Bob Pixel, as he is widely known, Emmanuel Bobbie has built a professional photography brand that is respected by many.
In this exclusive interview with enewsgh.com, he talks early stages of a career that has grown to become largely successful; the trade, and public appreciation and perception, among other interesting topics.
Full interview below.
I believe many a time, it’s what you feel over what you are trained to do. After school, I found myself in England and I used to work in a supermarket, they had lots of magazines and books on the shelves. In the course of my duty, I walked around and picked up some of the magazines to read.
There was the lifestyle, housing and the rest, but the only shelf that had something to do with what I studied in at KNUST in 2001 was the photography department. Each time, I read what was on sale; (because they are opened just in case a buyer wanted to skim through) I felt a strong urge to pick up my photography again.
And photography was one of the subjects one had to pass as graphic and design student in KNUST; so as I read those books, they ignited my passion for photography again.
I then decided to start practicing by shooting end of year parties and graduations in the UK and at some stage I decided I will come back to Ghana and start photography.
When you returned, was professional photography popular?
The digital age had just started and there weren’t a lot of people in the industry like there is now. It was late 2005 when I came in and I heard a few names, and these were guys who were into photography for certain people.
I didn’t have a place in the industry so I had to start shooting weddings and self-projects and people started seeing my works and it took off from there.
I have never worked with a company and when I arrived I had vowed I was going to work for myself. Nobody knew me and won’t contract me to shoot their stuff but I told myself I was going to establish myself and become a household name.
Now, photography to me is everything. My whole life revolves around it and that’s what I do for bread and butter. That’s my God given talent.
You mentioned you wanted to prove yourself; almost everyone knows you now. Do you feel fulfilled?
Where I find myself now is part of my journey and I don’t think I have reached the level I want to be at. The bigger goal is to have giant multifaceted studios in other parts of the world. That’s the bigger dream. Also to travel the world and do what I love as a photographer.
How do you prepare for your shoots?
I have worked for clients in several parts of the world. This includes magazine covers in the US to GSK in Ghana here. I need to have a brief, it always important to have the brief; I need to have an idea of the scope of work that need to be done to know the clients expectations.
And before this interview, one of the secrets was that I practice on my own, so on the day I’m called to do a specific shoot, it becomes a routine. Preparation is key and knowing what the client expects of you is key to determine the gear you will need, location, lighting and doing lots of research on what has been done already in the general direction of what the client is looking to achieve with their shoot is also important.
And looking at what has been done before doesn’t mean you are going to replicate exactly what you saw; because that is a bit silly. As a creative person you need to take it, turn it around and make it your own. Checking your gear, double checking your gear and having backup to avoid any surprises is also key.
For commercial work, it is always planned from start to finish because the client have what we call a mood board that gives you a general idea of what the final work might look like. Usually its sample photos from online. To give you direction on what to shoot and for you to know what the end product should look like.
You do a lot of countryside shoots. Reason?
It’s key for every creative person to take a break from what they do every day to refresh their body and mind from time to time. I think it does your creativity and work lots of good when you just walk away, drive around, get lost, go to places you have never been and when you come back your creativity level rises. The things you saw while you were away from your working environment will inspire your next work somehow.
You have also shot a lot of celebrities; how hard is the process?
We are all artists and we have our language. All I want to do is evoke a feeling in them when they see the photo. I have shot a lot of people; from Dr. Mensah Otabil, Jackie Appiah, John Dumelo, Yvonne Nelson and others. They are all wonderful people and we all have our egos but we have the artist language that we all understand.
I shot D Banj too, another colorful character, got us waiting for hours even though we were all lodging at the same hotel. He came to the set and he had his own spark, we were a bit upset because we were all lodging in the same hotel but he was late. But that shoot was off the chain.
I can’t really single out people but everyone has their personality. Lil Win is a funny character Yvonne (Nelson) is fantastic person too. Once I’m interacting with them through photography, if they have minuses, I don’t even see them because I am doing something I love and as soon as we are done, our relationship ends there.
It’s good as long they like the final product we worked on but as to whether they made me laugh or not during the shoot, all that matters to me is what I get at the back of the camera when I click.
What’s your favorite work thus far?
It’s the one I am going to shoot tomorrow. I don’t have one yet and I am not settling on the ones I have shot already.
How do you still manage to stay in-form at this height of your craft?
We live in a digital world now and I do a lot of research from Vimeo, Behance, Facebook, YouTube and more and there are other photographers I look out for.
And all the young photography guys in Ghana, I spend a little time from time to time to check out their works. Some you see and you want to forget quickly and some inspires you. I pick a bit from every work I see and put it into my work. This whole thing is a process.
Is there anything you wish you knew before you started this Bob Pixel journey?
Knowing how to cook doesn’t mean you can run a successful restaurant. Cooking good food is an entirely different thing from run a restaurant business. I really wished I had an in-depth knowledge in business.
The hard part of business, how to deal with people and play business ball but I am blessed my wife is an accountant and she supports my weakness in the business of things.
Maybe, too, I am suffering from the artists’ disease which many creative people struggle with. We love the art so much and forget the business of things. But I‘m lucky my wife takes care of the business aspects and I take care of the arts part.
I really wish I had a little bit more business knowledge and she is teaching me now and I am getting better by the day. But I am being careful to not fall in love with the business too much and forget the art.
What would you wish Ghanaians would come to appreciate about photography?
Photography is art and the clicking part is just three percent of the whole thing. What I see in the frame, what I put in the frame, what I deliberately ignore in the frame, it’s a whole process, it all goes and come back to form one art.
Ghanaians need to appreciate photography is an art and you have to pay for good works. If I am shooting a wedding and I grab that priceless moment and frame it, its forever. We need to appreciate photography as we see every other profession.
People have to realize we also have to be paid well so we can also buy the 4 wheel drives, own nice houses and put our kids in good schools. We have to be adequately compensated for our craft.
And we have to be respected like any other person who is a professional but the respect is not going to come from any other person if we don’t respect ourselves as creative people.
Has public perception about the trade changed since you started?
Gradually the Bra Photo thing is changing from the regular guy on the street to the other guys.
We are forming an association which has a few challenges here and there. There are lots of people coming in and going out but we are trying to gather ourselves and have an association that will protect our interest as a group.
Photography is very broad and one person cannot do it all. In Ghana we are not doing so much variety because we have everyone doing any of the jobs they can lay their hands on because Man for Chop.
With time when people come to understand there are specialized photographers for each event, I think we will begin to appreciate the various categories and know who to call for what kind of shoot.
People’s reaction to your works; how does it play into future projects?
I try as much as possible to detach myself from my work. When you see a photograph, it’s created by the subject and the photographer. It’s up to you the viewer to decide how you want to relate to that photo. I did a composite of boy pushing a car tire earlier this year and someone wrote to me and said I brought back the child in him.
But I didn’t know he was going to see the picture and feel that way. But that was his view. You might like or not like it. I just make sure I do my bit and allow you to do your bit also.
Nudity in photography; where do you draw the line…
Ghana is a conservative country and nudity is a form of art, we have done the nudity for a very long time but there are times we pretend it’s not what is it.
But there’s a thin line between nudity and pornography. When I was in tech in first year, we use to draw naked women. Our lecturer use to bring them and we drew them. I’m not sure the lecturers did not know why we should draw them because interestingly the human body is a wonderful work of art.
There are areas that you can do nude that is tasteful. You make sure you make sure bits that don’t need to show are hidden. You need to play with light and shadows.
I haven’t shot nude in a long time now but it’s something that I have lost interest in but it doesn’t mean if it’s business I won’t do it. I will do it but tastefully. There should be decency in the nude shots and not insult peoples senses.
There is this No Yawa Campaign and someone sent me a screen shot and I shared it on my page and the reaction was mixed but some liked it to the extent that they shared it.
I love how everybody is a photographer now; but with time this craze about being the new photographer in town might burst and client will start to know the people who take their craft serious and hire them.
But it’s good we all take photos around us and document things around us and write our history using photos. I have a new baby girl now and I shoot her almost every morning. We should document our lives.
By: Abdullai Isshak/enewsgh.com
Editor’s Note: Isshak has since joined Global Media Alliance.