Ijén

Nnebuifé Kwubéi

Photographing this series beautifully coincided with my recent completion of Teju Cole’s novel, Every Day Is for the Thief. I usually keep an open mind about themes after shooting. I let situations connect my photographs. This one is no exception. 

Unlike Teju Cole, I had not been living in Lagos before I came back for a family visit. I do not have any family here. I visited Lagos for the first time last year.

I am curious about this city of rude interruptions and messy realities. I am curious about the movements. Waiting and moving. Like Teju Cole, I like to watch what’s around. I am very surprised. But this is not from a diasporan Nigerian’s viewpoint. This is from a town-boy-visiting-the-famous-big-city’s viewpoint.

Waking up as early as 5am to get ready for work, standing in a crowded BRT because, for some reason, someone woke up and got to the park before you. Never mind the fact that you got there by 6:40am. Getting back by 8pm even though you left your workplace by 5pm. 

I am usually an observer careful not to give myself away as a Johnny just come (JJC). I take care not to stand and wander in my mind and become a victim of pickpockets. I have never witnessed anything like that, but the stories you hear tell you to prepare your mind for these inevitable things.

In this photo series, I am waiting at an ATM stand. I have to make a withdrawal. It just rained. There are people waiting for buses. Unfriendly stares from people who think you are staring too much. Conductors shouting destinations from open doors of buses. Children hawking. It’s an unending cycle of movement.

There are people on the sidewalk waiting for buses to take them home. A boy selling wares after the rain. Is he going home or did he just start. When will he go home? What about the conductors? Do they ever go home? I play a game in my head. I am following them home. These people. I see what they meet after waiting. I stop wandering when I realize I have been there for too long. I have to tactfully angle my phone from an obvious view while taking these photographs. I have heard of people getting harassed for taking pictures. I do not know why I am scared. I am not really doing anything wrong. It’s the warnings you hear everyday, but I am very careful anyways.

Every time I step out of the house, I steel myself for surprises and spectacles. I am getting the hang of it. I am learning to wear the right frown and walk the right amount of briskness, but I am also careful not to get too comfortable. In Ika, Ijén means journey or life. It depends on the context for which it is used. This one is for my journey as a watcher of life. Lagos’ Ijén.

Nnebuifé Kwubéi is a photographer based in Lagos, Nigeria. He is passionate about visual story telling and language. He uses his photography which heavily employs the use of chiaroscuro to communicate nostalgia, language, translations and placement. He has had his photographs featured on Barren Magazine and another work (“dogoyaro”, a photography project on gender roles in Nigeria) was exhibited in London. Nnebuifé reads a lot and writes occasionally. He recently completed his undergraduate studies from the University of Benin, Nigeria.