Rodney Somto happens to be one of the first guys I interviewed for More•Branches, the first photographer to be precise. It was a visual capsule from his trip to a small village in Kenya – Massai. My first encounter with his works had to do with a series of reimagining famous characters as black people; by the time of this trip, he was also infusing his name in the travel space and now, Rodney happens to have landed on the next SpaceX trip to Mars, he’s taking photos of the 4th most powerful citizen in Nigeria, the 14th and current Speaker of the National Assembly, a man 170 out of the 200 Million Nigerians represented in world charts don’t even know, his name is Yakubu Dogara.
Personally, I like to joke that the speakership position is one of the most valuable lotto wins you can dream of, year after years since I was old enough to follow up on politics and governance, I had deduced from day to day interactions that not a lot of Nigerian kids, even adults gave an itch about Dimeji Bankole, Patricia Eteh, and Aminu Tambuwal, except for the impeachment noise. So it’s just a piece of my flesh and more of pleasure and dexterity to have worked with Rodney in making sure that not just the face of the politician-turned-author landed on a network like ours, but also for the notice of the seat.
So, Rodney, I bet you belonged to the sect of Nigerians who didn’t have an idea of who Mr. Speaker was?
None Whatsoever! I may have heard his name in passing but I never knew how powerful the hallowed speakership position was.
Was there anything different about working with him? I mean, from your usual workflow.
Not at all. I treated him the way I would treat any client or subject – with respect and kindness. It’s never easy to be in front of a camera, whether you’re a president or a pauper. My team was just on the ball making sure he was comfortable and looking good. It was actually one of the least stressful jobs I’d ever done.
Talking about the uneasiness of being mused, as a photographer and visual director, how are you able to manage such situations?
I just really try to ease them into it. Talking with them and giving them feedback on how they’re doing seems to do the trick. But mostly it’s a personality thing. Traits that make people become at ease when relating with me.
As a cameraman, have you ever been bothered about how people perceive or see your work?
I don’t think bothered is the word. If I am ‘bothered’ by people’s perception of my work, then I am in the wrong profession really. To be creative is to make peace with the fact that your work will affect people in different ways, for better and for worse. I am encouraged by the quality of craft and the clarity of my vision so there’s never a reason to worry. When I was shooting the speaker, the people who hired me didn’t know what to expect because I don’t have a style. Sure, there are a few signature techniques that always appear but unless you were really familiar with my work, you would think my portfolio was done by several different people. But the core of it has always been the trust people attach to your quality, they know that whatever you put out will be of a certain standard. That’s what I call the gift and the curse.
Let me jump out of space, should we expecting some more advanced super-duper form of creative direction this year, more moves or maybe a film; if I’m not asking for too much.
A film! Not at this point. It also depends on what type of film you mean but I’ll say one of these days for sure. As for moves, it’s just another year. Keeping my head down and doing the things that will get me where I want to be. Whether I get there in 2018 or 2020, it’s all the same to me. Started my creative agency this year called AvoCreative and I’m super excited about that.
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