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Stethoscopes and shutters

Tuesday 21st September 2021

It is midday and I am already surrendering to the day's stress when my friend, David calls to inform me he will be in Awka on Thursday. The news of David coming to Awka set my weary legs dancing. David had come to visit me a few months ago when he covered the first event of the book club I co-found with my friend, the writer, Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera. Yet it feels like there has been so many years between then and now. There are many things I want to tell David, some of them profound and some trivial in themselves, but because of the deep bond we share, little details make a world of sense. David and I have been friends from Childhood; he has known me more than I've known him because he was already suckling on his mother’s breasts for months before I arrived. And since then we grew through an imperfect, but eventful childhood where most times we were best of friends and sometimes--albeit briefly on each other’s neck to the present times where our friendship has survived adulthood.

My earliest memory of David was in his father’s hospital years ago when I came with my mother. He was there in the hospital reception playing around his father’s hospital and basking in the prophecies of people who called him “doctor” already. I moved to him and asked him to lend me his toy helicopter to play with and he didn't hesitate. The memory of this image has stayed in my head to this day because David’s display of kindness to me on that day twenty something years ago is representative of the man he has grown to be.

As a child he was starry-eyed and had ideas that couldn't be tamed by morning devotions. He became a photographer of humans in motion living or dancing but David's work became capturing history in the present. For me one of the genius of David’s existence is the courage to embrace his artistic side, having come from a conservative Christian family like me--the kind of background where many people’s gifts have been tanned by religious indoctrination. The kind of indoctrination that blands artistic consciousness. From his early days in medical school, David’s photography surmised in capturing history in the present. In his art, everything that is in motion, and whose present stillness is a function of past and present movements is important. Humans, butterflies, skylines, sunsets, animals, and indeed, all things in random motion or stillness are important to David’s photography. It is through documenting biotic and abiotic experiences like these, and how they influence each other that David discovered himself. His life, his taste in music, his combination of food, the way he thinks, his posts on facebook--they all mirror his artistic imagination. His artistry rubs off on everybody he comes across, even me. And this part of him which evolved at the nip of adulthood, has become an icing on the cake of our relationship.

Friday 24th September 2021

9AM and we are talking about impressions because David is going for his first paid photography gig and the excitement I see on his face is unbridled. I know this because I knew when the passion was wild and it was all about capturing moments that would elicit emotions from friends and strangers alike. But now an enterprise which began solely on the basis of passion is becoming financially rewarding as David is talking customer impressions already.

At home, I watch him gather his tripod, gimbal and light together while I take mental notes of some details like how many outfits he tried out before settling for an Adidas polo and some carton color combat-pants. He stands before the mirror almost every other time muttering vanities at intervals.

David has plans for me to be part of his photography team and so he teaches me a few tricks of the trade, including how to handle the light and balance it on the tripod. Throughout the shoot that day, I was occupied with helping the team balance the light and curating the effects of shadows on the photographs. My bilateral relationship with light and darkness comes alive in my consciousness in doing this job, and I realize how much of ourselves, arts bring alive to the fore. Being in charge of the lighting in a photo shoot—running my right thumb across the power button fills me with an unusual sense of fulfillment. Basking in the euphoria of having the power to disrupt the shoot for fun fills me with elation. One aspect of my personality I have failed to outgrow over the years is my inability to resist intermittent mischief at every situation in my life. This plays out in the course of the shoot as I steer the light from the table where David asks me to focus the light as he took a shot, a display which makes us burst into laughter. From the time we left the house till we came back I didn't look at him ordinarily again because he became something I haven't seen before. An aura new to me hit me when I sat across a table and was looking at his devotion to photography, his attention to details as he went from table to table taking shots and looking for THE SHOT. Photography and poetry have similarities; a poet is always in search of that one line that will make the difference in the poem and through David, I come to see that the photographer goes round and round, looking for the perfect shade that makes the difference in the photo.

At one point he complains of the uptight nature of the students and their unwillingness to free and enjoy themselves. This is before we are told that their dean is a sadistic woman with dreadlocks older than most of them. But when she came within sight, I could only see majesty and high standards. Perhaps, their harsh judgment of her is a result of young people these days being averse to discipline.

Her presence instills momentary decorum in them. Their smiles become tailored, their walking step promising the existence of common sense at each stride and their mannerisms at that point can suggest anything between elegance and dignity to any onlooker because they are taught that a lawyer is cut from a different cloth and must stand out in gait, input and brilliance.

David doesn't think the woman is the cause of their cold feet. He thinks they are just boring people with no flair for living. I think so too but the notion is short-lived because the moment the deans and professors left in dribs and drabs the students metamorphosed and took the whole event a couple notches higher when the DJ played Naira Marley's "Coming". Hands were thrown in the air dancing and surrendering to the thought of the type of orgasm Naira describes in that song. David beams with smiles because butts were shaking all around the hall and that singular sight of a shaking bubble butt can make his day with the additional perk of having a video of happy Nigerian students dancing their pains and ASUU anxiety away.

A canon camera is hanging on David's neck like a necklace with a camera pendant. It looked in my eye from a distance like a stethoscope because months ago when he hadn't gotten his camera a stethoscope often dangled from his neck. This neck of his which now houses sometimes, a camera and other times, a stethoscope assumes an elite status before my eyes. The neck of a special man on whose neck on weekdays measures health conditions by listening to heartbeats and measures the beauty in the balance between light and darkness through the shutters of his camera. My impression of David is even made more colourful by the animated ambience of the party.

The success of this first photography gig is evident in David's gait. He walks with towering confidence even while he paced the hall for final shots while the event came to an end. The DJ plays the National anthem and the students sit to catch their breaths as opposed to standing up in honour of a country to which they have lost all sense of patriotism towards. A country where their dreams are almost always suppressed and coming under constant stress. In this state of mind, I imagine that David, in the final stage of his gig, was photographing the lack of patriotism in the faces and poses of the students.