Wednesday, July 14, 2010

‘Now that everyone is a photographer, we starve’

Recently at a wedding reception in Lagos, Nigeria, I was attracted to the plight of most of the ‘professional’ photographers present. In Nigeria, ‘professional’ photographers do not wait to be invited to an event especially weddings, funerals and college convocations. They besiege such events and take photographs of especially well-dressed ladies and dash to the nearest studio to print the pictures. Before the event is over, they return with printed photographs, seek out the photographed persons and sell the photos to them. Each 5” by 7” costs N100 (about 70 US cents).
But things are changing. At that wedding reception, I noticed that many people prevented ‘professional’ photographers from taking their pictures. Rather they used their own digital cameras. At a point, I counted 12 guests poised to take shots of the dancing couple.
Many Nigerians have personal digital cameras or mobile phones with camera. Mass produced from the Asian Tigers, camera phones are cheap. A mobile phone set with a camera costs about US$50. With these in many people’s hands, they no longer want to pay for the professional’s shots. As a result, “when you bend down in from of them to take their picture, they scream ‘No, No!’ And if you take them, they won’t pay”, said one of such photographers whom I chatted with in Lagos.
Another told me that five to six years ago, before cheap Chinese phones put cameras in everyone’s hands, he earned up to N10,000 (about US $80) from covering an event (uninvited). In fact, from such monies, he paid his way through the university. Now he hardly earns up to half of that. In his words, “now that everyone is a photographer, we starve. It is frustrating. If it was now, I wouldn’t have been able to pay my fees in the university”.
Researchers assessing the impact of new media technologies have often focused on the positive side. Assessing the full impact of new media technologies must go beyond what the technologies do to users in terms of liberating access and bridging socio-economic and cultural distances. It must encompass the threat which such technologies pose to those whose basic survival depends on the old order.