Life Conversations: How Badman Tej stumbled on photography and fell in love

For Tobi 'Badman Tej' Tejumola, photography sprung up on him.

Tobi 'Bad Man Tej' feels that being an engineer never really leaves him. He still uses it in photography [instagram/badmantej]

Badman Tej is a photographer and videographer who stumbled on photography and made it a career.

He recalls how on a semester break while in the University, a friend mentioned learning photography and he learnt event management instead. “I refused. I didn't think photography was something you had to learn.”

Born and bred in Lagos. I grew up with very artistic parents. I was surrounded by art. My Dad was Head of Design for ETV, I used to go to his office then and play with the equipment."

"I was a really quiet child. I don’t know if it was the environment I grew up in but, I found it hard to express myself and photography allows me to talk without words. If you asked me, “Hey, how are you?” I could send you a picture to show you instead of talking. As far back as I can remember, I have always seen life in frames."

"I went to a seminary secondary school for six years. It was the sort of place you leave either deeply religious or anti-establishment. I think I came out of that anti-establishment. I couldn’t understand how they would tell children who were bedwetting they had a demon inside them."

Finding photography for him was entirely unplanned. “I studied Mechanical Engineering at Obafemi Awolowo University. I was in Abuja for my National Youth Service Corps in 2017 working for an oil company."

"But I grew deeply lonely and restless. I was used to Lagos and all the hustle and bustle. There was so much to do in Lagos, so many events to attend. To get rid of the boredom, I remembered my Dad had an old camera at home, I asked him to send it,"

"Previously, I learnt how to take pictures casually by just picking up a friend’s camera and playing with it. When my Dad sent his camera to me, I went on YouTube to learn more about photography. I also joined Bantu, a creative community in Abuja that helped me become better."

"On my way to work, I would take pictures from the window of the moving staff bus. For me, I just wanted to capture pictures like postcards to show people."

"But one thing I was particular about was creating images that made people feel something."

The defining moment for him was the 2019 elections. “I took pictures of the presidential aspirant, Atiku Abubakar. It was just an exhilarating time for me. jumping from one private jet to another. I remember one time while campaigning in Lagos, a street tout punched my eyes while trying to steal my camera."

"There were times my trousers got torn or police would arrest me and the aides will have to tell them to leave me alone. Sometimes, I would miss the private jet and had to take commercial flights."

"It was also defining for me because I saw photographers from Reuters and CNN, it just opened my eyes to the possibilities."

"After the election, I couldn’t go back to working in an office. I knew I wanted to be a photographer."

"In a way, I am quite lucky because I didn’t start photography from a place of hunger or hustle. I was already an Engineer and I was working in an oil company. I knew that if I had to leave that job, that life, then I had to make as much money as I could from photography."

He cites documentary photographer Bernard Kalu and Tom Saater as his influence. "The first time I met Tom we were both moving to the same girl. I guess that happens. They are the sort of photographers whose pictures made you feel things and, I wanted to be like that."

"I have worked with so many people and brands, but one of my favourite people to work with is Reminisce. I often wondered how Kemi Adetiba casted him to play himself. He is just like Makanaki. Besides, he is such a girl Dad. He called me last week to tell me how excited he was to drop his daughter at Boarding school. Plus, Reminisce is very genuine."

"In the entertainment industry, it is hard to find genuine people. A lot of people want you to work for free but Badman Tej ain't leaving the house without getting paid."

"Plus, image is everything in the industry, that is why pictures are so important."

"If it is collaborative work that I could get value out of even if I am not getting paid, I could do that. So it is not always about the money."

"I have worked with many brands from movies like 'Finding Hubby', to taking pictures of Aunty Joke Silva, Tems, Tekno, Flour Mills of Nigeria and Tomato Jos. I have a soft spot for agriculture."

"I love music, so it makes sense that I love taking concert photography."

"I also love protest pictures, it is my way of giving back. Even if I wasn't a photographer, I would still attend these protests. I have been to many Gender-Based Violence protests."

"I was there when people protested against COZA’s pastor after the scandal with Busola Dakolo and I even joined a match at the police headquarters in Lagos. I was on the ground almost every day during the End Sars protest taking pictures and joining the protest."

"After the End Sars protests, I was not myself for a month. On the day of the Lekki Massacre, we all knew what was coming. It was a question of whether or not you wanted to be there."

"A lot of people of privilege were there too and they had gotten information about what was coming. My mother kept on calling me, so I left. I think the End Sars protest was important because it brought political consciousness to the mind of many youths."

What the future holds for Badman Tej is more work. Apart from his studio space in Lekki, he also has delved into videography and, he and his team at Grey Woulfe Studio and Working Title have their documentary and many exciting projects coming.

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