I am a vocal guy in any space I walk into. Except in a matatu. There, I quietly observe the drama that ensues. The kind of drama that feels like a cheap Nigerian movie. There is always something new to look out for. But there are also the all too common scenes. Like how the conductor always seems like the sour husband in a marriage.
“Bado wawili twende, bado wawili!” (Just two sits remaining) the conductor lures you on board.
Immediately you are in, you click your tongue in discontent on realizing you are in fact the second person on board. Then the vehicle starts moving, the once sweet conductor turns to a complete arrogant butthole! If the ride is new and dandy, persevere listening to explicit music that you have no taste for. The kind that has you switching channels so fast if it plays on TV while watching with your old folks. If you end up in a rundown matatu (worry not as it would be having a certificate of inspection from the government prophesying the vehicle is road worthy!) sit back, relax and enjoy the music it makes with its old engine and rattling body.
My major pet peeve is the spectrum of aromas that can exist in a single matatu; chicken and fries, cocoa butter lotion, tang of a weave that has overstayed its tenure. The range is wide I tell you!
I once was of the opinion that the mess in the public transport sector is because those deemed failures in society find their way there. Misfits and school dropouts. Even teachers in school use matatu touts when emphasizing rotten behaviour.
After much thought, I realized how wrong this view is. Failure is not final, those who flopped in school, can still make something with themselves even within the matatu industry. Numerous in that industry have turned successful and now own myriad of businesses. Some are still in it, leading decent lives and are respectable members of humanity. Two, those managing the industry are the ‘learned’. From the ministry to the law enforcing authorities in place. Years on end, the learned authorities have failed to tame the industry.
You may be wondering what this has to do with photography, hold on a minute, am getting there.
As a society we have come to acknowledge average outcomes as acceptable. Sadly, we merit it as ‘more than enough’ and brilliance is slowly becoming rare. We do not strive for excellence and the drive to be legends long after we have left the world is dwindling. The matatu sector is but an example, these issues exist in almost all other aspects of our lives. Everything will be wrong and in plain sight but no one is perturbed. It has become part of us to operate below par. Authorities are in place to sort the issues but the ills persist. The public seems content and higher authorities seem less bothered. Whether it is corruption or just sheer incompetence, we really cannot say right now.
Mediocrity reigns, period!
I got political but I point it out to appreciate the currency of photography today. Technology is advancing faster than we can adopt and almost everyone owns a camera. I often talk about camera phones because truth is they are becoming more powerful. Some of the photos captured with them are a breath of fresh air to look at. I see phone camera photographers proudly surging by the day! Now put social media into this matrix where photos are flowing on all corners. Facebook alone has over 2 billion photos shared every single day. How will mediocre photography afford to survive?
I aspire to be the best photographer I can be so whatever I am saying here applies to me before anyone else. Gone are the days when owning a camera made one a photographer. It explains why seasoned photographers are quick to criticize those new to cameras but own Facebook pages or Instagram accounts with the suffix photography. I see nothing wrong with that, if anyone wants to be a photographer today, I say hey, welcome to the club. Photography is beautiful to deny it to anyone. The competition is not with the next photographer you come across but with your last shot.
One thing has to be clear, it needs one to be steps ahead of their game to stand out from all the noise. It is a toll order to anyone intending to make a name for themselves in this industry. There is no room for mediocre photography. To be the best, you first need to realize that you are in a behemoth swarm. Even those doing it with their phones are good! Average does not cut it. It calls for nothing short of passion that manifests as creativity, commitment and hard work.
Discussions on techniques and equipment for making better photographers will always be necessary but a shift in focus to answer questions from within need to take front. We have to align our core to bring out the kind of attitude and drive that push us to be the best creatives we can be. Anybody can take a photo but this is the era that photographers have to prove that great photos require making.
Contrary to what people say, the words in an excellent photograph are way more than a thousand. Countless I would say. This is then the time to be methodical yet poetic in choosing the words we frame every time we click the shutter button for it to be a great story.