Everyday People: Engaging vistas of realities through lens
The above position was the thematic focus of the exhibition tagged Everyday People, which highlights the undying spirit of some Nigerians, drawing attention to “those fleeting moments when human emotions and physical surroundings combine to create stories of joy, sorrow, contradictions, absurdity, anger, humour and real life situations.”
Held at Thought Pyramid Arts Centre, Libreville Crescent, Off Aminu Kano Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja between August 19 and 23, 2015, the show was a culmination of 10 years of Yunusa Tanko Abdullahi’s photographic journey as a photojournalist. A total of 50 well-documented images were on display.
The event also underscored the environmental and the socio-economic devastation that Nigeria and Nigerians have experienced. Through these pictures, Abdullahi, a civil servant, motivated by the bug of creativity, drew attention to the need for national and perhaps international dialogue on the economic realities in the country. And as a social documentary photographer, the idea, according to him, is to portray the different circumstances of his subjects in order to correct them and bring about reforms.
As much as the show was meant to visually highlight the real life issues affecting the people daily, it also served as a true reflection of the poignant and very grim socio-economic situation in the country, which Abdullahi believes is in dire need of an urgent revival.
Also reflected is the conviction that it is the duty of photographers to document what may be termed ‘unspeakable’ and also open the ‘Pandora box’ and generate the right public debate or discourse finding solution to the identified malaise.
Caught up in the depth of Abdullahi’s visual documentation, one is also trapped by his simple but not simplistic images, overwhelmingly highlighting his transcendental imaginations. This can be clearly seen in the obvious bitter-sweet ‘Pensive’ in which a light is shone on the seeming vulnerability of a set of children living under threats of hunger, illiteracy, displacement, exploitation, physical and mental abuse.
Abdullahi’s landscape and his portraiture are an epical resonation of his subject matters in exhilarating sensibilities. Yet, the artist is well earthed in his evocative range of compelling subjects, of mediumistic conceptualisation and instructive interpretations. Through a serious alliance of exquisitely nuanced convergence, he has transformed experiences into monumental calligraphy of realities. And beyond the grasp of the visual, the real truths here are couched in a more realistic imageries captured from places to places at which he is confronted with himself and with his environment and again with himself and then his subjects of interest.
Right from his entrance into the photography scene, the photo-journalist cut out a niche as one of the definitive signatories to the new generation of Nigerian visual artists.
His style appears to be unique, his sensibility refreshing and his ideas revealing, and, by and large, culminating in a redefinition of subliminal documentation of the human milieu. Also of equal significance is his remarkable ability to sustaining a creative brilliance through a consistent reinvention that derives from his relentless experimentation with as much his camera as his images.
Abdullahi has maintained a distinguished string of applicable creativity that has remained resourcefully extensive and imaginatively illuminating through a persistent stylistic/formalistic renewal. Therefore, in the light of his continuous gush of outstanding artistry, he will, no doubt, succeed in sustaining such remarkable freshness that could only derive from an enduring creative urge and productive self-watch. And the totality of this quality is what he has brought to fruition in this exhibition.
His works are compellingly assuming significance to the effect that subjects such as ‘Undying Spirit’ or ‘Contrast’, ‘Hold It’ and ‘Viewpoint’ are, among others, very splendid, a sort of reinforcement to the central theme, like in his ‘Providence’. Thus, apart from his employment of reporting artistry in ‘Passionate’, ‘Waste Pickers’, and ‘Hardwork’, other works remain equally central to the conceptual weave of the theme.
Some of the works revealed the squalor and the likely consequent environment-induced health hazards that we are to encounter in the country. But, in all of this, tantalizing is the music of hope and optimism. In works like Roadside, Off Road, Surprise and Diligence, his creative emphasis is advanced towards manifesting the fulfilment of reporting in a highly restrained and suspicious photographic terrain, in spite of the risks. Also, relatively significant to the direction of his documentary is his manipulation of the focal point, the synchronising of the functionality of his gadget with the camera shutter to achieve the dominant compositional elements that integrate his images with the weight of the contextual visuality of his structures, plots, stylistics, location and the rational concerns.
In quite a number of the works, the weight of the search for daily bread and the disposition and the entrepreneurial acumen of the average Nigerians are quite accentuated. Essentially, his visual harmony is largely through a compositional reinforcement of the overall pictorial effect, besides which there is no employment of brush work like Photoshop as catalyst to intensifying the emotion in the awesomeness of his collections. Instead, the expression of hopes and anxieties captured is heightened in the dramatic variation, conceptual interpretation and, sometimes, symbolic characterisation of his images.