Samuel Obadero may still be adjusting to the bitterly cold winters of Southern Alberta, but his warm, charismatic nature and impactful photographs have quickly endeared him to the arts community in Calgary.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1984, the lifestyle and documentary photographer has made quite a name for himself since relocating to Calgary just over three years ago.
He was the recipient of the New Canadian Artist Award from the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society in 2019, the inaugural Newcomer Artist in Residence at the Calgary Central Library.
In the same year, Obadero photography project FÈSÒJAIYÉ, an exhibition showcasing striking portraits of a diverse collection of local artists, on display at Arts Commons.
Accolades aside, what really drives Obadero’s passion is the human connection that he makes with his subjects.
“Yes, it’s photography, but the camera itself is an icebreaker to creating something bigger than just pictures,” says Obadero.
“It’s to create an experience, to create a moment that will be cherished forever.”
Growing up in Lagos, Obadero struggled in his youth with stammering in his speech. While he was always curious as a child and never quiet, his speech impediment made it difficult to connect with others.
“That part of my life shaped me in an interesting way,” says Obadero.
“I had low self-esteem. I didn’t do well socially. That formed a false shape of who I was. But as I grew up and I started coming into myself and going for speech therapy, then my real self started coming back into form.”
Growth and confidence
As Obadero’s confidence in himself grew, so did his creativity. As a young man he was involved in drama groups, acted in stage productions, wrote poetry, and performed dance routines.
Wanting to appease his family and have the ability to put food on the table, Obadero graduated from Olabisi Onabanjo University in 2010 with a degree in computer science. It was a safe, sensible career choice, but Obadero’s creative side was yearning for more attention.
It was while serving in the National Youth Service Corps, a compulsory one-year requirement in Nigeria for university graduates, that Obadero was given a film camera by a relative.
It was the first time he had taken photographs and he was instantly drawn to the medium.
After completing his time in the Youth Service, Obadero began working in the IT industry. Although he was working a 9-5 office job, he kept his creative juices flowing by developing his photography skills after work.
Eventually, he made the leap and undertook photography as a full-time career.
While he took great satisfaction in transitioning to a career that he was passionate about, Obadero was dissatisfied with Nigeria’s dysfunctional government.
He was disillusioned by the violence and corruption at the hands of the country’s law enforcement agencies.
Obadero knew he needed to leave the country to seek new opportunities elsewhere. Despite not having any family or friends in Canada, Obadero and his wife, Kemi, relocated to Calgary in August 2018.
Opportunity and mentorship
Needing financial stability after moving to a new country, Obadero returned to working in IT. His passion for creating striking images, however, remained as potent as ever. It did not take long to establish himself as an influential figure in the Calgary arts community.
“It is important for me to be successful in this craft that I have chosen so that other people that look like me, that look like my colour, can have something to look up to and aspire to become,” says Obadero.
Through a relative newcomer to the city, Obadero has endeared himself to Calgary’s art scene. He has collaborated with different artists on a variety of projects and serves as a mentor to many young photographers in the city.
“He is an incredible mentor and a wonderful friend,” says Winner Aigbogun, currently in her second year at the Alberta University of the Arts. “He challenges me to improve as an artist and, more importantly, as a person.”
It is important for me to be successful in this craft that I have chosen so that other people that look like me, that look like my colour, can have something to look up to and aspire to becomeSamuel Obedero
The role of a mentor is one that he does not take lightly. Obadero opened Calgary’s first black-owned photography studio, Motif Photography, earlier this year. This barrier-breaking new venture is a result of Obadero’s tenacious spirit and his determination to be a conscientious role model to others.
“Some black youths cannot aspire enough to see the fullness of their potential, because they have not seen an example,” says Obadero.
“They’ve seen examples in other colours, but they have not seen examples in their community in their own colour. You need to see it to feel like you can achieve it also.”
Though the road to get there has not always been an easy one, those youth now have an example.
Jeremy Fox is a journalism student at SAIT, enrolled in the photo major program. You can find more of his work on his website, jeremyjfox.com, where you can reach out and collaborate with him.