Arts  

A historic legacy in pictures

Emeritus Prof. E. J. Alagoa (right); poet Gabriel Okara and Prof. Lisa Aronson at the launch of Greens

Emeritus Professor E. J. Alagoa’s stature as a living legend gained added credibility in the perception of the younger generation of scholars of the Niger Delta, when a remarkable publication was launched on March 1, 2018, this year at the Presidential Hotel in Port Harcourt. Entitled African Photographer J.A. Green: Re-imagining the Indigenous and the Colonial, the book is a comprehensive and exhaustive study of the life and work of one of the first Africans to practice photography professionally. Jonathan Adagogo Green, a native of Grand Bonny Kingdom, lived a short but incredibly productive life at the end of the 19th century. He practiced his profession for only 14 years but the legacy of pictorial history that he created has been given proper focus by the impeccable, collaborative research and interpretative conceptualisation of this volume of essays and commentaries edited with guidance from Prof. Alagoa. It was published by Indiana University Press in the U.S. and is distributed in Nigeria by the professor’s institution Onyoma Research Publications.

The editors of the work are two American Professors Emerita – Martha G. Anderson and Lisa Aronson. The profundity of their concern, as international observers of the historic role of Green is enhanced by the breadth of their collaboration with some specialists and especially with indigenous scholars represented by the remarkable contributions made by Prof. Alagoa and Nigeria’s iconic photographic genius, Tam Fiofori. Fiofori’s essay which serves as the final chapter situates Green as the patriarch and unwitting originator of a tradition of photographic documentation that has become the signature of Nigerian, not to say African, engagement with the imagery of daily existence in the colonial entities that have become independent nations. He points out that Green took up photography at a time when the technical and aesthetic boundaries of the profession were still in their infancy. As a consequence, he was not just a local pioneer but also a universally relevant innovator.

As the reviewer of the work at the launching, Bisi Silva pointed out the scores of examples of the fine work of the artist/photographer (as he described himself) make this book a treasure trove of historic documentation as well as a thoroughgoing investigation of the life experience that was interaction between ancient realities and exposure to modernity for the communities of the Niger Delta in particular. This aspect of the work also serves to give resonance to the career-spanning philosophical theme of the work of Professor Alagoa, who is recognised internationally as the doyen of scholars concerned with the past as well as the contemporary thrust of Niger Delta communities. It is hardly surprising that he should have been chosen to be the coordinator of the research and restorative collation that gave birth to this remarkable document. The ceremony to launch the book in Nigeria had Rivers State’s most celebrated actress Hilda Dokubo as Mistress of Ceremonies. It was a touching, emotional re-union of sorts as members of Green’s family, including grandchildren and a great grandchild were present. The role of monarch of the day was fulfilled by King Dandeson Jaja of Opobo whose illustrious ancestor, the founder of the Opobo dynasty, was one of the iconic figures first photographed by Green towards the end of the 19th century. This event, also graced by the Niger Delta’s near centenarian poet laureate Pa Gabriel Okara, was a festival of memorial reminiscence if not for the audience at least in honour of the ancestral spirits of the land. J.A. Green’s incredible legacy has at last been appropriately immortalized.

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