By Ifreke Inyang
Annie Leobovitz is mother of three and perhaps the world’s most famous photographer, but in Nigeria, we have our own female creative genius too. Ifreke Inyang in this interview explores the journey of award-winning photographer and mother of three, Aisha Augie-Kuta, and he can’t help but see similarities between both women. Augie-Kuta is also set to conquer the world
“I felt I was young enough to take that risk and old enough to live with the consequences.”
“It is definitely a male dominated market in Nigeria but I feel gender has nothing to do with taking picture,” Aisha Augie-Kuta, soft spoken and with looks any photographer would die to capture, tells me. “More women are taking up photography either as a hobby or as a business. I also feel that women tend to tell stories from a different point of view than men.”
Still, it must be a bit difficult for a young woman from the conservative North to stand in front of the line for a creative industry. “It has been both easy and hard,” she tells me, almost sighing. “Easy in the sense that there are not too many of us who do this; hard in the sense that it took a while for certain people to accept it as a serious career or as a career at all. There are a few religious and cultural restraints and I still find people who look at me funny or say ‘What else do you do? That cannot be your job’. Now there are many aspiring photographers and we are trying to make sure that people change their mindset towards the art especially in the North.”
Her father didn’t care for that stereotype however – and so he gave her a camera as a birthday gift. “It started off with a camera from my dad as a birthday gift when I was really young,” she recalls. “I would create the images and when I was out of film (before the digital era), he would help me develop, print and we would analyse the images together. I however discovered my passion for it when I took photojournalism as a course in university in 1999. Learning darkroom techniques opened up my mind to what an image could become.”
Still, she made a brief detour into the corporate environment after getting degrees in Mass Communication and then Media and Communication, but not for long. “The idea of it alone was really confusing. I had a great career and I kept thinking ‘This is a hobby, why would I leave certainty for the unknown’,” she says of her decision to leave. “The greatest fear is to lose that monthly wage package and also the respect that came with the position I had. But as the years rolled by; my passion for photography grew and I was even being offered money to do it. I felt I was young enough to take that risk and old enough to live with the consequences. I carefully weighed my options and decided to go for it.”
And she went all the way – adding film making to her portfolio, and finding her way to the New York Film Academy for a certificate in Digital Film Making. For her it was as much the need for a new hobby (and she always takes her hobbies seriously, she says) as it was a quest for knowledge. “I wanted to make sure that I knew exactly what I was doing so decided to learn more,” she explained, adding that photography and filmmaking are not far apart
Point of view:
“I now see things from a more professional point of view. There is a lot that can be learned. We learn new things every day. Film is still photography in motion,” she told me, seeking to dispel any confusion that must have crept into my mind. “It is the exact same thing but it offers sound and movement which aids story telling. With the help of technology and the growth of the digital era, my still camera also shoots video. I can decide to do both at the same time.”
Her work speaks for her, and through most of it, her heart is in the right place. “I have made a few short films that had to do with issues that affected us in Nigeria,” she said. “Topics like electricity and the national elections were touched on, and also some behind- the-scenes photography. We are currently in pre-production of a full length feature that we should start shooting in a few months, God willing.”
Her first love, however, is her still camera. “I’d definitely choose photography over film making,” she says, without hesitation. “I pursued film making as my new hobby and also because of the connection it has with photography. It was only logical for me. Since photography became my full-time job, I decided to get a new hobby. I know that this aspect will also become a strong passion for me. They both work hand-in-hand for me, I can see so many stories here in Nigeria that need to be told and that would hopefully create a paradigm shift for the better.”
The world, at least from Nigeria, is beginning to notice that Aisha is part of a new generation of women pioneers in the creative space. In 2010, she was honoured as one of 50 Nigerian women in a coffee table book and exhibition for the nation’s 50 @ 50 celebrations supported by Women for Change initiative. Then in January this year, a bigger crown came when she was nominated as Creative Artist of the Year at The Future Awards 2011 – and she went home with the award.
“I was excited about the nomination,” she gushes. “I felt my peers had noticed my work and appreciated it. It was a good feeling and winning in my category made it even better. It also inspired me to do a lot more than I was doing already. It was an honour.”
And honour keeps pouring in. “I have just been nominated for Female photographer of the year by Exquisite magazines ELOY awards – it’s exciting news!” she says.
She has also exhibited her works at ‘50 years ahead through the eyes of Nigerian women’, (Schlumberger, The Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands, African Artists Foundation), ‘50 Years Ahead through the Eyes of Nigerian Women’; Abuja, Nigeria; April, 2010 (Transcorp Hilton, The Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands, African Artists Foundation), ‘Here and Now: Contemporary Nigerian and Ghanian Art’ New York, USA, October, 2010 (Iroko Arts Consultants, Mrs Ronke Ekwensi), ‘The Authentic Trail: Breast Cancer’ Fundraising Exhibition, Abuja, Nigeria, October, 2010 (Medicaid Diagnostics, Pinc Campaign, Aisha&Aicha) and ‘My Nigeria; The Photowagon Exhibits’ Abuja, Nigeria, December, 2010 (The Photowagon, Thought Pyramid Gallery).
Augie Kuta shoots every other day. “I hardly take breaks. I shoot for fun and for commission so there is hardly a day without my camera taking at least one shot. It’s become an obsession,” she says.
Her favourite shoot, she reveals, was going home to Argungu in Kebbi state and creating portraits of her family and people. She called it ‘Beyond the Fish’: “That is because my hometown is known for the annual fishing festival that takes place there”.
According to her, she went back with the mindset of an outsider but with the knowledge of an insider. “I’m sure that sounds crazy but it was a project that meant a lot to me,” she smiled. “It opened up my mind to how tourism can make or break a society. If I would use adrenaline as my criteria for selecting a favourite, I would say shooting Abuja from a hot air balloon in October, 2010. It was serene and a beautiful experience.”
And what does the future look like through her lenses. “Obscurity is a question of perspective but I can say that it has been a journey so far and I see so much more ahead,” she responded. “I see hurdles but I cross them or go around them. I just hope that having this medium of expression will be of additional benefit to at least my direct society. I intend to tell stories through images that will change some things for the better.”
It’s not just what has brought her this far – but also what she lives for. “Photography is contemporary history for me, both personally and socially. I love the fact that I can stop a second in time and it may last forever,” she declared. Y!