Today, Whoot Africa brings you an inspirational interview with one of Nigeria’s finest and most celebrated women in the media space. Aisha Augie-Kuta is an inspiring woman who is currently putting her energy into using pictures to tell stories that inspire and bring awareness to issues and policies that affect the lives of the everyday Nigerian.
An award winning Creative Artist, Photography guru, Filmmaker and Media and Communication expert, Aisha Augie-kuta talks to Whoot Africa’s founder Olushola Pacheco about her work, her life and influencing change through photography.
Aisha Augie-Kuta, the phenomenal woman and photographer?
I am a very versatile woman; I have no idea what drives me, but I get driven everyday by life and different causes. I am a photographer and now a changemaker in government. I live each day as it comes, I don’t force myself into any bubble or wall and say things have to be done in a certain way.
I love Mass Communication, Media and all aspects of Communication in general. Communication is life for me and I have been blessed and lucky to have a background in it and also find a craft to communicate better, create change and push policies with long term impact with what I do.
Inspirations changes with time, right now as an inspirational woman and an SSA New Media in Kebbi State and a mom, what inspires you when you wake up every day?
I am inspired by life, I am inspired by learning, I am drawn towards knowledge and when I take a photograph of something, I ask a million questions. I ask, why is this there and how best can I make a change? The constant quest for knowledge keeps me going, everything I find myself doing I keep wanting to know more and that keeps me going.
Growing up as the daughter of an accomplished career woman?
All the women in my family are quite successful in their careers. When I decided I was going to be a photographer, I was the head of human resources at my firm and I had a career that was moving fast even though it wasn’t in line with what I had studied. I had accomplished a lot at a young age and I took a big risk when I stepped into photography full time. Photography wasn’t something people expected you to be proud of, it was looked at as a side hustle. I was used to the question “so what else do you do?” anytime I introduced myself as a photographer, but thankfully things have changed.
Her mom’s reaction to Photography? My mom is very traditional; at the time, it was a thing of pride to study a course, get a job in line with what you studied and then grow, excel and be the best at it. I had to explain to my mum that I did study photo journalism as part of mass communication, but I remember clearly the day she accepted what I now do. I had taken a picture of Lagos from above and people were looking for it, even the Governor of Lagos at the time wanted a copy of it, and I had an exhibition she attended and was really impressed with my work. There and then I decided to gift my mom that iconic picture of Lagos everyone was after, and she remains the only one who has that picture till today.
Growing up with my mum was and remains a big part of who I am, her exemplary life and dedication to everything she touched continues to impact my life and work till today.
Your work as a photographer has opened you up to opportunities, and now as a Senior Special Adviser on New Media in Kebbi State, can you share the journey itself, the life changing moments and the ups and downs of photography
I have always taken photographs. I got my first camera when I was a child, it was something that was already a part of my system. I knew I was going do great with photography, but I just didn’t envisage the route my journey has taken me via.
I thought of opportunities from the perspective of business at that time. In the north, we didn’t have any female photographers. There was a gap in the market, there were too many stories to be told and based on the conservative nature of the northern people, there were too many places men couldn’t enter that I could as a woman. I soon realized I could get paid to capture various cultural moments and helping to tell stories that were lost because of the cultural restrictions.
As part my creativity, I paint, I draw and I have always been very creative, but I seemed to have boxed myself in by trying to only be known for what I had studied and what my study background entailed. But my passion for photography and telling stories soon had my work and stories being picked up for impact social change. People were talking about what I had captured and things were happening around it developmentally; various agencies and government bodies were springing to action based on things I had captured. The minute I understood the power of my camera, I took on causes aimed at bringing awareness to medical challenges like sickle cell and cancer awareness. We live in a society that hides diseases like cancer, people hear about these stories when they are almost too late. My camera became my microphone and voice, and I understood this was my own way of creating dialogue on these issues.
These pictures created an avalanche, one issue after another and moving into government was based on these kinds of issues. I can use pictures to drive policies, I can also use pictures to confirm progress reports; I promised myself to never lie when it comes to capturing what the government is doing or hasn’t done. My integrity will always come first. Right now, photography is about driving change, impacting good governance and accountability to the people of my state and Nigeria as a whole.
Heart-breaking moments in photography for change?
In 2010, my team and I shot a campaign with raw images of women fighting cancer, and within weeks of the shoot, 4 of the women passed away. It was a wake-up call about the need to spread the word on cancer screenings and early detection, and as bad as those stories and moments were, I am inspired to never silence the power of my voice through images.
Any plans of a memoir or exhibition of your work so far?
Yes, maybe sometime in the near future, but for now, getting the work done as it is right now, is quite important.
Have you ever had to prove yourself to anyone, especially those who believe your rise is based on the networks of the family you are from?
Off course, I have had people try to discount my achievements based on where I am coming from; when I have meetings with upcoming photographers, I tell them it took me seven years to put money together for my first batch of gears, I saved for that long and they don’t believe it because automatically you are supposed to be from a well to do home. My mum is a civil servant, photography currently pays more than the civil service. Does it bother me when people try to discount my achievements? Not at all, instead it drives and fuels me to be better, to work with integrity and just be the best.
As it seems right now, there are jobs I cannot take anymore just because of my mom’s position as a Chief Judge, there’s a possibility a case might come into the courts and I don’t want my affiliations or jobs to get in the way of my mom doing her job. I don’t want to take a job and tomorrow it be seen as a bribe, so I am very careful working with individuals and that’s why I moved more to the corporate world. Which is a lot to give up. I am thankful I have never had an issue with conflict of interest, I am able to walk away quickly the minute I find people trying to give me jobs to curry favours from my mom. So, when people try to attribute my success to who my parents are, I don’t bother because at the end of the day, I don’t have the time to convince people about my work because there is so much greatness ahead to be achieved.
Your work over the years has shown a lot of hardwork, drive, passion and determination. We are also living in times where a lot of young people don’t know what it means to do hard work anymore – advice to young people?
Getting out of your comfort zone and not having to wait for anyone; a lot of young people just feel I must know someone. When I started out, I never believed I needed to know anyone to achieve anything.
Research, get a lot of research done; understanding what you want to do, self-reflection, look at yourself in the mirror and constantly reflect on your journey, if what you are chasing is fame, money or impact, at least be the best at what you do.
Understanding what you want to do, and understanding that the how is more important than just having plans and goals. Young people discount the need for research; you give a camera to a young person and they don’t even bother researching the numerous functions of it, you can’t fluke through life, you can be great at something and you have to constantly keep building yourself and learning from the people behind you and also the people ahead of you. You have to always be open to learning, even the master can always learn. At the end of the day, be willing to go the extra mile, it will always set you apart
Gender equality? As a woman in business?
I feel like at the end of the day everything has worked for me because I am a woman, most of the benefits I have gotten was because I am a woman and at that point it was more like, oh, a woman can do this? So that got people attracted to what I do, when we talk about equality, the men also get it hard. When I am shooting with a group of people, I wouldn’t be shoved and pushed like the men get it sometimes, it’s a 50-50 thing and it really depends on how you take it. I have been told things that were supposed to discourage me as a woman, but I turned around and made those things my strengthening force.
My camera doesn’t know If I am a man or woman, it doesn’t choose; we are constantly being told we cannot do certain things and people are shocked when I tell them I am married with children and still balance my life out in such a way that no aspect of my life is deprived of the necessary work and attention. I decided to pick this job and I refuse to give in to judgmental people who think you should be a certain way, and it is absolutely motivational for my children to also see me work and create impact.
What are you doing to give back to the younger generation of photographers and creatives?
We have used a lot of platforms. In Abuja, I have something called the photo café being run by one of my mentees via the Mara Mentors platform. What the photo café does, is we train and support young photographers who also train and support the up-comers after them.
I also have a foundation called The Centre for Arts and Creative Talents, and we have an initiative for young kids, adults and the elderly too, which is the never too late initiative as we believe you are never too old to follow your dreams.
There is also the Nigerian photography expo and conference by Seun Akinsanmi, and in all of the 5 editions, I have taken classes to teach photography. I get mentoring request on a daily basis, and I try to do the best that I can to support the few I can support for now, and where I don’t have the time, I connect them to others who are a bit higher than they are.
Looking at the future, where do you see Aisha Augie-Kuta?
I want to be a media mogul, I want to run and be impactful in the media industry.
What would you want to be remembered for?
The lives that I have touched, and the lives that I have changed. I think for me, even now, working in Kebbi State, I am thankful for the impact and changes that have happened because we were able to use photography to get their stories across, and making sure that policies get across to affect them one way or the other. I know the impact that have been made, which was a big sacrifice for me because I had to sacrifice a bit of my time away from my family and children to do this.
To also have my children be able to talk about my impact in the world, that, for me would be the ultimate goal and reward as well.