In the past year, the Lekki -Ikoyi bridge has risen to become the iconic image of Lagos. A decade ago, that would have been a sea of yellow buses under the Oshodi Bridge. Two decades ago, the statue of the three elders, or the Marina skyline was the signature image of this bustling Nigerian city. Lagos is in a constant state of flux, changing, passing, and it is difficult to tell what will remain. Most of what was is sadly lost, because few people made the conscious decision to document, curate and archive the city’s transformation.
It was E.B. White who said, “All city dwellers must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation.” And the truth of this hit me the more while staring at a photograph of boys playing soccer on Bar Beach that was part of the ‘Lagos: Hustle and Hope’ exhibition at Rele Gallery in March this year. Bar beach, a former venue for state executions, morphed into a leisure beach in the post-military years, and is now unrecognisable as part of the Eko Atlantic City project. That photograph was taken by Logor Olumuyiwa, who, in his Monochrome Lagos project, has chosen to capture this city bent on transmogrifying, and sometimes annihilate everything in it: man and urban landscape alike.
Logor, who often becomes lyrical when talking or writing about Lagos, has given himself a vision that is akin to what Susan Sontag refers to as “Whitman’s program of populist transcendence.” In the introduction to the selection of his work that was part of the Lagos Open Range exhibition in September 2015 at the Goethe Institute, Logor wrote of his work:
“I set out to photograph Lagos, seeking to capture the mysteries of the city, the theatrics and arrangement of almost everything, the poetic juxtapositions of its residents, how they relate to the city and vice versa. Most importantly, I seek the beauty in her forms, lines, patterns, textures, by stripping her of one of her most obvious features, her “colour.””
Colour is the way Lagos maps its transitions. Yellow danfos give way to red BRT buses, and then to unmarked cabs as one moves both from the old to the new and from the low class to the high class parts of Lagos. Buildings also go from fading pastel-like colours, to the bright gaudy colours of big corporation, to the primary colours of minimalist design as one goes through the same transition as that of the buses. By stripping his images of colour, Logor indeed attempts to move his viewers away from the quick judgements we are liable to input to photographs about Lagos, which he refers to as sentimentality. Images of people shuffling across an expressway, of young dancers moving under huge concrete beams, and the architectural grandeur of the underbelly of Lagos bridges are presented to the viewer as equal parts of the same Lagos.
Logor often insists that the project started off as, and still primarily remains, an online project. He updates images to his profile on Instagram and the blog on Tumblr (logorofafrica.tumblr.com). He has a running series tagged Daily Aesthetics, which he describes as a “visual catalogue of daily life, sort of like a diary.” His work has, however, made it to galleries too, becoming featured in exhibitions across the city. “I can’t get as much exhibitions as I want but I can post photos limitlessly on the social media platforms,” he says, “after all, the everyday audience is the muse, the canvass. They might as well enjoy the privilege of first-hand preview.” This embrace of all forms of expressing his art, of not turning his nose up at any influence or subject, is emblematic of Logor’s work. He can be found quoting the fuji musician, Wasiu Ayinde, and Robert Frank in the same breath.
Part of his work in an exhibition titled Monochrome at Freedom Park in August this year was the photograph of a young man sitting under the bridge, with columns rising out of the lagoon and curving upwards and further beyond the photograph like the walls of a cathedral. His head is bent and in his hand is a book that seems to have entranced him. This kind of imagery abounds in Logor’s work, showing a Lagos that is not easy to fit into simple narratives: under the bridge is not just home to grime and poverty; books have a place there too. In that same exhibition was a photograph of a girl, titled Nielsa. She is half turned away from the camera, her lips pulled firmly into a wry smile and hair blowing on her face. The image of a man, sans shirt, backing the viewer and carrying a kid suggests the image was taken at a beach—which would explain the hair on the girls face. But the girl makes no intention to calm the hair and let the photograph capture her face like any adult (man or woman) would do by instinct. Her gaze is so penetrating that it is easy to think she’s looking at us, the viewers of the picture. But she’s really looking at Logor. The ability to capture such images is part of what gives power to his street photography.
Logor quotes Koto Balofo when speaking about his choice of projects: “Have a plan, go out to execute the plan but let the butterflies fly”. He could have chosen to strictly become an event photographer, for that is the most economically promising choice for young people entrances by the camera in Lagos and with some appreciable level of skill. “I can’t clearly say it was a planned decision to photograph the street as a niche” he says, “but I like to compose images by default, and with so much enthusiasm for the City of Lagos it was only apt that I assume the role of an observer of that carnival working mutually with fate or nature to find that which wouldn’t be obvious or conforming in the existing definitions of what is beautiful or right and what isn’t.” Logor is not averse to making money, he just wants to make much more.
Logor speaks of his photographs as a collaborative effort between him and the people he captures. “I get familiar, I talk to them, I tell them about myself and we find a common ground first as humans and acquaintance before I photograph and in cases where we can’t dialogue, I think they simply just see it in my eyes and gesture that I do not have hidden agendas other than to frame that which I have found interesting.” He describes that dialogue as often more mental than verbal.
Logor is often careful to describe Monochrome Lagos as just an art project. It is not all that he is artistically. He is always working to capture that which a camera would not seek ordinarily, training his eyes to eyes to become a shrewd and better observer. On weekends, when he is not on the street taking photographs, he can be found in bourgeoning culture spaces in the city, capturing moments of the Lagos art life. During the week, he is in places like Centre for Contemporary Art Lagos, deep into texts that further his sight and engaging in interactions that broaden his understanding of his chosen art.
He hopes to create public space installations of his work, and to turn Monochrome Lagos into a multimedia hub that will be curating content from Lagos in the hopes of changing the way this city is perceived, and making visitors and residents alike see Lagos beyond its constant rush. Though young and relatively new to the art/craft, Logor holds a concrete vision of that which he wants to achieve.
It is difficult to speculate what art will endure the passage of time and become essential, but within minutes of interacting with him and his work, one comes away with the feeling that Logor is in aiming for art that is lasting and transcendent.
This article is the winning piece in the second article challenge of the What’s On Africa Cultural Journalism Programme 2015 supported by the British Council (Nigeria).