Little did the Ibadan hottest celebrity photographer, Oreoluwa Balogun, know what future awaits him in the industry when he started nurturing his passion for photography some years back in Kaduna, while struggling to further his education.
His persistence, hard work and good character paid off at the end of the day. As he has risen from being just a photograph sorter at a popular photo studio in Kaduna, to laboratory/operator and now a celebrity photographer. He has many things to show for his success. He has a modern studio and laboratory (Image Plus) in Ibadan, his tastefully equipped Oke-Ado office is always busy.
Today, Oreoluwa Balogun has become a force to be reckoned with in the industry. There is no event that is worth its salt that you will not see Ore there. He is the official photographer of many celebrities in Ibadan. In this interview with City People’s DARE ADENIRAN, Ore opens up on his success story. How he started from the scratch and made success out of his passion. His encounter with a former Governor of Oyo State, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala’s family and how he thereafter became the family’s photographer. His many challenges and sweet experience in the industry.
How did photography start for you?.
I developed interest in it after my secondary education. I was just looking for a job to be doing, while waiting for my exam’s result. It was this search for a job that took me to Lagos. I was staying with my aunty and ended up spending up to two years with her without anything to show for it. I was against going to the Lagos State University (LASU) because my aunty”s husband was one of the lecturers there.
Unfortunately for me too, when my result came, I didn’t do well . So they planned to re-enrol me at a school called Time and Time College. All these things became sources of worries for me because I was unable to achieve the purpose why I left Ibadan. At that point, going back to Ibadan was not an option. I decided to try my luck as a man elsewhere.
So, I decided to go to Kaduna. On getting to Kaduna, I was looking for a job that would provide opportunity to further my education. I finally got a place called Studio 24 in Kaduna and went there to apply as a trainee, but I was told that unless there was an instruction from the owner, no persons could be taken on , and he was not in the country at that time.
I started reporting at the place every day in expectation to meet the owner. I even kept a tab on the man through his cab man, who normally picked him from the airport, Alhaji Amuda. After explaining my plight to him, how much I was in love with the lab work and all that he who gave me the man’s mobile phone number after a long discussion.
I later met the proprietor, but he said ‘no’, there was no space for trainee. I didn’t give up, I kept pestering him till the time the firm needed an Operator Assistant in the lab (they are called photo sorters). They sort photographs and put them in envelops after printing. And there was a strict law restraining unauthorised persons from sitting on the machines. Breaking of the rule attracted two months suspension and it may lead to dismissal. Fortunately for me, one of the operators was a friend. He was the one who secretly taught me how to print photographs. So, I was able to understand everything pertaining to photo printing through him. But I couldn’t display the skill I have acquired until one day that two of our lab operators didn’t come to work and it caused a serious confusion as we had many customers on that day. All the top management staff were shocked when my secrete trainer told them that I could print. After so much questioning, they decided to give me a trial . To their amazement, I didn’t just print, but printed as a professional. That was in year 2001 and since then they confirmed me as an operator/printer.
I was in the North working in the studio until the Miss World competition crisis broke out and that was how I left Kaduna.
So, after the crisis was resolved my parents didn’t allow me to go back to Kaduna. I have to start all over again, I worked at different places, but they were not as good as the studio in Kaduna because I was so much used to the place.
One day, I heard BANIK Digital World placed an advert on radio and I tried to look for job there, but unfortunately they were looking for a trainee. For the fact that I didn’t want to be sitting at home and the word of encouragement from a man called Wale (Awala), who advised me to be coming despite the fact that they didn’t need a staffer then. I kept going there and by the time I printed photographs in their presence about two or three times, they started to admire my jobs. The customers too were showing appreciations. So, by the time the owner of the place came back from abroad and I was introduced to him, I had already become part of the company so much that he (Banik) instructed that I should be paid #5,500 fares per month. So, that it won’t be that I was just working without being paid. I was joyfully doing the job because of the passion I have for it and it paid off at the end of the day. Owing to my diligence, hard work and commitment to my work, I was trained there on how to print with digital machine because we were used to Analog back then. In fact, I would have been trained abroad on how to use the machine, but rather the whiteman who trained us was brought to Lagos where we had the training and I was one of the certified students at that time.
That was about the time we started printing ‘wait & get’ photos at parties. Funny enough, it wasn’t as if I had a formal training on photography then, but because of the experience I had gathered in printing and the interest I have developed in it. I soon became a toast of celebrities, music stars, actors and actresses they were all craving for Ore to take their photographs and that is why up till today I still maintain a smooth relationship with most of them. They are the ones, who have taken me this far. I have never for once joked with my job, I do whatever I have to do passionately as far as my work is concerned. All these perhaps are the reasons I am still here today and I give glory to God.
You are the official photographer to former Governor, Alao-Akala and his family. How did you meet him?.
I was assigned to cover the former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala mother’s burial years back by my CEO then, Prince Bayo Adeleke (Banik). He wasn’t a governor then and he gave us #150,000 as our transport fare I advised my colleagues who were with me at the assignment against spending the money in order not to put ourselves in trouble. My thought was that the man might have given us the money as part payment for the work. I had to keep my share till after we finished and delivered the whole work. ‘’The lesson I learnt from that is the act of giving and it also confirmed the word of God that says: ‘Givers never lack’.’’ That is why there is no way I want to talk about my success story without mentioning Prince Bayo Adeleke and Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala. God really used the two men for me to be where I am today.
During that party, Otunba as well, the wife, Chief (Mrs.) Kemi Alao-Akala, were very nice to us because that was the first time I would see a celebrity checking on photographers if they were okay among top dignitaries. Their characters baffled me, so I decided to reciprocate in my own little way. Out of my share of the N150,000 given to us by the husband, I did a big portrait of Mrs. Akala to appreciate what the husband had done. I took it to the security guards because I had gone back to my base, I was working at Banik Lagos branch then. My intention was just to drop the frame at the security post in fact, I just told them to tell madam that some guys who came to cover their party from Banik said they should give it to her.
But they insisted I must wait to see her and fortunately for me, she liked the photograph and she was amazed. Surprisingly, she gave me N100,000, I was more than happy that day. From there, I became their son and they always call me whenever there is an assignment to cover.
Until a crisis which I will not want to go into the details happened at BANIK. I didn’t go to work for sometime and Mrs. Akala saw me during the period and asked me why as a mother. I explained to her, she said maybe it was time for me to be on my own, that I should keep in touch. I didn’t take her serious because I felt what would I be eating if I don’t go to office? But my mind said I should think over what she told me carefully. And that was how I actually started on my own.
What is your best moment as a photographer?.
There was an incident I will never forget in my life. That was when I gave Alaafin of Oyo a snap-shot. Meanwhile I had developed interest in him long time ago. I respect his brain and deep knowledge of Yoruba tradition and culture. ‘’If you have an opportunity to sit with Alaafin, you would not but take your biro and jolter and take notes’’. I took his photograph sometimes in the past and I decided to make a big portrait of it. The frame was taken to Oyo and as usual his assistants said I couldn’t just drop it like that. They insisted I must see Baba. I waited for so long that I began to feel bad since I didn’t go there to collect money for what I have done.
Before Baba could come out, it was getting late, but fortunately for me, he so much loved the photograph that he instructed his people to take me to one of their guest houses. He then gave me a stapled letter to be taken to GTbank Manager in Oyo the next morning. He gave instruction that I should not open it because it would not be honoured once it is opened. On getting to the bank, it was discovered that Baba wrote #150,000 in words, but wrote #150 in figure. The manager said I had to return the cheque, but in the process, Kabiyesi’s phone call came through. The instruction at the other end was that I should bring back the cheque. He said who everybody that had entered the palace since yesterday had been commending the picture. That he would have called me if he had my number. To my surprise, when I got to the palace Kabiyesi changed the money from #150,000 to #250,000.
What inspired you to having a photo studio?.
I got my inspiration from the fact that Prince Bayo Adeleke didn’t limit his photography to mobile photography alone. He had braches all over the places and if he had not done that perhaps people like me might not have had the opportunity to be what I am today. So, I felt I should make an impact on other people’s lives positively too. ‘’Through this work, I have built my personal house, I have built one for my mum too. I have sent her to Mecca and I have been to more than four countries on this job’’. All that really inspired me to have a place where people could come in not only to take photographs, but where I can train other people too.
What distinguishes Ore from other photographers?.
Nothing special except that one has to apply what Yoruba will call ‘Omoluabi’ in whatever one is doing in life. One has to have integrity, respect other people’s rights and be hard working. All that plus the passion I have for this job and the talent God has deposited in me always bring the best out me. There are many jobs that I would have to use my personal money to execute and collect the fund back on delivery and there were many I have done for free. That doesn’t take anything away from me because someone who offends you today could make you happy tomorrow that is life. And that is why we are still in the business and doing very well today.
From being a photograph sorter, to Laboratory/Operator, and now a celebrity photographer, a successful one at that. What has changed about Ore and what has your success story taught you about life?.
Honestly it has been a great transformation and it could only be attributed to God’s grace, hard work and consistency. Nothing has changed because I have always had it at back of my mind where I was coming from, my roots and my background. As the popular saying: ‘’Remember the child of whom you are’’. That has always been my guide in whatever I do in life. For someone, being born at Popoyemoja in Ibadan, who couldn’t even further his education after secondary school, owing to some constraints and now at the stage we are today. It can only be God’s favour and hard work. I have learnt that hard work pays and that one must be a giver not only a receiver. You have to appreciate people no matter how little and within your capacity.
The quest to further your education was what brought you to photography are you planning to go back to school now that you are successful?.
Yes, that is very correct. I have since gone back to school. I;m now running a programme at the University of Ibadan, U.I
Who is Oreoluwa?.
I was born in Ibadan, Popo yemoja. I went to St Williams Catholic Primary School, Oke-Ado, Ibadan and proceeded to Urban Day Grammar School, Ring-Road. That was where I stopped and now started again. I love sharing the little I have with people around me. I’ m very contented with what I have and I’m focused. I don’t allow anything to distract me.