Adeboro Odunlami: Say Cheese, sirs [New Voices]

They’ll tell you they love you; your gusto, your courage and the fierceness with which you do your work. They’ll say it with so much energy and conviction; you will almost believe it. But do not jump on it – not yet.

They told me as well. They said, ‘Oh wow! A female photographer? That’s amazing. I love when women do men’s job’. And even though I struggled with the thought that came to my mind (because, you see, I have listened to Chimamanda and Twitter feminists and I am still not radicalized), I thought, ‘What do they mean by men’s job?’

Later on, one of them helped to clarify. He said, ‘You know there are just some jobs that belong to men and some that belong to women. Like being a mid-wife’ He laughed. ‘The name speaks for itself’ he continued. ‘Photography is just one of those professions.’

I guess I was carried away and pleased with the fact that he called photography a profession and not a hobby, like other people do, because I nodded and believed him and every word he reiterated about me being a different kind of woman and how he prays other Nigerian women become this enterprising, daring and liberated.

They will say those words to you as well. Those are sweet and true words.

That is, until you are co-shooting at an event, and the foundations of patriarchy upon which Nigeria so firmly stands upon, mocks you subtly.

You are standing armed with your camera; the same one you used to take the amazing pictures that those men looked at and nodded wide-eyed; the same one that has earned you the name ‘foto!’; the same one that got you this job. Beside you is a man (or a boy or a guy – he is male). He is also armed with his camera. Like most photographers do, you have taken a sneaky peek at his camera and his lens and even some of his pictures. It is obvious that you are the better photographer.

But then, it is time to take group pictures and both of you stand to shoot a crowd of men and women. You look through your viewfinder and suddenly realize that no one is looking into your lens. Yes, they are poised to snap but their eyes are not on you. They are on him. You wait. ‘Turn by turn’, you assure yourself. But then immediately your co-photographer is done and he straightens his back, the crowd scatters and speed-walk to their seats as though their buttocks itch them. You are amazed. No one acted as though you were present. In their minds, you were probably a random chick practicing her photography with the camera her daddy got for her.

Or maybe not. People deserve a second chance, you think.

So you ask the groom’s father and his old secondary school classmates to gather round for a picture. They say ‘Yes yes’ and beckon to each other, ‘Walesco! Odaju Babariga! Justice, omo Igbo! Akani the cunny! Kola Elemu! Oya come, let this girl take our picture’. You smile. They just called you ‘this girl’, but that is fine, at least they see you. You’re content. You arrange the group with that same smile. When they are arranged to make a perfect picture, you hear one of them say. ‘Where’s the other photographer? The boy. Call him.’

You don’t really feel hurt in your heart, so you don’t know why tears sting your eyes. It’s a man’s job anyway, and men don’t cry. ‘What is the problem with me?’ you ask yourself. But the problem is not with you, you reason. The problem is in the core of your society. The society has been conditioned to believe that a man can do no wrong. Even if he hits his wife or amasses more wives to a collection of attention-deprived wives, he does no wrong. He cannot be the second best in a competition of only women. Even if the women win intellectually and receive the accolades, he wins inherently.

You don’t like these feminist thoughts coming to your mind. Things are not that bad in Nigeria, or at least in Lagos. Women can now work hard and make something of themselves just like men can. Or can they?

In a voice you don’t recognize; a voice Chimamanda might be proud of, you look into the eyes of the group of Old-Boys Association, instead of looking at their pot bellies or their crocodile leather shoes, and you say, ‘There’s no need for him. I’ll take your pictures just as well.

Say cheese!’

Adeboro is a graduate of Law, a photographer and a collector of experiences. You probably, most likely, already know her.

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