On April 29, 2020, I experienced a revelational shift on the profundity of our fragility. I woke up that morning thinking I had to come to a seismic crossroad—beautiful, life-defining moments (wedding, graduation ceremony) or great loss to affect my perception. I sat on my bed and reminisced about the joyous moments in my life. I pondered about the loss and grief I have lived to endure. The day before, I received a call in the afternoon while I moped about my inability still to beat the AI on my FIFA 14. On the call, I was informed about the death of a friend. This friend had died from COVID-19.
Then I went into a meditative mood. I remembered times together with this friend, whose name I can’t mention for the sake of his family’s comfort. I remembered our conversations, how he bought me my first mobile phone. And there was that time he took my side the day I annoyed my football teammates by deliberately picking the ball with my hands in the box 18, which I claimed was the work of the devil. When I realised I was still on the phone and said “hello” into the mouthpiece, the caller had dropped the call. I opened the photo gallery on my phone to steal a glimpse of our picture together that day to relive that moment, to somehow rewind time. I closed my eyes but I wasn’t psychic enough to feel the animation I sought. So rather, I felt numb and helpless and found no heart to take, knowing that it happened too soon for my friend. A cosmic solitude descended on me; all I had left of our friendship was a monochrome photograph of us in what used to be the largest golf course in Africa.
In the photograph, we stand beside each other; our pose shows that we were having a chat. He is smiling at me as we discussed about Liverpool’s chances of winning the English Premier League. I remember his text coming in shortly after the Crystal Palace match. Seeing this picture makes me want to find a way to tell him that this is Liverpool’s year.
So on that day I convinced one of the best photographers in Nigeria, Benita Nnachortam, to work with me on a project, a COVID-19 documentary. I didn’t like the one-dimensional narrative of the pandemic I saw on TV, mostly doomsday stories. Even though the impending threat to humanity is clear to see, I wanted people to look at the situation with a hopeful perspective. I wanted to tell that even in the worldwide lockdown, there was real freedom depending on the choices we made.
Our experiment led us to the street corners of Abeokuta. Eventually we were at a mosque, where we found a little girl in whose face I saw an aspect of life’s fragility. Benny, the photographer, was fascinated by the girl’s looks; I think she instantly fell in love with the girl because she immediately took interest in capturing her in spite of the number of other kids at the mosque. As Benny changed positions and adjusted her body to get a perfect shot, I stood and watched and each time requested to see the resultant picture. What followed is a story to tell on a different day.
Seeing this photograph today, I appreciate Benny’s talent and now understand her interest in the girl. It is over a month since we took the picture but each time I see it, everything, these past months, has come full circle. I remember afresh what it feels like knowing a virus is plaguing the world and how to survive in it. I remember afresh that we aren’t allowed to worship in public places; that in this period I have lost a friend. And now, I have learnt something in photography I hadn’t known: its therapy, as it gives us the chance to find solace, that it helps preserve special moments and fosters meditation. And that, through the lens of a camera, life’s fragile nature, sometimes, becomes bare.
Solomon Babatunde is the Chairman of Esport Nigeria Ogun state chapter & a documentary film maker. He is an active member & contributing artist in KUTA Nigeria. He won the Kits Loretta Poetry Award 2020. He is currently working with Benita Nwachortam on a documentary that explores the untold truth in sports betting. When he’s not reading or shooting, he’s busy playing hide & seek with his wife & child.
Benita Nnenna Nnachortam has over five years of experience in the Media Industry. She has served as a Special Assistant/Official Photographer at the Ogun State Governors Office, Ogun, Nigeria, where she focused on documenting the legacy of the statesman daily beyond the office premises as his personal photographer. She is also the founder of BenTeller Media a dynamic media consulting company (@thebenteller) and Creative Director at Kuta Art Foundation (@kutanigeria). Benita holds a BSC Hons. in International Law and Diplomacy. She is passionate about the intersection of media, art and culture for development and is dedicated to inspiring youths through her work and life.