Converse + Star = Adebayo “Adey” Omotade

by Thulasizwe Somdyala

So I had a hectic weekend in Botswana, Babylon water errwhere, shout out my nigga Biggs. Got back Sunday with my head still buzzing, napped it out and woke up still feeling wired. Eish. I have an interview set with Adebayo “Adey” Omotade and I’m pretty keen on it so we reschedule for 7pm then I lala land again. Wake up, now I am zombie like, but fuckit, a beer will fix it- I head out to meet up with the homey. *Ring ring, ring*

Don: Awe fam

Ade: Sup King

Don: I’m in Braam now by Lamunu, where we meeting?

Ade: Just let me know when you by the Nandos.

Don. Aight, I’m a second away, come through.

Then vroooom on the scooter I park off at Nandos. Homey there, nice. He takes the lead down, then left into the alleyway, I’m thinking, “OK?”

Don: You know I need beer?

Ade: Forsure, we got.

Don: Cool.

We take a short-right and bam, I’m introduced to HEI Cafe. Dope cultured spot, curated with a vintage look and consciousness to lighten my eyes and rid  off the zombieness. Grabbed a beer for the pain, caught up with homey for a short while and then we got to the order of the day…

When walking through Braam on Saturdays, you notice the hipsters rolling around with high end cameras. What do you think connects hipsters with photography?

A: I think it’s the lifestyle for them that require photography. Basically, it is a way of projecting themselves and things they like out there. Most run their own blogs, so they have to back their work up with nice images. The projection of that at is always at the back of their mind. Everyone would love when their blog is visited, that the images are neat and enticing enough for you to want to come back afterwards just to check on the update. Some may actually be photographers themselves or probably just starting it out as a hobby.

Awe, I feel you. And hipsters are about the look, so there is a connection there in capturing it…

A: And that is the truth.

So you won a prize, which listed you in the top 40 photographers in Africa. Awe. What separates you from  those who are doing this as a hobby?

A: I’m a conceptualist.  I am a creator, I love to create. It is a way of life, from the way that I dress, to what I eat, to how I design, to food I cook, to life in general itself. It is constant creating for me. It feels like a boring life if a day goes by without having these tools been put to use.

Tell me what you see!

A: People, characters, emotions, beauty in the ugliest of places, ugly in the beauty of spaces. Conversations, call it unusual, I say unique. Children and how truthful they can only get, genuinely in every aspect as it come. Images on blank wall, beautiful lady on a well patterned curtain, etc. I basically see all in perspective.

So when did your journey start?

A: This journey started in 1993. My family had moved back from the States. And my dad will travel back and forth once a year, and during his trip he’ll bring his camera with, and I was that guy that uses it mostly. It felt like I knew what I was doing back then. With time he ended up giving the camera to my older brother who then passed it to me. And every week I would buy packs of films to shoot random things to help me figure out how the camera works, and I guess the rest is history now. That camera actually got stolen years later at some comedy show with friends. It is till date one of the most expensive camera I’ve ever used.

How was it stolen?

I was at a show with a friend from Germany and I left the camera by him, went to use the bathroom and came back it wasn’t there.

That’s how your friend from Germany left?

A: No, no- the camera.

Oh… Shit.

A: He didn’t, I mean the camera. He got carried away trying to figure out what the comedian was talking about. Since it wasn’t proper English their jokes were based and was paying no attention at all (to the camera). I even didn’t notice when I came back from the restroom. It was until after the show was over and I was like, “Where’s the camera?” and everyone was like “Where’s the camera?”.

Gone. How deeply did that affect you, it had sentimental value?

A: It affected me deeply, I must confess, besides that it was given to me by my dad, I was in love with that camera. It gave me a lot of amazing images, she was my baby, my lover, I was her master, until she decided to leave me. You know when that girl you love so much and vice versa takes you to a show only to dump you after the show. And funny you didn’t even know she was gone. At the end of the day, it’s a camera, or rather, it’s a girl you know… Laughs.

Laughs. Heavy. So poetry your most memorable landscape of Nigeria through the lens?

A: The people. Lagos has such a vast population of different people,  skin. Coming from elsewhere, it looks like a flea market, but it’s not just a flea market. Imagine the largest market ever and all you see is just grains of people. Endless.

Jesus

A: In Lagos alone, imagine an endless grain of people, from taxis, to fleet of buses trying to commune thousands of people everyday to their destination. In one taxi rank as huge as Newtown to the rest of the city. You will see fleas of hawkers,  and endless umbrellas for shades. That was some fascinating aspect for me, and I am glad I  got that through my lens. And those were the time photography seemed very dangerously impossible in such spaces. Even though that it was dangerous, I enjoyed those moments of taking that risk. And with time I was introducing young photographers in the idea of photography, who has over the year taken it really seriously. Most importantly making a livelihood just doing photography.

Lagos
Lagos

So you started a gang..

Yeah, basically. But I work alone, I enjoy working alone. My space is my space no matter where. I guess I was unconsciously  mentoring young photographers. They had proper jobs, but were quite fascinated by my work and then years later they took it seriously and basically that is what they doing now, some are having exhibitions around the world. But it started from, “this is very interesting, you should look into it, you’ve got a very amazing eye. Try get yourself a camera and start shooting bra.” That is how it started. So now I am actually quite proud.

Adolphus Opara- Gang member
Adolphus Opara– Gang member

When I look back then, I’m glad that everybody who actually delve into photography are now probably the first generation of photographers from Nigeria.

I have noticed that Nigerian arts are leading the global intake of African commercial products, i.e. music, literature and movies. What is the ingredient and social conditioning back home that you feel helps foster the success globally?

A: I think the fact that in whatever we do, we do and take it seriously. Wouldn’t say try to prove a point , but powers you to work 24 hours to make one amazing track. We go for it. We don’t cut less, we work twice as much and push twice as hard. The fact that Nigerians support each other and that they’re open to ideas that make their work even better. I mean years ago the musicians were fighting piracy, they were like you cutting us short from making money. A year later, they were making deals with the piracy guys saying, “OK, what if we work together ‘cause you have a huge market here?” So instead of making money alone, you share the wealth. So they find new ways to get their work out there and make things better for themselves.

So they self-sustaining and early on brand themselves..

A:  Yeah, like fuck the record label. And then local record labels started springing up, but now they’ve got backing of people who mass produce and can get their work out there quickly if its good. Like I said, Nigerians support their work, doesn’t matter whether its music or fashion, they back it up if it’s good.

As a photographer and I am going to elude you to the position of a cameraman. Why is African porn not an active industry? Americans, Europeans, Asians and Latinos but Africans- Nah.

A: We very, in quote, very “self-conservative” people.  Almost feels like we do some other things behind closed door and project some other stuff around people. Also, how we still see porn as immoral, even if we do it behind closed door, but projecting it people will ask where have you lost your mind. We might enjoy things, but we don’t preach it. Even among friends, it’s like “no, no, no. Don’t say that. How dare you? Where you from? We don’t speak of such things”

It’s a taboo thing…

A: Almost feel like a taboo but I didn’t want to use that word because it’s not quite. I think we just very moral people. As crazy as we may be as Africans we very exploring. I think it boils down to having that facade where I would rather say something that make people feel comfortable than say something that makes them not give a fuck about it. I’m not saying everyone is like that, but its until we get to that point we not afraid to hold back and speak among ourselves about things that bother us.

 We not very forward pushing against authority and that stems from our moral ground as you said, just like we raised to not speak against our elders..

A: True, I can agree to that. But, it is also a facade, we not comfortable in that, we also have the choice to not be comfortable in that. End of the day, we have that nonchalant attitude where we don’t want to be heard to a large audience. We find a way to cope with these things like they will leave very soon, but they drive us to the ground. That allows them to push us to the wall and they have been able to do that for a long time. For us now to come to that space of wanting to talk back to the government is impossible or for us to talk back to anything that’s uncomfortable to us. Almost feels impossible because we have allowed it to happen for so long and we’ve been comfortable with it but uncomfortable with it.

We’ve been just living with it, managing…

A: Yes, managing…

So we can assume Africans are more aligned with Islam in their beliefs than any other religion. Christians have an image of their Messiah and they project that whereas Muslims don’t. In that sense, morally, is it safe to assume that?

A: When it comes to religion, it’s a hard one…

I’m just saying in terms of connection. I mean Arabs don’t project their porn too.

A: If you say that. But, when it comes to religion  and the way people generally behave, you can blame it on the culture as well. You can blame it on the fact lets say, because you black you cannot talk back to your elders, even if they keep pushing the stick right into your eye. I wouldn’t say its religion because when it comes to religion, I rather just let it be. The connection is vast though, it’s not just one thing so I think it all just depends on the individual. I can have a different objection about how things can be projected.

It’s been so easy for us to accept things that do not belong to us. Why you find young kids speaking American, even though he has never been there before. Young girls saying they can show off their skin, its okay, it doesn’t matter, even though my nipple can be seen on the street, the freedom of my speech. We let ourselves (go) by allowing those things.

Heavy

A: You know that you lying to yourself , the things that you are projecting are not even yours.

How do we re-root ourselves?

A: It’s still there in the back of our heads, back of our minds. For me, it starts with me. It started with the way I felt. It started with me growing my beard and people saying you look different from us, men are supposed to cut their hair, are you Muslim or something? No, I’m me. People always want to associate you with something, but this is just how I felt.

We grow up in a very community/village type of setting, so we very tight knitted and I feel most people don’t want to be an outcast outside the village. In terms of moving forward together, does it hinder progress?

A: I don’t think moving together forward is the right terminology to use.

How would you word it?

A: Mmmmh.. Example, lets say I grew up Soweto. Tight knitted community, I grow up and look for a job outside of Soweto and find that there are people who drink and dine in Rosebank everyday. Now I become a part of that lifestyle and eventually move out of Soweto. Now I go back to Soweto and take someone who probably would never have had the opportunity and say to them, you can actually be bigger. The box is nice but it’s always nice to get out the box and meet people from another box and share who you are. So that they can too come to Soweto even if they never thought about it.

Don’t we lose our image, moving from box to box?

A: No. It’s impossible. There’s no failure in learning. There is no failure in accumulating more things that you don’t know. It won’t kill you, you just learn more. It doesn’t mean you disrespecting the people you left behind. One thing about being African, it never leaves us. Your parent will always tell you, remember where you come from. And funny enough, the one that you meet from a different box was told the same thing too.

Heavy

A: So yeah, community is good. It’s the foundation, but it doesn’t mean you can’t take what you have learnt from your community and teach others. This is where the border came, this is where it destroyed us. So wherever the coloureds stay now and where the black people stay, it is only divided by a road. No one says now you can’t come build on the other side, but people don’t. That’s my point, that’s where I come from. That’s my knowledge.

Shit, we heavily boxed in. I was in Botswana recently and my friend there was saying it’s funny how most South Africans he met this side did not have passports. To him that showed a lack of wanting to go beyond what we know… So what’s your style of photography?

A: I used to take pictures of a lot of people, especially street kids and market people. I was always interested in news, journalism- where you cover riots, war-zones and stuff. I used to be quite interested, but then found out, nah, I love myself too much to damage myself.

Laughs.. Light-skinned nigga mentality..

A: Laughs.. So I went into fashion and I enjoyed fashion. Shot a lot of models. Most of them are actually here in South Africa. It was a co-incident that I actually met most of those guys here. They are also like the first generation of models in Nigeria, I still have some photos on film. And, here they are like top models, some have retired. So I went into that, but it started becoming a routine, a 9-5. It was interesting, parties, meeting people from all over. It was very entertaining, but knew I was more than that.

Martha Warebi- Nigerian Model
Martha Warebi– Nigerian Model

Started doing exhibitions, showing my work from the street kids, market people- daily endeavours. Sometimes take photos of old men who were homeless and stuff and I would exhibit that. Once I was doing an exhibition here, was shown in three other countries in Africa. A very good friend of mine came to the exhibition and I thought a lot of people would buy this work. Amazing images, I thought a lot of people would want that on their wall, thought it would make them happy. So when leaving this exhibition, I walked her to the car (homey on game). She was like, “Ade, you an amazing, an amazing photographer. But guess what happened when I walked in here. I feel very sad because that is what your images do. I can’t have a photo of an old man who is a beggar lying on the street on my wall. I mean my day is already ruined from that.”

That’s actually a good point… (homey’s game stuttered)

A: I almost wanted to take it as an offensive, as if I didn’t know what I was doing. But I thought about it and I was like she’s right. It’s always emotional it doesn’t matter, for me, it’s always emotional, the style of how I work. It’s not me just clicking on the shutter, it’s always that moment. So I thought more about it. I was like what if I’d sold this work. I’d make money from this old man, which I will never see again, who would never benefit from this work. The photographer will benefit and pocket all the money. So I was like, wow. Stopped exhibiting for a while. I would try going to photography exhibitions and galleries, but everything was the same, nothing interesting for me. That point that she made, changed the way I was going to be shooting afterwards. (homey on some Adele tip now)

I have exhibited twice after that, incorporated some nice elements, invited a young photographer who hadn’t exhibited before. Was a nice success, Selimathunzi came and all of that. But since then I haven’t, cause I was looking for something different and I couldn’t find it. The photographers out there are very good, amazing, but bore me. Wasn’t touching me to that point, wasn’t telling me anything. It was just beautiful images to me. I wanted more.

There was no dialect between you and the image..

A: Yes. So I have been researching ways in which I can connect the image with the person without telling them anything. I also did some research for any erotic photography that has been done in Africa and there’s pretty much non. Even the ones that “are” there’s no art to it. So my next exhibition is basically based on that.

Doooope…

A: Can’t speak much about it cause we still in talks, but probably tell you more on the day. So yeah, that’s my point of view right now, as I said, thinking out the box. I want people to be able to perceive it however they want. I want them to call it what they want. Call it a taboo, they call it amazing, they call it sensual. They call it nice looking girls and they wanna jack off to it. You know, it’s fine. I might not even speak at the exhibition.

I feel you. For me, I’m guessing if you capture someone’s eyes you are capturing their soul. So if a photographer, my favourite body feature to capture would be the eyes. What’s yours and why?

A: The eyes. Says more. It’s basically your entirety. They usually use the term when you shooting a model, like, speak with me with your eyes.

So you more of a missionary type of guy?

A: Doggy

Awe. Real nigga. So artists use drugs as muses and as some form of enhancer. Is photoshop and other editing programs drugs for photographers?

A: It is. Depending. My view on it is, if you can’t capture it the way it is then leave it. For fashion photography its different because its commercial. As an exhibitionist, whatever I capture, I want to retain it. If you have a thousand pimples on your face, that’s what I want to tell- it’s who you are.

Niiiice. What’s the most messed up scene in your life you wish you had a camera for?

A: Six years of my life in Joburg, in South Africa.

Ah deep, what happened in those six years?

A: My kids are turning 7 and I haven’t begun to capture all of that.

Wow, fuck. You took it there. Heavy. I don’t even know where to take it from here. But, wait, so you have twins?

A: Yep.

(The one word answer didn’t help much) Still stuck on that heaviness… Wrapping things up. I know you the drummer for The Fridge. Saw you playing the drums for Bongi on the video. What’s happening with The Fridge and what’s happening musically with you right now?

A: I am music. (BOOM) I am always in search for things that are not usual. Wouldn’t say not usual, they’ve always been there, it’s just how one redefines it. I am always in search for things to redefine. Music for me has always been based on that. It wasn’t until I moved into the country that I actually got to explore that side. I’ve been playing drums since ’92, I’ve been touring since then, touring cross-country with my family, my sisters play percussion. The first time I ever sat on a drum-kit, I played all night. No one ever believed that was the first time I ever held a drumstick in my entire life. I listen to music differently. I listen like, I love this music, but I can’t do anything to it because it’s perfect the way it was created. But when I hear something where I think if I were the drummer to this music, how will I play to it? That’s how I’m able to project ideas over something that’s been created. As I said, it’s always been there, but how does one redefine it and that gave birth to The Fridge. I saw the way Thusi was playing the bass and I was like, wow that’s amazing. Saw Samkelo performing a solo piece and everybody went dead silent just to hear this boy sing and I was like, come through and see what we can do. That’s how The Fridge came. Bongi liked what we did as a band, what we came up with. In fact, most of the stuff she did on the album were done ages ago. More music is still to come, but the rare of a kind. Longevity just matters for me. For example The Fridge has only ever released an EP, six years later they still downloading it. That’s the longevity I’m talking about- the things that redefine speak for itself years later. So The Fridge is still together, we still perform.

Sweet… My last question to you. Do you think it’s appropriate for women to pee while standing in the shower?

A: ….You pee in the shower?

Yeah. But I can aim away from myself while standing.

A: I think it’s very appropriate, if they pee on themselves- they’ll be fine.

 

Homey down for women giving golden showers to themselves, more power to them. Enjoyed the convo with the Black Samurai, strapped with a Canon to shoot- the lens is mightier than the sword, my Lord. Great insight into the man behind the art and the levels of imagery discussed. Connect with him on linkedin.

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