacy of the medium. You can create an image, go to the dark room, as at that time, process your work, and you can see the image. This is unlike doing a sculptural piece that will take you weeks and months.
So, from 1997 I started getting involved with photography, and also addressing the same issues that have always been in my mind – inequality, political corruption, economic manipulation, and social stratification; the same issues – perennial issues – that I have been addressing generally since.
And when I came to Lagos in 1997, I started working in Dolphin Studios, Surulere, Lagos, where I was an apprentice, learning how to hold equipment, understand the process.
In 2001, my friends – Kelechi Amadi Obi, TY Bello, Amazi Ojeikere, Zainab Odunsi – and I formed Depth of Field (DOF), a photography collective based in Lagos. So we started trying to question the viability of the medium of photography as an art form. But today there is proliferation of photography, everybody has a camera. We thank God for that.
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