‘My experience as a photojournalist has been very tough’
Abiodun Williams, Â a photo journalist with The Nation recently bagged the Photojournalist of the Year award at the Nigeria Media Merit Award (NMMA). In this interview with Rhoda Olorunfemi, Williams who has worked in various media houses for about 30 years speaks on his experiences on the job and other issues.Â
What was your reaction when you won the best photographer of the year award in the NMMA?
I was overwhelmed and was speechless because that was my first time of winning an award. I entered for three awards with two pictures instead of three. Normally, anybody who doesnâ€™t have up to the required number of pictures would be disqualified.
I submitted entries for three awards; DAME, Golden Pen and NMMA , but I won the last one which is more national Â as far as Iâ€™m concerned. People have been calling to congratulate me from everywhere, including from outside the country. Â My brothers and sisters outside the country have also called.
I didnâ€™t know what to say because I was short of words. I couldnâ€™t speak that very day, but kept saying â€˜thank youâ€™, â€˜thank youâ€™.
What motivated you to apply for the awards?
For many years, Â I have known colleagues who won awards and I was always been saying to myself, “this and this have won awards and Iâ€™ve been working for 30 years and canâ€™t boast for a single one”. It occurred to me that Â these people donâ€™t have two heads, and they have won many awards.
I decided this year to make the first attempt and I applied for three awards; Golden Pen award, DAME and NMMA.
I would have applied a year ago, but I was always not meeting up with criteria for three pictures per entry and those pictures must have been used by oneâ€™s media house either in newspaper or magazine publication.
You have been a photojournalist for 30 years now, what has been your experience ?
Iâ€™ve worked in different media houses and it has not been easy. Sometimes, I run for my life when I see soldiers or police officers at points of actions because I donâ€™t want them to beat me as Iâ€™ve been beaten several times and area boys have also assaulted me.
It has been very tough. Unlike the journalist who can stay in his apartment and write stories comfortably, Â including getting Â eye witnesses,you Â must be at the scene of an event as a photojournalist.
You canâ€™t take shots based on an eye witness experience, must be present to capture real events.
As a journalist, you can call family members to know the situation report about an event if they stay in that vicinity, Â but as a photographer, Â you must have a â€˜still live shotsâ€™.
I spent seven years in the dark room, but the reverse is the case in our present days as even a 7 or 10 year old child can take shots by themselves. Â They are been taught how to handle a camera. Families no longer need services of photographers. In those days, an aspiring photojournalist would have to take up related courses at schools to become a professional photojournalist.
Before The Nation which media houses have you Â worked in Â as a photojournalist?
The NEWS, PM Newspaper and The Tempo were the places Iâ€™ve had tough times while discharging my duty. I was beaten up by an army while on duty at an event. He summoned me and I introduced myself as a journalist and he started beating me and I landed on the hospital bed for three days.Â They apologized but the scar is still there.
I have had several experiences at my duty point but that was the most severe experience I ever had.
My second worst experience was when I went to take some shot at the Late MKO Abiolaâ€™s residence when he died. The area boys in those areas came to beat me up because they sighted me with a camera. They were always reacting negatively when they sighted cameras with Nigerian photojournalists, Â but were more accommodating when reporters or photographers came from abroad in those days. But Nigerian photographers were not lucky then.
How can photojournalism be improved in Nigeria?
Like I said earlier, gone are days when any aspiring photojournalist would take up some courses at higher institutions before he becomes a professional. Â In those days there was nothing like â€˜wait and getâ€™ shots, but things turned the other way round as pictures taken and are printed almost immediately . Technology has a changed a lot of things .
What is your advice for aspiring photojournalists?
Work hard and continue trying, donâ€™t lose hope for nothing is too late. Just continue even if it looks impossible. I have become very popular since I won the award. Â People have been calling to commend me. People whom Iâ€™ve lost their contacts for over 10 to 20 years have been calling to congratulate me.
Iâ€™d wanted the Golden Pen award because of the huge money involved, though no fame attached to it, but Iâ€™m glad I won the photojournalist category in the NMMA .
My winning this award doesnâ€™t mean I was the best photojournalist, but I can say I was just lucky. Â Quote me, Â If you think winning an award makes you the best, then you are wrong. I am happy my names will be in record next year as being among awardees, Â but that doesnâ€™t make me the best. I am not the best but one of the luckiest, because it was by Godâ€™s grace.