Nigerian photographer Andrew Esiebo is renowned for capturing the essence of the places and people he photographs. He explains how you can too
Andrew Esiebo is a Nigerian photographer whose work revolves largely around the everyday life of ordinary people. His work investigates themes such as sexuality, gender politics, football, popular culture and migration. His most recent project chronicled barbershops in different West African countries.
“The barbershop is an intimate space where people come to discuss what they cannot speak about in their homes or in public, including politics and even their lovers,” says Andrew. “It’s one of the few spaces where people from different walks of life, from different classes, mix.”
Andrew's work has been exhibited at the Havana and Sao Paulo biennials, the Guangzhou Triennial in Beijing, and the Noorderlitch Photo Festival in The Netherlands. Below he presents his tips on taking candid photos that really capture the essence of people and their lives.
If you explain to people what you want to do, most will want to help you and will be happy to co-operate with you. But it depends on the way you go about it. In my case, I’d say being patient, being modest, being open, made all the difference.
Sometimes people don’t get what you’re trying to do. And it’s no use getting angry with them. You just have to try and show them the benefit and how much you appreciate them helping you. Many people are suspicious. You’ve got to make them aware that you are not taking advantage of them, that it’s a win-win situation.
With most of the barbershops I visited, I didn’t shoot the first day I went. I just hung around, making friends with the barbers. I don't like just taking photos and walking away. I build relationships and that’s the beauty about what I do. I like people. I like contacting and talking to people. Most people I photograph I keep in touch with. And I think that shows in my photos.
Even when I'm taking pictures, I talk to my subjects, engaging with them. It helps me understand what they do and relaxes them so they have the confidence just to do what they normally do.
Sometimes I do things spontaneously. Some things I have to set up. Each style captures different sides of the subject. With the barbershop project, I’d take one set of spontaneous shots. Then I’d set up for the portrait of the barber himself. It depends on what aspect I wanted to express.
You get a more realistic effect. It means you have got to be disciplined with your speed and apertures settings but it's worth it. If it’s not possible to do handheld, then use a tripod.
For more information and more examples of Andrew's work, visit his website at www.andrewesiebo.com.
Alternatively, if you're in London from 10 January to 8 February visit Andrew's new exhibition, Andrew Esiebo: Pride at Tiwani Contemporary (images no 3 and 5 will be on show, among others).