DYNAMIC AFRICANS: Bradley Ogbonna
My dad, George Ogbonna Sr., died of cancer on December 26, 2011. During the months of February and March, I returned to Nigeria for the first time as an adult to attend his funeral and to spend time in the country.
My first book, titled Jisike, is a window into the complexities and rich culture of historic and modern-day Nigeria, the legacy left behind by my dad, and my interactions as a first-generation Nigerian-American living in the diaspora.
With his book ‘Jisike’, young Nigerian-American photographer Bradley Ogbonna poignantly chronicles a series of multi-layered experiences into an intimately compiled written and visual journey that falls somewhere between an image-centered diary and a vintage photo album.
Through the life of his father, Ogbonna traces a deeply personal side of his family’s history, and simultaneously expresses his opinions and encounters whilst visiting Nigeria for the first time, through the lens of his complexintersecting dual identities.
Describe yourself in five sentences or less:
Chill black guy from the North.
When shooting, what are your weapons of choice and your modus operandi?
When I am out and about I like to carry a point and shoot film camera, because they’re versatile and can yield pretty great results if they’re used right. If i’m shooting a project that calls for a higher level of preciseness I try to get my hands on a medium format camera or will opt to use my digital camera, the Canon 5D Mark II.
I usually shoot film for the majority of my personal work, and will use my digital camera on commissions or if I’m shooting at night.
Give us a brief background/introduction to ‘JISIKE’ and the process of making it - how was it different to any of your previous work?:
My dad, George Ogbonna Sr., died of cancer the day after Christmas in 2011. While I was coming to terms with the unexpected death of my dad and reeling from the streak of depression that comes with an event like that, I was thinking of a way to pay tribute to my dad and a way to create something positive out of the distressing situation.
What followed was a brainstorming phase, a successful Kickstarter account, a 1 1/2 month trip to Nigeria, and many months of locking myself in my home office and trying to put together something that I thought my dad would enjoy.
This project was different than my others, because it was a lot more contrived than all of my other work. Up to that point I hadn’t worked extensively on a project that took up literally all of my time, resources, and energy.
The book is highly personal in nature, poignantly so. Did you ever feel apprehensive about sharing this side of your life with the world?
I did. I felt bad about airing out my negative opinions on any aspect of the trip and Nigeria as a whole, but I got more and more comfortable with being honest as the book progressed. I come from an International Studies background; I actually have a degree in it, so I tried to write with honesty and tact and show photos that embodied my trip.
What were some of the most fulfilling and/or frustrating things you encountered whilst on your photographic journey - both technically and otherwise?
Fulfilling - The different opportunities to meet the unique people that I did, and being able to learn a lot more about Nigeria, myself, and my strengths and weaknesses as a photographer/videographer were among the most fulfilling things about working on the JISIKE project.
Frustrating - There were many situations where I found myself too hesitant to go after a photo that I wanted, because I was not entirely certain of the repercussions and was too concerned with saving face. It still frustrates me today, but since then I have grown a lot more confident in what I am doing and the bigger picture of why I take photos.
Reflecting back on this creative experience, is there anything you would’ve done differently?
Not that I knew better at the time, but I would have not shot with the Yashica T4!!! Nearly 95% of the 200+ photos that I shot with that camera came out blurry and unusable.
Aside from that, I would have been a lot more bold in the many situations where I hesitated and missed out on great shots, because I was scared. I also would have shot a lot more than I did, because I actually ended up coming back to the US with many rolls of film that weren’t used.
What was the most dynamic thing you learnt about yourself, in relation to your dual Nigerian-American identity, whilst compiling this project?
The intricacies and history of my Igbo culture specifically and Nigerian culture as a whole, and the positive things that I have been able to take from both Nigerian and American culture.
Based on what you’ve seen and the stories represented in your documentation, how optimistic are you about the future of Nigeria?
I am optimistic, but have a lot of reservations. From my time in Nigeria to the research I did thereafter, I am aware of a new wave of progressive Nigerians looking to make a change in the country and I feel like it is only a matter of time before they will get a chance to implement that change. The majority of people in Nigeria seem fed up with the government and have the potential to do something about it.
On the other hand, a part of me is skeptical. For positive and progressive change to happen, the current Federal government would have to denounce corruption, relinquish some of its control of the country, and become a lot more transparent. I am worried that those in power and those who currently profit off of the country see nothing wrong with the current state of Nigeria and will do what they deem necessary to obstruct the allocation of Nigeria’s wealth and potential.
Also, the issue of ethnic superiority must die out with the older generations for Nigeria to be able to strive as a unified nation.
Where else can you be found on the internet?
Tumblr : www.justbrad.com
Personal Facebook page: www.facebook.com/justbradley
Jisike “is an Igbo phrase that means ‘use strength’ or ‘try.’”