By Taiwo Shonowo
When I think of Lagos, the dominant images in my head are of yellow buses, lavish weddings, and unending traffic. So, sometimes, I leave the studio, pick up my camera and explore the city. I find that looking through my camera’s viewfinder helps me reflect on things that I would not normally notice or simply ignore.
What my pictures show is a city of hard workers, of diversity, and of multiple realities. These I realise are not unique to Lagos, but Lagos has its own slant. No other city in Nigeria and, perhaps, even Africa, experiences the same level of traffic congestions as Lagos streets and highways. The traffic nightmare creates a city of early risers and hard workers who, in the face of often untold personal challenges, strive to give meaning to their daily lives.
As one would expect in a cosmopolitan city like Lagos, multiple realities exist. In the one picture of a slum presented here, I show an image of some performance artists on a boat.
The brilliance of performance arts is that the actor does not tell you what to think. He does what he does, you think what you think. When I was capturing that image, I thought of “life as a journey” to be the obvious message as the crux of the performance was getting from one path of the canal to the other. The place is a slum and people live in harsh conditions—they don’t have toilets and defecate in the canal. Thus, in my estimation, “life as a journey” was a hopeful message for one in such conditions. But as I looked at them, I wondered what message they took from the performance—perhaps it was just all fun; another group of visitors who think they understand and have the solutions? What do they think about when they smile at you and take the clothes you offer them and embrace you?
Other pictures show streets and scenes of mainland Lagos—the haggling, the hassle, the hope, the hubris—and others show the innovativeness of young people when they are equipped and allowed to thrive.
At the March 2018 Yaba College of Technology Fashion Week, I was especially captivated by the fashion student who made a dress with a baby carrier. It was one picture that I took in awe and not simply for fun or duty.
There is also the bougie extreme of Lagos typified in this photo essay by the luxury of a mixology competition in one of the most prestigious hotels in Lagos. We don’t even produce any of the alcohols and now we have experts who create their own unique cocktails and compete among themselves.
But would Lagos be Lagos if we do not do bougie things?
Taiwo is a professional photographer who lives in Lagos.