The art of photography in Nigeria dates back to the colonial times and has since expanded to become the behemoth that it is today due to its acceptance as a profitable profession.
The Pioneers of Photography in Nigeria
The rich history of photography in Nigeria includes names like Jonathan Adagogo Green, Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge and Peter Obe .
Jonathan Adagogo Green
Born in Rivers State (known as Bonny at the time) back in 1873, Jonathan Adagogo Green is regarded as Nigeria’s first indigenous professional photographer. For many years, his body of work was largely unknown to be Nigerian because of his English surname.
Solomon Osagie Alonge
Solomon Osagie Alonge lived in the ancient city of Benin when the British took over the city in the late 19th century, bringing photography with them as one of their many traditions. Alonge became the first indigenous royal court photographer.
Alonge started learning photography in the 1920s and, owing to his grandfather being a chief, he was able to assume the role of court photographer in 1933. With a career that spanned for half a century, Alonge became the keeper of the history of his people. His body of work documented the rituals and proceedings of the royal court while running a portrait studio for taking pictures of the people Benin. As the years passed, Alonge’s work began to gain recognition. This was partly because of his skill – as he became known for his mastery of editing techniques – but mostly because, as a native of Benin, he was the only photographer who had the ability to tell the story of his people from a personal and detailed perspective.
The present of photography
A lot has changed since then, from the prestigious titles photographers held historically to being known by their small boxes in the streets begging for patronage. Kelechi Amadi – Obi, a lawyer who abandoned the noble profession to pursue his interest in photography, was seen as performing an act of foolishness and a waste of financial resources and education.
This narrative has changed as the photography industry in Nigeria today boasts major progress and is arguably one of the largest in the creative industry. A professional photographer is seen as a modern day magician who knows how to manipulate his fingers. He sees beauty where there is none and directs people towards his light.
This, to an extent, is true. Photography in itself is an art. Like every artwork, it takes persuasive effort and skill to capture the essence and to have this knowledge. Unlike what is obtainable in the photosphere, the photographer aims for quality. It then goes that the professional photographer makes the saying true, “a photo tells a thousand words”.
While photography was introduced in Africa shortly after its invention in 1839, it was limited to entrepreneurs or expatriates who could afford large format cameras and equipment and had access to chemicals for the wet plate process. When dry glass plates and later roll film became available in the late 19th to early 20th century, many West Africans took up the profession of photography. Some were highly successful and profited from this new venture. Solomon Osagie Alonge was one of these early photographers.
Postcards became an important commercial enterprise for local photography studios and businesses in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Early postcards from Nigeria showcased local cultures, personalities, industries, and hand-colored views of Lagos and surrounding areas. Today, these postcards preserve an important record of the work of local photographers and are critical resources in researching the histories.