Onyinye Ubah

In December 2016, I had a horrible incident. After that horrendous incident, I lost my voice. When I mean I lost my voice, I mean my throat was closed for almost eight months to the extent I could not speak.  Life for me at that point felt like I was going around the world in my own head. In time, I needed to come out of my shell. Little by little, I looked for a way to communicate with people and that was when photography and prose poetry came to my rescue.

I first started with prose poetry. It was the easiest medium for me to reach into my memory and deal with the trauma. It was a means to tell my own story that can never be taken away from me. Writing became my first love because of my intimate love for language.  I started on Facebook where I would sometimes give a sneak peek into my journal. I began to journal my journey of healing even up till now.

From writing, I began to tilt towards the camera where I could capture things that are sometimes overlooked. Alas, I was able to find myself in the world of documentary and experimental photography. The experience of this kind of photography is somewhat intriguing and evolving. The beauty of it is that it leans heavily with other forms of artworks. The experimental form of photography that I do comes along with sounds, videos, words and medium in its exhibition. The creativity of seeing still objects having the ability to move says it all for me. It helps my creativity and healing journey where I find myself neither boxed nor settling. It gives me room to move from normal to manipulation.

It sounds surprising to people when they find out I am a tech girl. I have a degree in Computer Science from Akanu Ibiam Polytechnique in Ebonyi state. Apart from Photography, I also practice advertising and communication.

In the early days of my creative journey, I sought validation. I reached out to people, not to be mentored though because I had already found my own voice. At a point, I needed to quit the sought for validation and step out of my comfort zone and take the risk therein. I am so glad I did. I am self taught. I have always had eyes for images even when I did not have the basic knowledge of a camera. As soon as I handled the camera for the first time, I began using images to tell stories that a lot of people could connect with.

In 2017, something happened. I went to the Northern Nigeria with some group of six men on a voyage. We travelled on a train from Lagos to Kano. I was the only woman in the group. There in Kano, my perspective about life changed drastically. I left Kano with a change of the narratives that had been embedded in me. The journey changed the way I viewed the world apart from the knowledge I got from books and limited experiences. I discovered some cultures, people, languages that never get to the media. By the time I was done with that voyage, I had become a progressive human whose horizons had been broadened. From there, I learnt the art of dignifying other people with my images.

Apart from my changed view of people and the technical bits I learnt from those men, I also discovered the little presence of women in the field of photography. There are no lots of women in this creative field of photography and I worry a lot of stories are not being told as they should have been.

Earlier in the year, I almost gave up on photography. I was under the pressure to commercialize my works and sell my services which is opposed to telling a story. Surprise, surprise, here we are! Thriving and survival is part of human existence.

Photography went a notch higher for me during the lockdown. The lockdown changed me. There was nowhere I could go. I found myself battling with anxiety. Somehow, I began to reach out to my friends to know how they were doing and to see how they were dealing with the times we had found ourselves.

Surprisingly, I found myself taking pictures of my friends during face time calls. It was a medium to navigate through the pandemic and minimizing our fears.  In that process, I found another style of taking pictures from another perspective in case social distancing was going to become the new normal and affect photography as a whole.

One of the major challenges I face as a woman in photography is the hypersexualization of women. There are those in the industry that look for a way to take advantage of you as a woman before granting you an offer. There are cases of hoarding of information by other creatives that would help your work. It’s been discovered that some people are not willing to share knowledge with others.

In time, we found out that there was no community for women to help ourselves since there are not many of us in this industry. This led to the birth of Tiwa Community where we as women showcase our creativity and become visible. As women, when we share our works as photographers and creativity, we indirectly give other women the permission to become confident of themselves.

Looking back at how far I have come since the first steps that I took, it would not be arrogant to say that I am a capitalism hand maiden and professional opinions haver.

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