“We should arise from our sleep and point our cameras to the beauty we behold the same way it’s done in Dubai, UAE. I know it is like swimming against the tide. It’s possible if that’s the only way we can make a positive difference in our society,” says Kunle Ogunfuyi, a photojournalist from Lagos Nigeria, about what should be done to change how Africa’s story is told.
I met Kunle in a year-long State Department program bringing together photojournalists from across the world to share experiences and learnings from covering the COVID-19 pandemic. The program, “A Global Moment in Time,” was part of the U.S. Department of State, International Visitor Leadership Program or IVLP and brought together 73 photojournalists from 55 countries spanning 16 time zones. All these journalists were individually selected by the U.S. embassy in their respective home countries. It included a month-long virtual bit from the fall of 2021, a bridge program with activities that enabled us to stay connected and a two-week in person program in the United States.
A passionate photographer, Kunle is also keen on contributing towards the effort to change Africa’s narrative. I had a conversation with him, a first in a series with photographers who participated in the Global Moment in Time program, and this is what he had to say.
How did your journey in journalism start?
“I never knew I had long started journalism before realizing it. In 1997, I had the opportunity to use a point and shoot camera(film) belonging to a student teacher (Mr. Sunday Ayeola) to document our high school sports festival. I was able to print and paste them on the notice board where both students and staff can see them the following day. (That was publishing). The news went round that photos I took yesterday were already on the notice board. It made me feel like a star that year. That inspired me to do more and I started seeking knowledge on how my photographs can be better like some prints I saw belonging to professional photographers at the Photo Lab a day before.”
Why did you settle on photojournalism and why is it important?
“I didn’t start out as a photojournalist; Fine art was my first love because I was able to draw and people would see the art and appreciate my works. I don’t know if I can still draw the same way. As I answered earlier, the turnaround time for showing off events documented using photography cannot be compared to any other visual art practice or writing. That’s where I got hooked with photography as a means of reporting happenings.”
What stories do you cover in your country and where are they published?
“As a staff and independent (freelance) photojournalist, I cover all types of assignments. As for the staff assignment they are in the paper, I primarily work for ThisDay Newspaper in Nigeria. I also have time to pick up commissioned assignments for agencies and corporate bodies. Independent or freelance photojournalism pays more if you have the right network.”
What would you say has been your most impactful work?
“Citizens revolting against sudden subsidy removal by the Jonathan’s FG administration in Nigeria 2012. A year later I hosted a memorial solo exhibition at the National Museum and Yaba College of Technology, Lagos.”
How was the experience covering COVID-19 in your country? Any lessons learnt from being in the frontline?
“ People were initially afraid to move around including myself because there were all manner of half-truths on how people can get infected with the virus . As information started coming from the government through NCDC it became clearer on how to move and still carry out our jobs as photojournalists. Yes there are lessons , but the key one is to get the right information concerning the subject, target or pandemic before heading out on the field. No one can perform at their best with half information.”
How would you describe your experience throughout the GMIT program and what lessons did you learn that you’d want to share?
“The experience was unquantifiable. It gave participants access to knowing people and cultures around the world in the space of one year. Also, the in-person visit made it possible to see that the US is not as perfect as most young Nigerians(developing nations) assumed it to be. There are challenges confronting them although they have systems in place to check most of them. However, the notion that money can be easily gotten on the streets of the US must be stopped with proper immigration enlightenment programs or else there will be an increase of homeless people on the streets of each state.”
What is your perception about How Africa is covered? What are you as a journalist doing in that regard?
“It is a simple answer…We should arise from our sleep and point our cameras to the beauty we behold the same way it’s done in Dubai, UAE . I know it is like swimming against the tide. It’s possible if that’s the only way we can make a positive difference in our society.
In your opinion, what should journalists in Africa do to better cover the continent and tell impactful stories?
“The African Union as a body can make traveling around Africa by Africans more simple like the EU. Then journalists can travel in-person to report the wonders and beauty of the continent . We need to show the political leaders in photography and words the benefits we gain once we are United. I can travel by train to Kenya or Ethiopia to document their wildlife and publish in Nigeria media which will open more tourism doors to such locations.”
Should more people get into photojournalism as a career? Why is journalism important?
“The photo/journalism of old is not the same as what we are experiencing today and we do not know what the future holds. Pictures are no longer trusted at first sight because of the fare of unethical digital manipulation. Again, it’s time and season affecting the profession. Many people with smartphones with good cameras are already potential photo/journalists. They have online platforms for publishing whether true or fake (incomplete) reporting and their eyewitness capturing of the scene. Without ethical checks their information is out there for the masses’ consumption. The quest to counter that area of the society is what we have to add to our daily reporting and for how long? We just have to do our bit.”
You can find Kunle’s work here: https://flickr.com/photos/kunleogunfuyi and https://hodstoreng.wixsite.com/kunleogunfuyi His work shared on the GMIT platform can also be accessed here: https://www.globalmomentgallery.com/ogunfuyi
This series #ThroughTheirLenses continues. I will bring you more conversations with other journalists from across the continent and the world. Keep it here for all the stories from the men and women through whose lenses we see the continent and the world.