Pa Owolabi’s photography studio, Born Photos is popular in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital and needs no description. Daily Trust visited the studio run by an 80-year-old octogenarian.
The popularity of Born Photos was made possible by 80-year-old Pa Owolabi Ositelu, a photographer and war veteran who sited his photography in the area whose original name was Isale-osi.
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Pa Owolabi, who established ‘Born Photos’ in the area in the 60s is still strong and practicing photography.
Speaking with our correspondent in his office, the photographer said the name was revealed to him by God, adding that he has not regretted his choice of profession all these years because of his achievements.
The octogenarian, who left his photography business in the hands of about 50 apprentices during the Civil War, told Daily Trust Saturday that all his seven children are graduates of universities and polytechnics.
Speaking on his background, Pa Ositelu said; “I left primary school in 1956 and that was when I started learning photography because my parents could not afford to send me to school.
“I started my photography business in 1960. At that time, there was no road leading to this area but there were houses. When Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s government started constructing roads, some houses were demolished.”
On how he came about the name, born photos, the octogenarian said; “I slept and God revealed the name to me. I love fasting and praying because my great grand father was a priest. He was the one who brought me up in Christianity. I was born in Agege, Lagos State. On that fateful day, I woke up at midnight and discovered that mosquitoes had bitten me. After a short while, I fell asleep again. Then, I saw heaven opening and the word ‘born photos’ was written boldly in the sky. The background of the cloud was black. That was how I came about the name. It was God who gave me the name.”
Speaking on how he started learning photography, Pa Ositelu said; “my elder brother called me and told me he couldn’t pay my school fees again because he had married.
“About a week later, he told me that he wanted me to learn photography from his customer here in Ibadan. Immediately he told me that, I obliged. That was how he brought me to Ibadan. He took me to stay with his friend, Mr. Oyekan. Oyekan was a surveyor. Few weeks later, the man was transferred to Oyo from his place of work and my brother had gone back to Lagos at that time.
“Then, I approached Oyekan’s landlord to accommodate me because I used to assist him to move luggages from his vehicle whenever he comes back from work. I narrated all my ordeal to him.
“I told him I didn’t have a family here in Ibadan and I have no where to stay. He then took me to the lobby at the entrance leading to the backyard of the house. He asked if I could be staying there and I told him it was okay. At that time, I had just two shirts, two trousers and a tennis shoe.
“I had some friends with whom I go out together on Sundays at that time but those my friends had parents and uncles abroad. They used to give them money but I didn’t have anyone.
“My friends used to call me ‘durogbe’ meaning I have to wait and allow my cloth to dry before going out. I spent six and a half years to learn photography. For those six and a half years, my brother used to come to Ibadan but hardly checked on me.”
Speaking on the personalities he had handled their official photographs, Ositelu said; “I was handling photography for Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief S.L Akintola, Chief Tai Solarin, many of the past Vice Chancellors of the University of Ibadan, especially during their convocations or matriculations. I hardly miss events of high-profile personalities in Ibadan land. I was very hard working. I was always at inter-house sport events of schools in Ibadan here. The only way to success is to work hard and believe in God.”
The ace photographer said there are no quality photographers in the country again, saying everybody had turned to photographer with their smart phones.
“Photography in those days cannot be compared with what we are seeing now. Today, everyone has turned to photographer. What we see today is not photography.
“I spent six and a half years because it was difficult to learn how to mix chemicals, how to load films in different cameras, how to develop film, and how to print in darkroom. You must also learn how to trim pictures and how to frame it. You must master it one after the other.”
Speaking on how he made it to the Civil War, he said; “One Colonel Adeniran, who was a younger brother to Colonel Adekunle of Third Marine at that time invited me. He had a girlfriend who happened to be my customer. The soldier demanded for photograph from his girlfriend and she gave him. When he received the photo, he was curious to know who took the photo.
“The lady brought him to my office here. I snapped them about five different shots. They were living in Orita Challenge at that time. When I delivered the job, he was very happy and told me to join the Nigerian Army. He arranged for me and that was how I joined them two days later. I was posted to Abeokuta for training. After about a week training, I joined the troops in Ore, Ondo State. You know we have different departments in the Nigeria Army, so each of us was working in our area of specialisation. I was taking record and sending my films to Lagos.
“I was not afraid of death at that time because I myself was ready to die. I didn’t worry but I had decided not to engage in evil things in my life. I didn’t inform my family when I was going because I didn’t want any discouragement.
“I had about 50 apprentices at that time and they were managing my business for me while I was in the war front. I cannot forget Ibadan land in my life. It is my town. It has helped me so much because this area has about five names but my name – born photo – has taken over. It was known as Isale Osi, Oke-koto and three other names I cannot recollect now but immediately I mounted my sign post, people started calling it my name. In fact, initially, I wrote it with chalk but the entire world accepted the name because it was given to me by God. Whatever God does, nobody can disrupt it.”
The Ogun State indigene further spoke on how he managed to survive several attacks in the area by hoodlums, saying; “You know this area was volatile but I am also a strong man. Even as a little boy, I was a thug in Lagos before I relocated to Ibadan. When I was at Bishop Oluwole Memorial College, Agege, we were four that used to cause crisis in my school at that time. Because of that, I was taken to welfare where they punish stubborn children. But my teachers loved me because I was brilliant. I also engaged in sporting events such as athletics and football, so they loved me.
“So, they respect me a lot. That helped me to cope during the time of uprisings of Paramole, Sango, Yellow and other bad boys in this area. If those boys impose curfew by 5pm, I won’t leave my shop and I won’t close down. When the most powerful masquerade impose curfew, I don’t usually oblige. I would be the only one opening my business here.
“Later, those notorious boys became my friends. They used to take pictures from me and I don’t collect money from them.
On any health challenge, considering his age, he said; “I was very healthy until a car in the convoy of a governorship candidate in Oyo State hit me during the 2019 election while I was going home. I spent over a million naira to operate on my leg. I had to sell one of my properties before I was able to do the surgery. I have a wife and seven children. They are all graduates.”