I waited a few days after photographing Emmanuel Onyemese to share this story. I’ve found it hard to take in, harder to edit through his folder on my computer. I was afraid of waking up to the fact that, somehow, he was just in my head.
But he did happen and you’re all seeing him right now.
I had spent the whole weekend tucked in at a retreat, draped in white the entire time in a completely white space. I had never done it this way before but I just went with my heart as I prayed for wisdom for where to go next with my work. A few times, I questioned what I was doing but I had a breakthrough when I listened to Poju Oyemade teach on ‘Connecting With Creative Ideas’.
It occurred to me that I had spent all this time not prepping to start a white – wearing movement but preparing the ambiance for the new body of work I was about to create; Pure… Peaceful … Soft.
In a production meeting with the dancers I was to photograph, I broke down my idea. I then described someone that looked like Emmanuel and asked if they knew any dancer like him. They couldn’t think of anyone. So, I played with the idea of using makeup on someone close enough.
It was on the way back in traffic from picking up props with Yetunde Mojola, our Costume designer that Ore, her sister, pointed out a woman with the most elaborately woven hairstyle crossing the road. I spontaneously asked my assistant to catch up with her and find out where she had her hair done (that’s a crazy story for another day).
We turned into a side road to pick her up and hit even more traffic when again, Ore pointed and screamed in the direction to fair skinned man about to get on a bike, “doesn’t he look like the dancer you described earlier?”
It was all crazy after that. All I remember was all three of us jumping out of the car convincing a perfect stranger to jump in, mumbling something about “we promise we’re not going to harm you, we are all women…” and God knows what else we said as all the cars behind us blared their horns. So this stranger, scurried into the backseat not knowing who we were and calmly introduced himself as Emmanuel.
I looked back from the front seat at Emmanuel and thought surely this guy is way more crazy than we are. I don’t know anyone else who would come along with perfect strangers and not know where he was being driven to. As we drove further down I curiously asked Emmanuel if he wasn’t fearful of being kidnapped.
His answer was hilarious- “Na person Wey get Moni for pocket de fear kidnapper”.
He narrated how he was fired from his job that afternoon and we intercepted his trip to the police station to report his missing ID. He was planning to leave for Benin by night bus to start afresh. I asked if he was interested in being a model for the day for a fee and he was clearly elated.
When Emmanuel got to the studio he had a shower and a clean change of clothes. We also had a barber come in to give him a hair cut. Two professional dancers from @spiritofdavid– Fidol and Lilian- were cool to have their images made the next day and volunteered to help coach Emmanuel with his body movements since he had never done anything like this before.
When the costume designer got on her knees to wash his feet, I knew that something shifted in Emmanuel. It seemed to me that he had never been catered for like this by so many people. It became clear to me that this was no crazy coincidence after-all.
The way we met up with him, the many days spiritually preparing for a white themed shoot coupled with my random inquiry from the dancers in the morning and of course the weird circumstances that led us to the road where we found him and now getting his feet washed, all these led to one thing- that God had highlighted Emmanuel and singled him out for some kind of encounter that would change his course somehow.
Another very important thing occurred to me. I had spent the hours before going through a collection of crowns at @nikeartgallery. These were not costumes but real crowns worn by real kings in the past and part of Chief Nike Okundaye’s private collection. I approached these crowns with a lot of reverence as I’d learnt how sacred they were from my experience photographing Kings.
For some reason Emmanuel was meant to wear those crowns and we were indeed to honor him like a king that day. I knew this experience would reach deep into the core of who he was … (to be continued).