Adetona Omokanye is a Nigerian visual storyteller and filmmaker based between Lagos, Nigeria and Toronto, Canada. Over the past five years his approach towards photography has been shaped by observations of happenings in his immediate environment and Africa at large. As he presses on with his career, his work focuses on under-reported social issues, culture, politics, health and environment. In 2018, he successfully carries out a documentary investigation in cooperation with a German journalist to expose occupational hazards in the lead-acid battery recycling industry in Lagos and Ogun state.

In 2019, he was the first African, Nigerian to receive the Creative Bursary Award on Disability stories with his project, “Beyond 4ft- 10inch” from Getty Images. He also participated in the “Foundry Photo Workshop” organized by VII Academy in Kigali. In 2020 his image “Moment in Time” was among the top five selected pictures to be featured in a publication on the Photography Museum. He participated in the annual New York Portfolio Review in New York and also exhibited his work “Fayawo” in Bakanal De Afrique Festival in 2021. He is a member of Diversify Photo and African Photojournalism Database (APJD), a joint project by the World Press Photo Foundation and Everyday Africa. His work appears in various international journals and publications like Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed, Al Jazeera, Der Spiegel, Getty Images, Eater, ZDF, Amnesty International, GQ, The New York Review, The Guardian, Financial, Time and Rolling Stone.

Artist Statement

In Africa, street hawkers are perceived to carry out a low-income earner’s job; this is because people think it won’t cost them a lot to establish the business, other than the capital to start and the man power to walk from street to street.  

On the other hand, in a continent where there is large scale of unemployment and under-employment, the trend helps in filling in the gap for people that are ready to create something out of nothing and play an essential part in the society as they contribute equally to the economy. They do that by selling goods, handcraft or food items; whether stationary or mobile, hawkers often advertise by loud street cries or chants and conduct banter with customers to attract attention and enhance sales.

With this series of work, my attention is drawn to the energy and the street credibility that street hawkers show while they are at work. It is fascinating how they arrange the goods to make it look attractive to the potential customer. The effort it takes to arrange those goods and how the colors play out gives it a unique artistic expression. In the creation of this work, I want to challenge the common perception of street hawkers not just to be seen as low earners selling inexpensive goods, but to draw attention to their creative ways of arranging goods. I do so by taking them out of a street environment and place them on a plane colorful backdrop in Photoshop to enable the onlooker to rip off the streets and view the hawkers from the other side of the coin.

Where are you from? Did you grow up in a creative environment?

I am from Nigeria living and working from Lagos. I was born into a photography family. My father is a photographer, but he did not commercialize it--he was just doing it as a hobby. Hence part of me learned from is creativity.

Who or what has compelled and/or encouraged you to create your art?

I am passionate about photography; taking photos is an integral part of my life. I was very young when I first interacted with a camera, and I have not stopped since then. I was sure from the beginning that this was the field I wanted to be a part of. I am inspired in telling a compelling story about humanity.

What is the key topic or issue that your work addresses?

I have a track record of covering a variety of events, which especially include Culture politics, social issues, and health and environment.

What is your biggest source of inspiration?

There is a story in every scene and the reason to capture the moment in every story. So, I am inspired by everyday life.

If you weren’t creating art, what would you be doing?

If I am not creating art, trust me; I am with my family spending my precious time with them--consider this as a way of refining my creative fire.