Her love for capturing images made her dump medical degree. Tolani Ali, documentary photographer to Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State and the first to occupy such role in Nigeria, will never rest with that one shot. It will never be just one shot. No matter how good, how great, how spectacular it is, I will make the next one better. I will take the world on a journey that ends when I end. But in the end, I want my name to read; ‘Tolani Alli, the woman with the hat that changed the game’
Having stopped pursuing a medical degree to fulfill her love for photography, her story is very intriguing. ROTIMI IGE of Nigerian Tribune caught up with her recently and presents the excerpts of their interaction.
Who I am
I happen to be blessed with the exposure and growth from two major continents, that is Africa and North America, and that in itself motivates me to create imagery that shows the journey and diversity that they both bring. Originally from Oyo State, raised in Flint and Lagos, Nigeria, then grew up in Michigan, USA, I had the best of several worlds as they say and through my journey, those experiences shaped and sharpened me to compose images that document the special moments that occur in one’s lifetime. Creating an imagery that captures timeless memories for the future is and will always be my goal.
How I chose photography
Who knew Ashton Kutcher would be the reason I picked up my first DSLR camera? No kidding, he was. I was about to turn 18 and Ashton came on TV during a timeout of a Boston vs. Lakers game advertising for Nikon. Immediately, I picked up my laptop just to research what the advertised D3000 could do, and I started looking at images and found myself looking at photography like I did with medical journals. I asked my parents for the camera as a birthday gift and well, I got it!
Studying Pre-Med Health Sciences at the time, I used to read a lot of medical journals but that reduced when photography came into play. That curiosity transpired into my life as a college student, my camera became my handbag. During that period, major organizations were impacting the campus in an amazing way, and the thought of documenting that journey came to mind.
Since capturing the change they brought to campus, a few of my images had been published on the University’s website, blogs, the University Newspaper and even in various departments on campus. Ashton Kutcher and my curiosity led me to a journey I’ve been blessed to embark on which in turn drives my determination to capture journey of new beginnings and historic landmarks.
My profession, title and current role
At the moment, I’m the personal documentary photographer to the Governor of Oyo State, His Excellency, Governor Abiola Ajimobi. He is the first Governor to ever do two terms in Oyo State’s 39 years of existence. I’ve documented his journey as he has introduced a different form of governance to the state, transformed the state to a new age, designed and built modern infrastructure and amenities and generated international exposure through imagery we have created for the state. I am also the first female ever to do personal photography for a Governor in Oyo State and Nigeria as a whole.
Any challenge/boost as a lady behind the lens?
Governor Ajimobi having the first female documentary personal photographer ever in the history of Oyo State and Nigeria as a whole definitely turned a lot of heads. Of course any pioneering role will. There was nothing that was not said or instigated but I was determined to make a difference and show that photography needed to be re-defined in Oyo State and in Nigeria as a whole.
That determination has brought about tremendous results as there are now five female documentary photographers in the political scene. Novo Isioro with the Vice – President, Benita Nnachortam with Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, Haye Okoh with the wife of the President, Adesuwa Iyare with the wife of the Vice President and most recently Nguher Zaki with the Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu. If you’re truly passionate about something never give up, ride the waves and most importantly keep shooting.
You are currently abroad as the only African in a particular world project to expand your knowledge in photography, Tell us more about that?
I applied for a highly competitive international diploma course put together by the World Press Photo, Noor Images and The Danish school of Journalism and Media. It is called the Documentary Photography Projects `Course. The application process took three months with interviews, submissions of photography essays and stories, and portfolio reviews. It was highly competitive and I was insanely excited when I got selected as we would be the founding participants of the course. We resumed on Monday, May 22nd 2017 at the World Press Photo Headquarters in the Netherlands.
It has been really intense to say the least. World Press Photo, Noor Images and DJMX are likely the Holy Grail for great photographers that came before us and to be in this program is no small feat and being the only American and Nigerian to be a participant is even more exciting and it is not an opportunity I take for granted.
What do you want to achieve with your chosen career?
The drive is to always be better. I want to tell the world stories that will evoke emotion. I want people to laugh, cry and sing because that one shot- told them a million words.
But I will never rest with that one shot. It will never be just one shot. No matter how good, how great, how spectacular it is, I will make the next one better. I will take the world on a journey that ends when I end. But in the end, I want my name to read; ‘Tolani Alli: The woman with the hat that changed the game’.