Neec is a creative photographer, a lighting artist and, is, into film production and swimming in naira (something he denies, I don’t believe him!). Neec is a completely certified craze man. I am not exactly sane so you can imagine what happens when we sat down to talk… Let’s go.
Hard Voice: With any other person I would go straight to the point. Not you, Neec; you need to give us a preface. Who you are etc. For instance, your name is Neec, just Neec, no surname, no username, nothing. Is Neec short for Nicholas (is that what your parents called you)? Even your sex is an issue, I see a man’s face but your gender in Facebook says female.
Sigh. Neec, talk to us.
Neec: Kikikikiki!! The gender part got me. But of course you know I am a guy, and not a girl. To go straight to your first question (because you asked a two-in-one question), let me roll.
My name is actually not Neec. Neec is an acronym deconstructed from my first name: Chukwunonso, my middle name: Edwin and my last name – Emeka. I changed my name to Neec when, during my early days, at the university of Nigeria, Nsukka, I discovered that as Nonso (or Chukwunonso), I am just a quiet, cool headed reserved Nigerian, but as Neec, I am a flexible, fearless, magical and limitlessness person. However, I’d appreciate you calling me Neec and not Nonso or (Chukwunonso), except you’re family, best friend or you know me from root.
As pertaining to the gender, I chose to be identified as a she cos basically I admire the woman race. I even worship them: mums, sisters, girlfriends, etc. But because Neec is a character, and in art a character that is flexible can metamorphose, I made him a woman. anything else aside that is just another direction to mystify the Neec character. I just hope I am making sense to you with all this my personality jargons.
Hard Voices: You are making sense, Neec. In fact your answer has raised so many angles for follow-up questions. But I will ask you just one and, perhaps, we will get to others as we row. On your special admiration for womankind, I remember reading a very emotional piece you wrote about your deceased mum on Facebook. It was so moving. Your mother must have been a great influence on you.
Neec: O yes! She really influenced me. All the slaps, all the floggings, all the chores, all the warnings, all her sweats, and all her tears really influenced me… today, I find them in my life and my art. My mum is likened to Nnuego of Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood. In fact I felt the book (was written for my family. She (my mum) is so inside, emotional but stubborn, and unimaginably enduring. If you’re from a middle class family, eastern and migrant of the Lagos 90s, you can relate to my story. Now tell me, how can you not be influenced by a woman like that!
Hard Voices: It is impossible not to be inspired by such a force. I can only imagine the bag of awesomeness your mum was.
Now, Neec, you travel a lot. I see a lot of your status posts location from different parts of Nigeria, so many of them, Abeokuta, Calabar, Ibadan etc. This leaves me impressed and curious: are you on some tour or is this the routine way you make a living?
Neec: Are you kidding me? making money out from traveling? I must be the likes of Pelu Awofeso – people who travel for a living! It is true I travel a lot, in fact, I love traveling. But most times I travel because I am involved with a project, or invited for a film production. I am a freelance film lighting artist, gaffer, and technician. For example, I was in Calabar because I was a gaffer at Starcross Television. But early this year, I was in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Benin and Cross River State because I was involved with Zmirage Multimedia for Ahmed Yerima’s play: Little Drop. And because I am a photographer as well, I use the opportunity to create free time for myself, enter the nearest community for a photowalk and take lots of pictures!
Hard Voices: So you are a film producer, lighting artist, technician and the rest. So these are what you primarily do for a living? I had the impression that you make a living in just photography, now I can see that you are swimming in naira. But one thing I am sure of (almost) is that you don’t do photography as a hobby.
Neec: Producer kor, producer ni; swimming in naira kor, swimming in naira ni. To put the record straight, I am not a movie producer.
Okay back to your question. Photography is no longer a hobby to me now. It has come to stay cos this days I invest more of my time, energy and resources trying to step up my game acquire gears, and master the art of photography and how to sell a picture. But as a business outfit, I am still learning. But the ‘young shall grow’.
Hard Voices: I don’t know if it’s the change regime but the speed with which you guys deny being rich is alarming.
(Note: Check Walter’s Interview; another agent of wealth denial)
And, this is, by the way, you never write capital letters. It’s small letters all through. Even when we sent you stories for the photo/fiction collaboration on your blog you took the trouble turning every single thing to small letters. Now you are giving me trouble.
Neec (unedited): kikikikiki!!
i am sorry if my small letters give you trouble. i find it stylistic breaking conventions. honestly, I find them attractive and beautiful. Unlike the bold ones that look gigantic, capital, formal and imposing! in fact, i get paranoia when i write in uppercase letters. i cannot remember how i arrived at that point of disobeying the rules that make you begin a sentence with an uppercase letter, or use them on proper nouns, writing the big god with a big letter ‘g’, and lesser gods with small letter ‘g’. haha! i mean don’t you see aesthetics in the curves when you’re writing or typing in lowercase letter?
Hard Voices: I see no aesthetics here, I only see someone whose English teacher will never forgive. Now that you mentioned god with small “g” and god without let me ask, how do you relate with religion, and how important is it in your art? It is hard to think of you as a Christian, Neec, although you once quoted John 3:16 after I nominated you for a ten-day Bible challenge (I am still not convinced). Are you a traditionalist? I can’t pinpoint the reason why I have this impression of you, but I do.
Neec: Hahaha! Why? I am a spiritual person and I believe in the existence of God. I am unconventional though. Maybe because I am an artist, or because I am too free and adventurous as a person. Because today I might be receiving prayers from some Olumo worshippers, and tomorrow I’ll be receiving prayers from an Olumba Olumba Obu ordained priest, or on a bright Sunday I might just enter a Deeper Life regional headquarter to worship God.
I am a Christian. I am that Christian that will not knock on your door to argue about the existence of God, that Christian that speaks to God through his mind when he needs help, that Christian that believes that God is a father to be loved, and not feared, that Christian that will rather give alms to the needy than pay his tithe to a priest. I rarely talk about God on social media because I feel it’s bad business for my brand. The reason why I discontinued the bible challenge. Besides, there are so many brainiacs online, both the confused and the misled, and I don’t know how to argue or convince them!
Hard Voices: Sincerely, I never expected you to do the Bible Challenge. I nominated you just so that on the last day while strolling to my mansion in heaven and I see God judging you I can say that I warned him but he didn’t listen. Now, photographing is something we have always associated as menial growing up. You know how nobody wants to be a plumber, or mechanic or mason. But here you are redefining the art. How did you come by this, when did you decide photography was it for you?
Neec: Ahaa! I decided I wanted to be a photographer when I discovered that people loved my pictures even though what I was doing was phone-photography.
Although, I have always wanted to make images from grassroot. In those days as a kid, I will roam the streets looking out for colourful glasses, or broken bottles that I will put into empty matchboxes, create peep holes (viewfinder) for a colourful see through; a kind of thing Da Vinci did with his camera obscura back in old forgotten centuries!? Now, if I can love colours, light, memories, movements, ideas, dreams, stories, darkness, people, environment, etc, and know them, and create them by simply holding a camera and looking out for them, bro, photography is the way!
Hard Voices: Who are the big guns in the photo industry in Nigeria? You know, just like we have Helon Habila, Chimamanda, Teju Cole etc in Literature. Tell us, too, who your role models are? You already mentioned Peju Awosefo, is he among your inner higher caucus?
Neec: Haa! Pelu Awofeso is a travel journalist! The shakabulas in Nigeria photo industry are of course: Kelechi Amadi-Obi, TY Bello, James Iroha, Aham Ibeleme, Yetunde Babaeko, Tope Horpload, Emmanuel Oyeleke, Emmanuel Arewa, Tobbie Maguire etc!! I can go on and on!
Hard Voices: Do you identify any of them as a role model?
Neec: Yeah all of them. And please don’t stifle a laugh! I stalk these guys and watch out for their style, what influences them the most, and why they are still relevant, despite the explosion of crazier artists today. Take a peek at how they approach art and you will just scream how! and never go back to bed. But I am very mindful not to be so influenced by their work in order that I don’t shut up my creative door!
Hard Voices: Neec, if I want to laugh, trust me, I will laugh out loud. This is not North Korea (yet). Tell us, what does your typical day look like?
Neec: My typical day is: wake, social media, sleep, wake, social media, eat, brush, eat, social media, eat, photo edit, watch movie, eat, movie, movie, movie, eat, social media. Then near 12 a.m, I will play very loud music to keep me company while I edit, edit, edit. Until I sleep, sleep, sleep!
Hard Voices: I don’t think I want to be your neighbour, Neec. How can you, except the devil is using you, play very loud music in the dead of the middle of the night? How! Sigh. Now I am tempted to ask you when you discovered you are crazy, but I won’t. I don’t even have your energy.
I see that there is no room for actual photographing on your typical day, Neec.
Neec: When you said typical, I assumed you meant my usual day; my normal average day. Well, my five days out of seven is usually like that. You know a lot of people get this misconception about how photographers spend their time. Non-photographers think that photographers spend a larger percentage of their time taking pictures and having fun.
The truth is that photographers spend a larger percentage of their time editing photos, album production, social media and blogging, networking, studying and learning new techniques, and a little percentage of their time shooting! The case may differ as there are different kinds of photography! Haba! Do you know you can shoot a thousand pictures in ten minutes, but you can’t do same during post processing, in fact, simple tasks of selecting your favourite, copying, deleting can give you a migraine before starting the actual edit! So tell me, who wants to have millions of photos on their drive that they can’t edit? So I just SSS—sleep, social media and sip zobo—at day! And work and rock my MP3s at night!
Hard Voices: Once, Neec, we were having a conversation, and you asked me ‘how Lagos’. You didn’t know where I was but you assumed I stayed in Lagos. You are not the first nor second nor third even, to make such assumption. Now, why do we usually tend to assume that anyone who is into art (or pretending to be) is a Lagosian? Why always Lagos?
Neec: The general mentality is that Lagosians are very active (and they actually are). And when I say Lagosians, of course you know Lagos has a lot of numbers from all the villages in the country, and many creatives want to go there, at least to exhibit their art. My question wasn’t an assumption. I was just trying to jump the ‘hello – hi’, protocol to make you confess your location. If I was to assume, I’d have said Zaria. Why, because it is written all over your literature!
Hard Voices: My ex-roommate in the Zaria (campus) would say, when referring to his relationship status, ‘I am not disturbing any girl and no girl is disturbing me’ meaning he was single. Now, Neec, which girl is disturbing you or/and which girl are you disturbing?
Neec: Gehn gehn genh geh!! Too bad I can’t tell you. She wouldn’t want me to mention her name on social media. It’s bad business for her, and bad business for me, and we respect that. But I can give you a clue. She is the art of god.
Hard Voices: What event has inspired you most, recently, something that left you wow? And I hope you covered it with your camera.
Neec: That’s a hard question o, because every day is eventful and inspiring to me. But I will tell you what I can remember. Twice this year at two different Nikon Photography Summits, my pictures got nominated. Although I never won, but it was inspiring to me because I photographed those pictures with my phone! I told myself, if my phonograph can get this far, imagine what I can do when the real gear arrives!
Hard Voices: You sometimes do a photo/fiction collaboration with the hashtag #Everypictureisastory in which you provide difficult photos (actually it’s tough Abigail who provides these photos) and writers write on these difficult photos from the inspiration they derive from them and you guys blog them. This is something new, to me (at least), but it is refreshing. You must have believed in the compatibility of marrying both arts.
Neec: Yeah! I believe in their compatibility!
When I read stories, I see pictures in my head. But now I create pictures, and I want the story to be inside your head while you look at them. But, me telling the story will be giving the picture away, but you telling the story will be giving the picture another dimension. I collaborated with writers through the help of my tough colleague: Abigail Ogbonna to communicate the writers telling them not to write what they see in the pictures, but what inspires them! The results are usually amazing!
Hard Voices: Do you, sometimes, write yourself?
Neec: Yea, I write. Poetry actually.
Hard Voices: You never share this online, do you?
Neec: I used to. Until the writer’s drought crept into my heart. If you check my notes on Facebook, you’ll see about 50 of my poems. I plan to pay attention to writing when I begin to have grey hairs.
Hard Voices: Grey hair! Hair, really, has become very important in today’s discourse. Didn’t Chimamanda write a full book about hair? Look at you, Neec, you are on dreadlocks. Growing up I associated dreadlocks with bad boys; not just me, Nollywood as well. What is the history of your hair? Do you know that the stereotypical African male artist is on braids, dreadlocks or dada?
Neec: Artists especially artistes go on braids and locs! I think it’s because of the showbiz. Besides, dreadlocks (not dada) is the new cool. My concept of keeping dreadlocks started when I discovered that there’s beauty in default, disorganisation, unevenness, and imperfection. Nature is not straight. I want to be like that. I want to just live, breath, wind and fly; advent, care less, love, be simple, instinctive, be black, be vulnerable, be me—the ‘in’ in me. And that is how I discovered that I just wanted to be like the butterfly! Breaking away from my caterpillar, in search of beauty!
Hard Voices: If anyone ever doubted your poetry credentials, Neec, I think this answer is the clinger. Now, let’s talk politics small. Buhari’s change has been painfully underwhelming, to say the least. You are silent about this, at least you have never complained, covertly or otherwise on Facebook or elsewhere. Are you apolitical? (I hope not because we need all the creative voices we can find).
Neec: Haha! I have apathy for politics. Maybe it’s because the Nigerian political system has never been good (in my own opinion) or maybe because I see noting interesting about politics. I am a liberal, but I refuse to be part of any party. And that includes me not voting. Have you heard of Henrik Ibsen? He said the minority is always right, but the majority owns the right. So why lift your voice? I only love this country because I was born here, and the country is beautiful physical-wise.
Hard Voices: Is there any specific way this change government has affected you or your art or both?
Neec: My art? I don’t think so. But me, yes. Plenty of ways! The prices of things have skyrocketed. I can’t buy a lot of things I wished for. Today, I live like I am selfish, lonely, and not smiling.
Hard Voices: Where do you dream of seeing yourself in ten to fifteen years’ time? (Your vision 2030.) You are a graduate of Theatre arts from Nsukka, the second best university in Nigeria (leers) will this vision include a PhD Neec?
Neec: I am not a graduate of the University of Nigeria. I studied there but never left the institution as a graduate. And who says it is the second best university in Nigeria? It is the best but not the finest in the country (leers back). Holding a PhD is tempting, sexy, makes your CV attractive, and makes gentlemen respect you like a god. But I don’t care about that. I am better than that. By 2030, I would have finished touring the world with my camera, own my own gallery, be a good husband and father, mentor people who are ready to learn differently, and be a writer and crazy painter!
Hard Voices: Finally, Neec, and this has to do with the mentoring people you mentioned above, you know a picture is said to tell a thousand stories, so I reckon that with five pictures I can tell five thousand stories, and, additionally, photographers are the only people ladies obey completely without question. Now I dream of being a photographer. How can I (and hundreds of others who have the good sense to dream this) go about this dream? And remember you own me a shot.
Neec: When you say mentoring, you make me feel like a masquerade in the arena. To be honest with you, I am still up and coming. But if I am to share my journey tips they are: you have to be infatuated with photography. Be imaginative, learn a lot about art: the history, concepts, styles, colours, symmetry, shape, etc. You have to also understand the rules, and by understanding, you have to know how to break them, learn how to use computer applications like photoshop, and finally, and most importantly and most difficult—consistency! Are you on social media? How well do you manage it? Do you belong to photography groups and clubs? Etc!