Meet Habila Sani, a creative depicting Abuja in a different light

On a fateful day in July, I was brought to the attention of a cool Instagram feed I could possibly point the window to my soul at, by Kwame, a friend, and columnist for More Branches, it went by the username of Stuffedbox. Typically my poor attention span had me follow the account presumably for later and get lost in cringey memes on Reddit.

Fortunately for me, by virtue of Instagram’s much-lampooned algorithm, posts from this account sporadically featured on my timeline which edged me to pree, and what I found were stunning, encapsulating visuals of Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, which isn’t normally privy to the spotlight.

My curiosity was sparked to know the individual behind the photos, I reached out on Instagram for correspondence and got a few words from the man; Habila Sani. It was a brief chat into him and his process which you can read below:

Who are you and what draws you to photography as a mode of expression?

My name is Habila Sani Mazawaje, I take pictures for Stuffedbox Photography. I am drawn to photography as a mode of expression because it affords me the unique pleasure and unmatched feeling of being able to capture, process and store the way I view the world and many of its elements. Ever since the first time I was handed a camera and shown how to insert the film, press the shutter and process the negatives, I’ve had something for it.

Going through your Instagram I can see a particular liking towards sunsets and natural subjects, where does this liking come from?

I think I was influenced by Instagram in its early days. There were a lot of landscape photographers who took amazing sunset pictures. And then I schooled where there were beautiful beaches and sunsets which made me fall in love with it. For me, it’s more about the experience (of seeing the sun set; I feel it is one of the most beautiful things ever) than anything else. Hearing cars drive by, the sun turns to gold, before colorfully disappearing into the clouds. I also like other elements of nature, like the sky, seas, and greens, because of the peace and serenity that comes with the experience.

Subjects in your portraits tend to portray upliftment, joy, and hope; how much of an influence do you have in that?

I am actually happy to hear my portraits convey such emotions. I try as much as possible to capture portraits that are true, in terms of the subject’s emotions. If they’re happy, or sad, or lost in thoughts, whatever their current state is, I want it to transcend to the look and feel of the picture, such that a viewer can notice it. In a nutshell, I’d say me and the subjects influence the outcome. Sometimes it’s a 50-50, or maybe 75 for them and 25 for me. It has to be equal to or greater than mine, if that makes any sense, haha.

How did you get your first camera?

I got my first camera from my dad. I don’t even know if he remembers ever buying me one.  I didn’t ask for it, he just traveled and came back with one, a black Kodak, film camera. I was 12 years old and my uncle was getting married some months later. I captured the whole wedding, developed the negative, but never got to print the pictures. I would’ve loved to see what they looked like.

Can you describe your relationship with negative space?

Probably a love/hate relationship haha.  My unconventional nature, most times results in me not really paying attention to it. But the bottom line is, if I focus on my subject and try to take the best image possible, I notice it tends to always come out good.

As I grow and learn though, I have discovered that I have to pay more attention to it, because sometimes, it ends up being the image or giving meaning to it.

What do you strive to capture every day you step out to create?

I always keep my options open. The possibilities are endless. I can capture an insect sucking on a flower, a woman on a canoe in the middle of a river, a child on a tree or the backlight of a car as it drives away while the sun sets. I just keep my camera strapped and ready to go, and anything I see while I walk, whether mysterious, unconventional and sometimes mundane, if it appeals to my inner photographic being, I take a shot and keep it moving!


Who are your favorite photographers and/or inspirations, local & international, dead or alive?

I get asked this question a lot and I struggle to think of names, even right now, I am. However, I am really inspired by my [photographer] friends both on and offline. If you take amazing pictures and the process of you doing that is something I can relate to and learn from, I am easily inspired by that. In the past, I have read books and journals and I appreciate the works of Steve McCurry and Henri Cartier-Bresson a lot. Their styles of capturing the streets, its actions and emotions always appealed to me.

What role has the internet & social media played in your process?

There is a constant need to learn, improve and socialize with other creatives and the internet & social media play an integral role in making this happen. Instagram, facebook, twitter, 500px and a lot of other platforms afford us the opportunity to not only showcase our art to the world but to also meet other like minds, interact and learn from them and in certain cases, meet, socialize, share ideas and collaborate/work together. YouTube is somewhere I get lost in a lot of times. Although, I advise people not to get overwhelmed by it. It helped me out a lot starting out, seeing the process of other people and watching reviews and lessons helped boost my confidence and made me know I could do practically anything.


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