Kehinde Kadijat Kadiri is a senior lecturer at the Mass Communication Department of the University of Ilorin, Kwara State. The humanitarian photographer holds a PhD in Communications from Universiti Utara Malaysia and is also the founder, and executive director of The Grassroots Aid Initiative (TGAI), the non-governmental organisation through which she has been using her photography skills to impact thousands of Nigerians. The Ogun State indigene as well as award-winning photographer says being able to affect the lives of less privileged Nigerians brings her more fulfilment.
How would you describe your journey to photography?
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My journey started when I was younger. I love pictures a lot. Taking pictures gives me so much happiness. My journey into humanitarian photography started in the classroom when I was teaching photojournalism. I organised a photo exhibition for my students, at the end of the exhibition, I realized that pictures can be used to tell compelling stories. Pictures can be used to refine and define people’s lives. I took it as a challenge to learn more about the practical aspect of photography. You can’t learn how to ride a bicycle inside a classroom, you will need to go and learn the process of riding a bicycle outside the classroom. Then, I started taking pictures of the situations of rural people. People that live in deplorable situations. I upload the pictures on my Instagram account, then people started asking questions, desirous of knowing the stories behind the pictures. This encouraged me to do more, and then I started documenting the lives of people.
While on a photography field study with some students, I saw a pupil in uniform but not in school. We discovered from her that she was sent home because her parents did not pay her fees. I was curious to know the amount and she said it was N2500. I told myself I needed to tell the world about it because it was difficult for me to believe. I posted the girl’s photo on my Instagram page and someone sent me a direct message that she will pay for two terms and she sent the money immediately. I had to go the next day to the school so that she won’t be sent home again. That was the turning point. I moved from documentary photography to humanitarian photography.
How important is photography to you?
Photography tells stories that a million words can never say. It is something that brings so much joy and happiness to me. It gives me a lot of fulfilment and I am happy doing what I’m doing and I love what I’m doing. It makes me really see what is happening to people; their real-life situations and not something that has been edited. Humanitarian photography made me meet people the way they are.
As an award-winning humanitarian photographer, in what ways can this genre of photography enhance development in Nigeria?
Humanitarian photography can improve development in Nigeria. When photojournalists focus on the humanitarian aspect, they will be able to tell what is happening to the less privileged or deprived people in society. Humanitarian photography is about improving the lives of people, you are not just taking pictures for the creative or beauty aspect. But you are taking pictures with the sole objective of improving the lives of the people in society. When people see pictures of somebody in a deplorable situation, it is easier for them to understand the needs of the people and help.
With these possibilities, are you concerned that fewer people are interested in it as most prefer to be portrait, wedding, and documentary photographers?
Many people are not interested in humanitarian photography because most photojournalists are very lazy. Humanitarian photography has to deal with leaving your comfort zones and trying to seek news that is not on the surface. Humanitarian photography has to do with digging deep, going an extra mile, wanting to know about the situation of people and understanding their plights, thereby using your pictures to tell these stories. Before you can use your pictures to tell stories, that means to a large extent, you must be highly creative. Creativity is natural and it is something that some need to refine. The majority of people may not really know how to be involved in creative photography which will lead to improving the lives of people in the society. Also, the philosophy of some news organizations does not support humanitarian photography so it might affect the interest that photojournalists might have in it.
Funding is also a challenge; it takes a lot of funding to go to the hinterlands. Apart from being passionate about it, there is a need for funding. Humanitarian photography is not like sport, fashion or documentary photography from which people get to make money easily. In humanitarian photography, you try to improve the lives of the people and there is no guarantee that you will be paid, unlike in wedding, studio, or documentary photography. Because of the economic situation in the country, majority of the people might not want to go into it because the financial gratification is lesser. Inadequate training could also be a factor.
What are some of the challenges you face as a humanitarian photographer in a country where most professional photographers focus on the lucrative genres?
One major problem is security. To get compelling pictures sometimes you need to go farther into communities and nowadays with security problems, travelling a far distance is not encouraged. I am now very scared to do that because I don’t want to be kidnapped, I don’t want to disturb my family so that they will start looking for ransom to pay kidnappers. I had been attacked in a community. Had it been I was there alone; I could have been beaten and the camera confiscated because they were ready to lynch me. So, security is paramount.
Some people look down on me because I am a woman. To them, what can a woman do? Sometimes, you don’t really need to argue but show them through your actions that if a man can do this, I can also do it. But it is very tough because we live in a man’s world and you have to fight your way through it to achieve your goals.
You’ve dedicated your life to giving back to society, as a senior lecturer, founder of a nongovernmental organization and a humanitarian photographer, what brings you the greatest fulfilment in all these?
I am very fulfilled. In all my years as a lecturer, I’ve not been fulfilled as I am as a humanitarian photographer. When you teach, you are also moulding lives but when you go to the field and you see people, just like you, who are living on the edge of the society, you appreciate your present situation and status. When you realize that you are able to put smiles on the faces of these people, you will be happier because you’ll be the first person to be happy. When you help people, you are also helping yourself. The ability to make a fellow human being like me happy or happier gives me joy. If I have a chance of coming back to this world, I won’t come back as a lecturer, I will come as a humanitarian because I love it. It is so natural to me; it energises and gives me pleasure. It opens several doors for me and I believe greater things will come.
At what point do you plan to look back at everything you’ve done and say you’ve done enough?
When you are a humanitarian, you can’t retire from doing good, making an impact and being relevant, because all these things make you fulfilled. I want to do more, so until I breathe my last, I want to continue. It is not a smooth journey; it is very tough but sometimes when the task looks daunting and you are able to overcome it, it makes you feel like there is nothing you can’t achieve in life once you are focused.