Not many would take the risk of leaving their jobs to pursue their passion. However, Mbakaan Kersha-Akoso took that risk and is now living out her dream as a photographer. In this Daily Trust on Sunday interview, she shares her journey and experiences as a female photographer.
What initially drew you to photography, and how has your passion evolved over the years?
I have always loved photography, but I was motivated to venture into the field of photography while working in the media. I was a business reporter and one of my beats was Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN). So, for every event I ever covered on this beat, I would hear the then Director General of SMEDAN, DR. Dikko Umar Radda, who is now the Executive Governor of Katsina State giving guidance and expressing the importance of SMEs to the economy and the advantages and opportunities therein for individuals who have businesses.
For my every encounter with the DG, he would say “think big, start small.” These words never left my ears and for the time I reported from that beat, I saw extremely small businesses blossom into beautiful brands, so one day I got up and said to myself it is time to start no matter how small it is. As far as I am thinking big, it will blossom with time if I am consistent and so, I left the media job and launched fully into photography.
Can you share a memorable experience or story from one of your photography sessions that had a profound impact on you?
At the beginning of my career in photography, I was commissioned to photograph a baby’s first birthday. We were shooting on location and so I got to the client’s residence so we could proceed to the location. While at the location, the baby became cranky for over two hours. We couldn’t work and I returned to my workplace and rescheduled for an evening session for the same day.
During the second session, we didn’t have it easy either and that was the moment I learnt patience on the job because the subject in question was a baby and you cannot question or control how a child should feel. This singular moment changed my life as a photographer and even though our sessions with clients are time bound, I have learned to handle situations that exceed allotted time with so much grace and patience. This is one of the major factors my clients choose me over and again.
How do you approach the challenge of capturing the essence and personality of your subjects in portrait photography?
Every subject is unique in their nature and that is what makes it more beautiful. You keep adapting to the dynamic nature of your subjects and this opens your horizon and by extension gives you a diverse array of collection in your portfolio. As a portrait photographer, you meet different personalities like the classy, fashionistas, extroverts, introverts etc. So, what is meant to be a challenge is actually an opportunity and platform for a photographer to explore his/her innate abilities and skills.
How do you balance the technical aspects of photography with your creative vision to produce compelling images?
When it comes to the technical aspects of photography, you need to understand the gear you are using and the story you are trying to tell and the location you are shooting. For instance, you cannot be a documentary or travel photographer and be using strobe lighting to shoot your story on the go. So, one needs to know what works best for the story and scene they are shooting.
In your opinion, how does gender influence the art of photography, and have you encountered any unique challenges or advantages as a female photographer?
As much as more people are becoming aware of female photographers, there is still a challenge being a female in the profession. Very recently, I was the official photographer at the 17th ECOWAS Nutrition Forum event hosted in Abuja. It was a three-day event and by nature of the candidates in attendance from all the ECOWAS countries, uninvited photographers were not allowed access. However, one male photographer found his way through and while I was capturing critical action pictures, he came from behind and asked me to give way he wants to snap. I was shocked because this isn’t the first time I was photographing an event and a dominant party comes to tell me to give way for them when I was actually the official photographer. The intimidation from the opposite gender in this profession sometimes is appalling but need I say that a lot of male photographers have open heartedly accepted females in photography which also plays out huge to our advantage majority of the time.
In fact, being a female photographer has fetched me certain jobs that I could not believe. Just last week, a client reached out to me via referral to cover her event. When I got there, the woman employed majorly female vendors apart from the MC of the occasion even though she could get a male photographer. These and more are the advantages of being a female photographer.
Can you recommend female photographers, past or present, who have inspired or influenced your work?
Yes, TY Bello and Yagazie Eguare are amazing Nigerian female photographers who have inspired me greatly especially by the quality of their body of works, consistency and longevity in the world of photography.
How do you stay motivated and inspired to continue pushing the boundaries of your photography?
You first need to love the art to stay motivated otherwise you will get frustrated and discouraged in the long run. For me, I love photography and I feel motivated when I see satisfaction and smiles on the faces of my clients. It fuels my soul and gives me reasons to keep going but most importantly, you have to love photography to stay grounded and not just venturing in it to earn an income.
Photography often requires patience and attention to detail. How do you maintain focus and composure during challenging or lengthy shoots?
Like they say, patience is a virtue right. I have been blessed to have that and photography has also groomed me to nurture and develop my patience level. As a photographer, you need to understand that you are meeting diverse people from different works of life, character, and disciple and so you need to work on yourself to have a good working relationship with others. I have also taken several business and leadership courses that have helped me in this regard.
Are there any specific projects or themes you are particularly passionate about exploring through your photography?
Absolutely yes. Photography is a vast field with various genres, but one cannot venture into all. When I first started out in photography, I was shooting virtually everything but as I progress, I have dropped down on certain genres and types of projects I accept. I am still narrowing down to eventually focus on personal branding, portrait, commercial and fashion photography.
What role does storytelling play in your photography, and how do you convey narratives through your images?
Photography is storytelling. For every image you see out there, be it you took a selfie on your phone, there is a story behind it. So, I think the question should be reversed to what role does photography play in storytelling? By this, I will say it helps in compressing multiple words into just a couple of images. It helps people who do not like to read lengthy articles to understand a message sent across. Photography simple helps to convey every message of our lives to other people.
Can you share your thoughts on the importance of mentorship and collaboration in the photography community, especially for female photographers?
The need for mentorship cannot be over emphasised. You need someone to show you the ropes so that your growth can be less stressful. Collaboration is equally key like they say, if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go with people.
How do you handle criticism or negative feedback on your work, and what advice would you give to aspiring female photographers facing similar challenges?
Incidentally, criticism makes me better because it is hard to find people who give you honest opinions about your craft. What I do very often is send my finished projects to my siblings and a couple of friends to give me honest opinions and truthfully, sometimes the feedback is heart wrecking, but it helps me do better. I will therefore advise my colleagues to take criticism as a gateway to improvement.
In a world filled with digital imagery, how do you maintain a unique and authentic voice in your photography that sets you apart from others in your field?
Just keep creating from your heart and believe in yourself and you will stand out. Today with AI images all over the place, it is quite challenging, but nothing beats originality.