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Personality Interview

I get inspiration for my photos when i am relaxed” – Collins Chidi Metu

By Yetunde Taiwo
This generation of movers and shakers, the babies of the 80’s are gracefully making their mark on our new world. From social media to digital media, one man is single-handedly documenting the lives of so many couples; one click at a time. The ability to live in a moment forever can only be captured in memory and in pictures.

Photographer Collins Chidi Metu is helping very many people re-live their fondest memories over and over again. From weddings to special events to concerts, Collins Metu is saving a piece of history everyday.

Born and raised in Texas, photographer Collins Metu is the oldest of 4 children. A first generation Nigerian American, Collins is one of the most successful Nigerian photographers in America.

His first visit to Nigeria created many firsts for him at age 7; it was his first time on the plane, first time meeting his grand parents and first time meeting his extended family. He remembers that trip even now.

This groundnut loving, Nabisco wafers eating young man  like many Nigeria children, initially picked a career in engineering and, at some point, also wanted to become a physicist. No one ever imagined a hobby he picked up would someday become his number one passion.

Collins has never used a film camera to shoot. He certainly is of the new, digital revolution generation.

What got you into photography?
It may sound a little silly, but I originally started learning about photography so that the pictures I took of parties my friends and I hosted would look clear. This, of course, explains why so much of my early work is from night club environments.

With so many camera options, how did you find the camera for you?
At the time, Canon had the best top-of-the-line camera model.  And I wanted to be able to grow into better cameras as my skills improved.

What do you see when you take images that you believe other photographers may not see?
My photos are about more than just making pretty or sharp photos. I like to tell stories with my images and capture inspiring or even surprising moments.  There are stories everywhere and not just of what is right in front of you.

Do you have any formal training? Or, was this one of those “accidental passions”?
I have no formal training at all  but experience is a great teacher.  I fine-tuned my skills by taking a lot of photographs and experimenting.

Your images are very engaging and evoke emotions. How do you get your subjects to relax and give you what you need to make a shot?
For starters, my photography tends to attract clients that trust me to create spontaneous images.  When they meet me, I reinforce my approach verbally as they are looking through my work.  By the time I am hired to take photos for them, they understand that ignoring me and being themselves is the best way to allow me to create special images for them.

Can you remember the first images you took? And, when you had your “reality moment”?
The first photos I took, like most people, were regular snapshots  like anyone would take.  The first ones that I was pleased with were taken during an event my friends and I hosted.  The lighting from the party had a really pleasing colour that I wanted to duplicate.

How do you, as a photographer, define beauty?
Beauty has an arresting quality. It voids out all other thoughts in your head and makes you focus on what you are seeing  whether it’s a person or a moment.

Who are your biggest influences in life and in this industry? Why do they inspire you?
My biggest inspiration is music producer Timbaland. He revolutionised an entire genre of music and continued to reinvent himself and surprise me throughout most of his career.  I also love the work of directors Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral) and Tim Burton (Batman).  Their movies have great story-telling, but also have a signature mood and tone.

What is the one thing you think your clients should know when they approach you  that you find yourself repeating to just about everyone, everytime?
My photos are completely candid and I don’t prompt or pose you at all except when taking the formal portraits of family and friends after (or before) the ceremony.  All of the images you see on my website were taken with this approach.

How do you think photography has changed in Nigeria over the past 10 years?
I see more artistry creeping in.  I think that simply getting an in-focus, well-exposed photograph that you could sell was the primary goal of many photographers in Naija.  While that is still a goal, I see more movement towards the story-telling style and improved lighting technique.

With the influx of Nigerian music videos into the industry, do you notice some of these productions may use the eye of a photographer like yourself and why?
I think the cinematography and camera work in Nigerian music videos and Nollywood movies is improving but still can go further.  The techniques involved in motion-based media are different but require a careful eye as well.  I see we are just on the cusp of the same revolution that entered the still photography sector.  I think some of the things I do, like creative framing of interesting moments, may translate to this medium but it’s definitely not my specialty.

What is the most bizarre shoot you have ever had and how did you recover from it?
The most bizarre shoot I’ve had was where a family won a portrait session that I offered in a charity auction.  Since they didn’t find me through the normal channels like word-of-mouth or seeing my portfolio online, it wasn’t a good experience for me or them.  They wanted very traditional photography with clichéd poses that I wasn’t good at and didn’t have enthusiasm for.  I took what I thought were very “Collins-like” photos but they weren’t pleased.  It was a lesson that I have to be very specific about the avenues I try to reach out to clients to ensure they are a good fit for me and vice-versa.

Seeing your work, it’s evident that you enjoy what you do. Do you ever have a creative/photographers block? How do you re-inspire yourself?
It’s very difficult to be creative and deliver work you haven’t done before on each outing.  During weddings, when not much is going on, I challenge myself to stop shooting what’s in front of me and choose a different angle, lens, or lighting style.  Forcing myself to avoid my usual habits often results in some of my favourite images.

As busy as you get, have you ever had days where you just wanted to let it all go and never see a camera again?
Oh, absolutely.  Any professional in any industry, no matter how much they love what they do for a living, has other desires and interests.  And, having time to rest and recharge is vital for every person.  Also, I often find inspiration for my photography when relaxing or taking in other forms of entertainment like movies and music.

Every photographer has a wish list of people or places they want to shoot. If you could pick a place and a person to shoot, who and where would it be?
Since I started out doing night life, brand-marketing, and even news photography, I’ve had an opportunity to photograph many people I wanted to, already, including President Obama (when he was a Senator); hip-hop artiste, Jay-Z; producer Timbaland; several Nigerian artistes and Nollywood actors/actresses. I’m blessed and fortunate enough to say that this is a tough question as I’ve met many inspiring people already.  But I would love to photograph Michael Jordan  and, maybe, even have a conversation with him.

What is your biggest accomplishment so far?
So far, I’m most proud of having my images published in the popular US magazine, Ebony.  It’s a joy to open a magazine hundreds of thousands of people read and see your photo running from one page to the next.

What is your most disappointing professional moment so far?
Early in my career, I was sent on assignment to photograph a fashion show hosted by actress Vivica A. Fox.  During the event, people were swarming her to talk to her and other photographers were trying to get her photo so, I decided to fall back and wait for a better moment.  Shortly after that, I was able to corner her and get a better shot of her by herself.  I was pretty high on myself but then I realized my camera wouldn’t focus (!).  I was freaking out mentally but tried to maintain composure outwardly. I went ahead and took the (out-of-focus) photo and let her go on her way.  I found out later that I had mistakenly hit the auto-focus switch.  I was so disappointed that I didn’t know my gear well enough to take advantage of that situation.  I vowed that would never happen again  and it hasn’t.

Do you find that most of your clients are Nigerians? How different is the dynamics working with Nigeria and non-Nigeria clients.
My very first wedding clients were Nigerians and the bulk of my early wedding photography was done for Nigerian clients.  As word of mouth about my business has spread, I find myself doing work for a more diverse client base including Hispanics, Asians, African Americans and Caucasians.

What do you remember about the photography studios in Nigeria when you were younger? What would you change then knowing what you know now?
While the photos seemed to be very pedestrian and uninspiring, one thing I did like was that the actual prints seemed to last forever.  My parents’ old photos seem to show no signs of fading and have brought back very fond memories for them.  It allows us to see how they used to be many years ago.

Will there be a Collins Metu studio in Nigeria in the near future?
As with all things  supply and demand will dictate that type of expansion.  Photographer: Collins Chidi Metu


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