Sometime in 2001, Andrew Esiebo was asked by a friend what he wanted as a gift. “A camera”, he replied. And so Eseibo (1978) got a camera and started to teach himself photography. Photography, like music, fashion, and the arts in general aren’t things most of us grew up hearing encouraged as “proper” professions, and it was the same with Andrew growing up in Nigeria. Nonetheless, camera in hand in his early twenties, Andrew began to pursue his dream. “But I quickly got stuck, because the ones that did earn money with it, did so by doing commercial work: weddings, portraits and such. That didn’t really inspire me, so I started browsing the internet to get in touch with foreign photographers and look at photography books to get inspired.”
Nigeria on his mind
Andrew began to chronicle the rapid development of urban Nigeria, especially Lagos (which is urbanizing like no man’s business), as well as the rich culture and heritage of Nigeria’s largest city Ibadan. As a photographer, he is primarily concerned with the lives of ordinary Africans. “I’m interested in simple things that happen around me. That’s why for a series like ‘Pool Betting’ I photographed the trend of football pool betting amongst older men; for ‘God is Alive’ I record religious spaces spread throughout the country to demonstrate how Nigerians express their own brand of praise; and in ‘Nigeria on My Mind’ I bundle our cultural heritage, ethnic diversity and geographic beauty of my country”.
Some of his other work includes capturing the bustling Lagos nightlife and associated bouncers, appropriating football in unconventional environments, and the story of Sunny Omini, an ex-football star turned missionary.
“Living Positive” is also a single-subject series. “In South Africa I followed Thoko Ngubeni, a black, lesbian with HIV who has had to fight all kinds of discrimination and stigmitisation. She was rejected by her family and friends, and was at one point on the verge of death, but she turned her life around, using all of her talent and resources to make a better life for herself and others. She founded a women’s support group called Mafithobelae, and organises public meetings to educate local people on issues relating to HIV and Aids, provides access to testing and medication, and works tirelessly to combat the stigma associated with the virus.”
“In an untitled, on-going portrait series I photograph resilient African gays who challenge the stereotypical representation of LGBTQs in African cultures.”
With international attention in his work growing in the last ten years, Andrew started exploring new creative territories and integrating multimedia, as he does in his series ‘Barbara Encounter’, about a Zambian sex worker, and ‘Living Queer African’, about a homosexuals student from Cameroon trying to make a new life for himself in France.
His latest work, however, returns him to lighter subject matter: barbershops. For ‘Pride’ he traveled through seven African countries, visiting cities mainly, to portray urban aesthetics and hairstyles, and the people that make all of that possible, barbers. “They were actually surprised that it was a fellow African portraying them, not an American or European. Everybody here knows about it, but nobody took the time to go deeper into the social function of barbers. It was the first time an African did it, but the barbers understood the importance of the project and said they would go the extra mile to support me.”
Eseibo says many photographers ignore or fail to notice such subjects, especially if they come from ‘outside’ and don’t know what’s going on in the society. “Until now, the story of our continent has been told by non-Africans. For example, every time they come to Lagos, they want to go the slums. Why not expand? Now that we have the tools and skills, I feel responsible to fill in that gap.”
Andrew’s life as a photographer is a full and busy one. He was one of the lucky few selected for the Road to Twenty Ten project, the idea of which was to form an all-African dream team of 16 journalists and photographers to provide alternative stories from the World Cup in South Africa. Before that he had a number of artistic residencies in Paris, London and South Korea. He is also the initiator and co-organizer of ‘My Eye, My World’, a participatory photography workshop for socially-excluded children in Nigeria, and a member of the Lagos-based photography collective BlackBox. His work has been exhibited all over the world and published in books, magazines and websites. Check out his portfolio here. You can also keep up with his work via Facebook.