By: Precious M. Lesupi
When he graduated and lost interest in becoming a computer scientist, Chibuikem Echefu Onye-uwaoma – known to many as James – picked up Photography and has since been telling stories through his lens. As much as the skill runs in the family with his father having been a photographer himself, James’ decision to take up the skill has led him to a passion of story telling that centers itself around educating communities and exposing society’s social ills.
“Most of my work revolves around social vices and challenges we face in our day to day lives; from rape to police brutality to corruption,” he explains. Like any other provocative artist, his work has been misunderstood at times. One of his most misinterpreted pieces was during his country’s presidential elections last year, when James created an artwork with which he tries to warn voters to not allow religion to become the deciding factor in their journey to casting votes.
So far, James’ masterpieces have gained him a “Best Photographer” award at the Abuja Universities Awards as well as multiples nominations that stretch as far as the West African region. While dealing with some backlash due to the sensitivity that his work brings about, the 20-year-old photographer mentions that he ignores the negativity and somehow “there’s always someone there to challenge them and enlighten them”.
This is a journey that James did not start alone and when he lost his friend, who had helped him extensively to kickstart his career, grief could not allow him to continue with his craft. “After his death and the burial, I stayed away from photography for almost 2 months and kept turning down job offers,” he said. “Seeing pictures I took of him being used for his obituary broke me,” James explains. Fortunately, with the help of his family and memories of their dreams and ambitions of perfecting this craft, he is back at telling stories and plans on publishing photographic journals, exhibiting in major art cities such as Rome and creating content for big brands and magazines.
Breaking into this industry is never easy, however, James advises one to find what they are good at and master their craft. “Don’t get comfortable with your current level, keep learning and evolving with time,” he said.