What's Crack a' Lakin?

Talent is something so rare and intangible that when seen it must be appreciated. It reaches out to us and shows us the fibre underneath the fluff. In my short career as a blogger, I have seen several pictures; hundreds and thousands of them, but not many of them have stood out to me. Hardly any of them have made me think, "Who took this?" This is partly because of the medium itself and partly because we live in a world where every Tom, Dick, Harry, Sally and Methuselah has a camera and photoshop.

Lakin Ogunbanwo is a 25 year old fashion photographer who lives and works in Nigeria. The fact that he is a fashion photographer in itself is a little bit strange as he is the holder of two degrees in law. The first is a BA in International Law and Diplomacy from Babcock University and the second is an LLB in Law from the University of Buckingham. He is part of the Nigerian artistic uprising for Nigerian parents are notorious for their condescension of any field that does not guarantee a 9 to 5pm work day with ample opportunities for promotion and job security.

While Lakin has been featured and praised extensively by several "it blogs" very little is known about him apart from what is written in the about section of his website: http://www.lakinogunbanwo.com/

"Lakin Ogunbanwo is a versatile artist with an eye for colour. His work - described as vivid and sometimes suggestive - boasts of a very meticulous approach that allows for visually stunning imagery. Having just moved back from Paris, Lakin now resides in Lagos, Nigeria."

The one interview of him I managed to find in print was just as short as it was short of depth. I decided to ask him for an interview, but I didn't think he would say yes. You see, the lack of information about him led me to believe that he was extremely reticent and reticent people do not often go from not talking to the press to allowing infinitesimally tiny blogs to interview them. I was honoured by his acquiescence. I would have preferred to have conducted the interview over drinks at the 284 Bar and Lounge in Victoria Island or in his Studio on Toyin street in Ikeja, but both of these were logistically impossible. We settled for the next best thing, Skype.

I was nervous because the only interview I have ever done for the ramblings of a madman was a rather ordinary affair with Danielli Ofori-Atta one of the brains behind the new fashion label, Heritage MMXXII. I sent the questions over and she sent her answers back. Furthermore I know Danielli, we go to university together, but I had only ever said "hello" and "how's it going" to Lakin. As we all know, that greeting is as meaningless as a wave for the answer is almost always consistently bland. Even though I can't remember what he said, I'm very sure it was "I'm good thanks, how are you?" Anyone that claims to know another after such an exchange is quite deluded. Given my distaste for the greeting, it is a little surprising that that was how we began the interview. I feel it would be wrong to call it an interview for it was more like a chat between friends. When I had no questions left we spoke about television and the shows we watched. I dare say I told him just as much about my life as he told me about his.

Lakin started his journey when he was 13. He was excrutiatingly bored so he banded his sisters together, did their make up, and had the maids place a fan strategically so that it blew their hair about. He recalls that it was a regular point and shoot film camera, and that he had the maids hold a bedsheet behind them to serve as a decent backdrop. The pictures from his first sojourn into photography are still in the Ogunbanwo family home. Not many people have seen them for he fears that his sisters could not possibly handle the embarrassment. "They were good times." he says rather nostalgically. This went on for about a year. After this he got a digital camera and took pictures the way most teenagers these days take pictures. He took pictures of his friends while they were clubbing and partying. I can identify with this for there are not many pictures of me taken when I am not clubbing or partying. If you were to scour through my facebook photos you would think that that was all I ever did.

He went to Babcock University for a degree in International Law and diplomacy. It was his choice at the time because law was something that he had always wanted to do. "It was law or nothing" he declared. After he graduated with his degree he wasn't entirely sure that he wanted to be a lawyer. He was unprepared for the amount of work that went into it. He was persuaded to pursue a second degree at Buckingham by his father who said, "do this for me. I have never asked you for anything as a father." There isn't much that one can do once that card has been played. Lakin expressed relief that it had been played because it cannot be played again. However I think that he may remember this memory fondly because it was at Buckingham that Lakin got his first professional camera, a Nikon D60. It was then that photography graduated from being a casual hobby to a rather serious and expensive one. When he graduated, he put all thoughts of law behind him. To practice law in Nigeria, you have to do a year of law school. Lakin hasn't been and he doesn't intend to. He doesn't think there's much of an argument for it.

I understand this because Nigerian parents only insist that we do courses with finely laid out professions at the end of them. They only turn a blind eye when their child is actually quite good at the field he or she has gone into. Regarding the arts Nigerian parents are the exact opposite of the parents Roal Dahl describes in Matilda.

"In any event, parents never underestimate the abilities of their own children. Quite the reverse. Sometimes it was well nigh impossible for a teacher to convince the proud father or mother that their beloved offspring was a complete nitwit."

The next step for him was photography school. Lakin is a graduate of the Speos photography Institute in Paris. "It was great! I met the most amazing people" he says of the experience. He didn't go to learn any new skills and that's not to say that he didn't learn any new skills. He went for the professional validation. Professional validation is something that many artists seek, for you cannot really know how good you are until those better than you tell you. And even if they do not tell you, you may feel the green fumes of envy seeping from their orifices. It was here that he got more comfortable shooting in the studio. He says of the experience, "It made me take myself more seriously as a photographer... It did more to my mind than to my skill." I asked if Speos was where he got comfortable with nudity and he thought so. He said, "before I went to Speos I would dabble but my nudes were always implied. I won't say that I'm a nude photographer. I've never wanted to shoot boobs and ass under a special sort of light and make them look like something else. I just want to shoot breasts as breasts." 

Model in Lakin's mother's hat, Lakin's shoes, flashing the entire street
He remembers his first shoot at Speos fondly. "It was an assignment for the visual identity class and the teacher had gone through everybody's work and then he gave personal notes and assignments to each member of his class. Mine was to do a shoot without using photoshop." I don't need to be told that it was a difficult assignment for him, because it is evident from the bulk of his pictures that photoshop (the editing process) is a significant part of his art. At the time he had only been in Paris for two weeks and the only slim girl he knew was his friend's girlfriend. Even though she agreed to do the shoot he was concerned about whether or not she would be comfortable standing completely naked in front of a window looking out into the street in the middle of the day, and she was. She was completely blasé about it. She was more concerned about Lakin getting the shot than she was about displaying her tits and her coochie to the French public. "It was all part of some big idea that no one seemed to appreciate in the end. I had her in my shoes and my mum's hat. "

I asked if he got his mother's permission to ferry her hat 4000 miles from Lagos to Paris for most mothers would flinch at the very thought of it. He explained that he had already used it for a shoot in Lagos and he'd thought it would come in handy in Paris. "I told her I was taking it" he said dismissively. That shoot is one of his most memorable. It was one where everything came together. 

The defining thing about Lakin's work is that behind every picture that he takes his essence is visible. His point of view is so strong that he need not mark any of his pictures with his signature before you realize that it was he that took the picture. Of this he said, "I'm a big fan of sensuality, sex and sexuality." This was obvious to me before the interview. The models in his shoots ooze sex, and it isn't uncommon for him to completely disregard gender roles and stereotypes in order to obtain the image he desires. 

I asked him, about this picture, where the model appears to be showing the beginnings of turgidity. He said, "I didn't notice it at the time, but I spoke to the model after I looked at some of the pictures. I said "Mr man, what was happening here? What? The camera got you excited?" As sexual as the image might be it wasn't his intention."Visually, I like dark skin, heavy contrast and shadows. I'm very inspired by all things African and Africa and Nigeria. I like people. I'm also a big fan of Sub cultures. That's something I'll be doing more of in the future. I love it when personalities come through in images. My portraits are never sit down under bright lights and look pretty affairs. I try to highlight the bits of them that I find attractive and special." 

"Do you have a thing for scars" I asked, for Lakin seems to celebrate them in several of his pictures. He makes a point of showing them off especially when it would be remarkably simple to wipe them away with a little air brush. "I do! Especially facial ones. I said to someone, "if there was a way someone could promise me that I would still look okay with what do you call them?" "Tribal marks" I interjected. "Yes, tribal marks, I would go for them. I generally have a thing for body markings, I don't go out of my way to look for them but when i do find them I love them.. I don't have any tattoos, but I think they are special... or, they should be special. I don't have any scars." he said.

I was surprised because most Nigerians I know are not unmarred. I myself have a decent collection of them. My legs are vaguely reminiscent of the hide of a spotted beast from the days that I was ravaged by mosquitoes. I suppose some people are sweeter than others... When I expressed my surprise, he embarked on a scar finding mission. After performing a quick body sweep, he found one on his foot but he was unimpressed. He said, "I have one, but it's on my foot. It isn't such a cool place to have a scar."

I pointed out the picture below. It's such a striking image that I fear I shall never forget it. My memory is the most selectively porous device. It is almost always certain to fail me in an academic capacity, but sure to surprise me in an artistic one. Furthermore, there's so much pink that I'm quite sure that it burns an after image into your retinas at first sight. 

He said of the picture, "That's her! Why would I take it away from her? It was there."

"Do you have any other things? I asked for things hardly ever come in ones, they are more common in twos or threes or fives.

"Movement and legs" He answered, without much thought at all. 

"Why Legs?"

"You've either got them or you don't. You can't fake them."

I agree with him for once your legs have been fully formed they cannot be changed. If they are short and stumpy they will always and forever be short  and stumpy regardless of how much weight you lose or how much liposuction you can afford. And if they are long and lean, they will be long for as long as you have them, but they may not always be lean. 

After Lakin graduated from Speos he made the move back to Nigeria where he began work as a professional photographer. The move back to Nigeria is not something easily done. Several of those who attempt it flee after a year, never to be seen again except on the odd holiday. And you cannot blame them for it is our nature as people to forget the past and live in the present. We come to expect things from our places of birth that have never been, and may never be. Some of us will adapt and thrive, and others will not be so lucky. As a result of this I felt it pertinent that I ask if he felt that being in Nigeria had held him back in any way. 

He did not waver when he answered.  "No, I've always said regardless of what the big dream is I've always wanted Nigeria, specifically Lagos to be my base. This may sound pretentious but I actually love Lagos. Don't get me wrong, I have my frustrations with Lagos, and Nigeria as a country. I feel like Lagos is this beautiful city that just doesn't work. But I love Lagos, mainly because of the energy. I associate different cities with different emotions and there's just a hustle and drive about it. Everything's just very Go! Go! Go!"

After he mentioned the "big dream" so conveniently I had to ask him about it. Big dreams are important. In my opinion they are the stuff of life. When you have one it's like you've been lassoed. Everything you do wittingly or unwittingly pulls you in its general direction. If you haven't got one, I suggest that you get one before it's too late. There's really no better motivator in all the world. Yes, say it with me, "B-I-G D-R-E-A-M"

"It's one of those things; when I think it I get emotional and when I say it to certain people I cringe because it's like 'do you have any idea how many people have that dream?' My big dream is to be an internationally recognised photographer.I don't think it's impossible. Because the world is just that small now, everybody knows about everybody. And the world has its eyes on africa so everyone is coming to pluck and pluck and pluck. It's just scary that there's no time frame to this. It can happen tomorrow or it might take twenty years."

I first met Lakin at a house party in London when I was a young and naive 19. I don't remember much about the night but I do remember that he and Maki who I also met that night were inseparable. Maki is the creative genius behind Maki-Oh, one of the few Nigerian fashion labels worth talking about. 

Lakin and Maki

Lakin and Maki's relationship extends past the barriers of the casual into the realm of the professional. Maki-Oh's 2013 Autumn/Winter look book was featured on Style.com and Lakin took the pictures of Maki-Oh's 201. Lakin also borrows her clothes for some of his photo shoots. Even though they frequently disagree in their creative visions he considers it lucky that they both know when to capitulate.

He said, "the thing about our friendship is it's one of those scary ones that there are no real boundaries. Actually there are no boundaries at all. I'm very into what she does and she's very into what I do. I've seen her in an element and the process that she goes through. As an artist she inspires me."

Lakin's images are a cultural statement of the times we live in. Take this picture below. 

This is a picture of an incredibly well dressed girl standing next to a kiosk. It isn't even much of a kiosk for kiosks are usually huts or cubicles but this is a table and a rather large umbrella. It's one of those things that has no real name. I suppose that it is a stand of sorts. But if I were to ask anyone to get me something from there, or if I were to tell anyone that I went there, I would only ever say that I went to pick up something from the madam across the road. Just around the corner from every mansion is a madam who sells things. Her clientele is broad and diverse. I am sure that the scene depicted in the picture occurs at least a hundred times a day. 

Of his photography in general he said "that's just where my head is at and where Nigeria is at as well. I mean no one is spitting on me or beating me up somewhere because I'm shooting boys in ear rings and female jewellery and boobs and semi hardons. And that's because our minds are accepting these things now in Nigeria. 50 years from now I want them to say this kid did it first. That would be great. "

Lakin Ogunbanwo has come a long way in no time at all. Last year he had his first solo exhibition called the Mask, where he tried to show that we are all the same underneath the masks that we wear from day to day. He photographed 20 completely different people. The show sold out. This year he was featured in the Seven days in the life of Lagos exhibition and he's shot the lookbooks of Home Coming by Buki Akib and Maki Oh. From the 6th of May till the 13th of May seven pictures from his personal projects will be featured on 7000words.com, the meeting place of all new and great contemporary photographers. 

It is quite possible that Lakin has already sipped from the cup of greatness, and even though this might be true, he remains incredibly down to earth. Every word of praise that I uttered made him incredibly uncomfortable. It made him so uncomfortable that he begged me to stop several times but I didn't for I am Afam and if I do not wash those I admire with my compliments and goodwill, then of what use is my admiration? At some point in the interview unbeknownst to me, the interview stopped being an interview and it became a conversation. For there is no other way that he could have said to me, "I love Beyonce! She gives me life." That's not something that many would reveal. I left him at 3am. He was still at his studio editing. I was lucky enough to see some of the pictures that he was working on. His instagram profile will be even more exciting than it is now shortly. Follow him on instagram @lakinogunbanwo, follow him on twitter@LakinOgunbanwo and check out his tumblr lakinogunbanwo.tumblr.com/.

Happy Days,


Feyi Adesanya said...

LOVE his work! Effortless talent.

Afam said...

Me too!!! I was so honoured!

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