This week in GOING SOLO, we are joined by Oladimeji ‘Dimeji’ Coker, a documentary photographer from Nigeria, currently based in Australia. In his session, Oladimeji focuses on identity as a critical part of being an artist: we need to feel comfortable with our identity in order to effectively and authentically express our ideas and ourselves through our work.
Watch Oladimeji’s interview with CAS volunteer Rachael here.
If you would like to hear more from Oladimeji, make sure you register for GOING SOLO via our Google Form.
Rachael: I guess I would like to start off with: How you describe yourself as an artist? Or perhaps as a photographer, because that’s probably more fitting to what you do.
Oladimeji: Well, to begin with a bit of history – I got into photography to document. Not just to document, but to connect what I was seeing. Photography was a way for me to passionately express those things. I’m someone who is curious about what is going on around him, and seeks a medium to express what he has seen through photography. We have this perception that people are aware of what is going on around them and I think that’s probably the beauty of artists and photographers – the ability to stop people and capture reality in a form where people can observe it in its totality.
I saw something that said the most invisible people in society are homeless people. You wouldn’t realise that unless you saw a picture of a homeless person and then you realise, ‘oh I probably walk past this person everyday’, or you see a movie or documentary about homeless people, and they become conscious of something that you should have been aware of the entire time.
That’s the way I see myself as a photographer – someone who observes something in society and then stops to actually capture that and offer it back to society like, this is what’s going on around us right now.
I think generally, as an artist or as a photographer you may have a higher consciousness of things. There are some things that people would normally just ignore. It’s not like they are consciously ignoring those things, it’s just that they are not aware of it. They’re used to going through the day and doing certain things, but when you pick up a camera your observation skills start to increase. Something you would usually just go past on a normal day, you can quickly observe that there is something going on that probably needs to be documented or that people need to be aware of. For me, it’s always about having consciousness of things that people are generally not aware of or that we’ve just swept under the rug.
Rachael: Do you think that when you started photography your awareness increased or have you always had that? And the had to drive to capture it followed?
Oladimeji: I like to think that it has always been there. Observing and being aware of my environment and surroundings has always been there. I’ve always been a very curious child growing up. Maybe the curiosity was then expressed through being a stubborn child or something. I was aware that there were some things that society told you you shouldn’t do, but as far as I was concerned, I felt that I should be able to express myself by whatever means. The awareness has probably always been there, but photography actually heightens that awareness. Sometimes you see images even when you are not out with a camera.
Sometimes photography is like a relationship. In a relationship, it’s not always fun. You have fights. Photography is like a partner to me. You won’t always be in the mood to pick up a camera and sometimes you shouldn’t force it, especially if you’ve gotten to a point where you’re trying to prove yourself to someone else. See your photography as a relationship or a life partner. If you look at your parents or your friends or someone who has been in a relationship for a long time. It’s not always going to be, let’s go out on a date. There are probably days where they don’t stick with each other but they come back and they go on vacation and then it’s all merry, and that’s the way you should see your art or your photography. There will be days when you’re just not in the mood. It could be weeks or even months. It’s probably your body trying to get you to see your art through another means, to re-tune you or something.
That’s something that one should be very aware of. If you’re doing it and it’s starting to feel frustrating or like you should take a break, then take a break.
Rachael: What does success as a photographer mean to you?
Oladimeji: I think success in photography would probably be dependent on why you got into it in the first place. Success might be being able to push through your first exhibition despite all of the odds or challenges you have faced. Success could be exhibiting at a gallery outside of your own country. Success could be being featured in a magazine that you have always read. Success could even be going out for a photo walk and being able to capture an image you’re really proud of. What I’m saying is there is no one size fits all for success as a photographer. For me success would be being able to create a body of work each year that I’m really proud of.
Rachael: How does photography enrich your life?
Oladimeji: I’m trying to imagine my life without art, and it probably wouldn’t exist. It wouldn’t exist in the sense that I wouldn’t be myself. I would be someone else. What if there was no art to enrich my life? What if I never saw the Godfather as a child? What if there was no camera at home that I could take pictures with? What if there were no books to read? Thinking about that, I think I would be like a zombie or something. It has made me me.
Rachael: Can you give a brief description of what you will discuss in your GOING SOLO session?
Oladimeji: I’ll be talking about my journey as a photographer, my journey towards my first exhibition and what I had to do to get that exhibition – The kind of people I had to speak with and the help that I got. And the help I didn’t get. And how it was in Nigeria because it’s probably different to Australia, but it would be insightful to know what a Nigerian photographer or artist would go through to get their first exhibition in the art space back home. Based on that, I will talk about how being able to solidify your identity actually helps your art. Believing yourself and using that to grow yourself as an artist
Rachael: What advice would you give emerging artists or photographers?
Oladimeji: Enjoy yourself, basically. Whatever ideas pop in your head, just go try them out. Don’t really believe or place trust in critics because you need to be careful who you are listening to. You need to compare what they are saying with the reason you created what you created. If it matches why you created the work, then you can take on the criticism, but if the direction your going in is different to what the criticism was saying then just wave it off. Especially as an emerging artist. When you’re emerging, you probably don’t have a lot of confidence and you don’t want anybody to ruin that confidence at such an early stage in your career. So just go out and have fun with your art whatever it is. Just enjoy it. Have a lot of discipline with it. Go out and try to learn as much as you can. Whatever it is you’re learning, go out and practice it. You should know all the rules and be familiar with them, so that you’re conscious of when you’re breaking them.
Go out. Have fun. Be disciplined. Grow. Challenge the rules that are out there. Just live and enjoy your art.