Afas Creatives: An Interview with Aremu Onifoto


AFAS Press: Can you introduce yourself? Also  tell us some interesting things about you.

Aremu Onifoto: I am Eniola Olaitan. I’m a photographer and a student of the department of Linguistics and African Languages. The interesting things should come later in the interview, I don’t actually know what to say.

AFAS Press: How did you come up with your business name?

Aremu Onifoto: Aremu is my eulogy title, that is “oriki” in Yoruba. I’m someone who really likes the Yoruba culture and I want it to be part of and be revealed in my craft. I felt that using my formal name, Eniola Olaitan, would not fully depict the culture I love, although it does to an extent.

So one day, my aunty came to visit us and she asked about what I’m doing, as regards career. She asked me, “ise ki wa ni Aremu n se bayi?” That is, “what work is Aremu doing now?” My mom responded with “foto lo n ya”, which means “he takes pictures”.  My aunty smiled  and said “torr! Aremu Onifoto”. I immediately fell in love with the sound of it. It’s unique. I love it, and from comments I’ve gotten, people do love it too. 

AFAS Press: Can you share a bit about your journey as a photographer? What sparked your interest in photography, and how has your style evolved over time?

Aremu Onifoto: Whew! It has been an awesome experience and I wouldn’t have chosen anything else. I started photography in 2019, that was before I gained admission.

Before that, I was working as a sales boy, then I thought to myself about how that won’t last forever, because I would eventually get to school and I’d need something to have me established financially, so I decided to learn a skill.

Since I was already learning photography virtually via PDFs and YouTube videos, I just reached out to a friend. But I knew that I had to also have professional knowledge, because theoretical knowledge won’t help me when I’m handed a camera. So, to get more experience, I merged practical and business with the  background knowledge I already had.

The duration for my training was almost a year. I intended to train for just six  months, but what I needed to learn was more than I expected. Fortunately or unfortunately, COVID-19 held us back home so that prolonged my time there. Then, I’d quit my job, hoping to resume school immediately after those six months, but the one year widened my range of experience.

After my training, I started fully practicing the things I’d learnt so I could perfect them on my own, and no longer practicing under the tutelage of my trainer. I used some of my friends as models.

I worked a monthly job before school resumed in 2021, and then I carried on with photography, using phones. I started capturing different vicinities in UI, taking pictures of my friends, and just everything. I’d post on IG and tag important photography personalities. I also started building connections with people. Funnily, I even had to use my friend’s phone most times because the phone I had then was not good enough. 

I decided to rent a camera, too. I just had to get my craft going, you know? Because the thing about learning, especially something like photography, is that it requires constant practice.

Eventually, I started doing shoots with my influential friends to promote myself. I needed money, so of course. I worked with my friend who is a model, and I’d say I did a very good job, because the result was exactly what I wanted. I started shooting more people, more of UItes, of course.

What attracted and still attracts me to photography is beauty. Whenever I see something alluring, I imagine it being captured and saved forever. Also, I started recreating good works of other photographers, of course I infused my own unique style while re-creating. And I always have a picture of what I want all my photographs to look like, so I don’t stop editing until I get exactly that. 

AFAS Press: Amazing. So could you walk us through your creative process from conceptualization to final image? How do you approach a new project or assignment?

Aremu Onifoto: Hmm. How do I explain? So, first, I always have an idea I might have gleaned through from  magazines, videos, fashion shows, or I see something intriguing in an accessory or hairstyle. Afterwards, I send them to my other creative friends— stylists or hairdressers— to see if it’s something they can recreate. If we’re good to go, I contact a model.

I also make sure to plan the entire process from beginning till the end. Sometimes they are difficult, but planning always keeps me prepared. I get my backgrounds, the lighting, and every other thing I might need. Even if I don’t have them all, I improvise.

If the project is with a client, I challenge myself and practice with my models first. I’d have learnt from the mistakes, know what to do and what not to do.
So yeah, that’s basically it.

AFAS Press: One would’ve thought you’d just carry your camera and start taking pictures and making magic. What equipment do you typically use, and what do you believe sets your gear apart from others?

Aremu Onifoto: I use a Sonic camera currently and one of the most used photography lights.

What sets my gear apart? Well, I don’t really think there’s anything like that. Of course, there is more expensive equipment that I don’t own currently, but I have the basic ones every photographer should have.

I’d say that the thing different with me is my ability to mix these gears. When I started out, I started with a Canon because that was what my teacher used. I’ve also used Nikon. I’ve tried many other brands also.

What separates me, and I say this with all humility, is my skill and style of photography. I believe every other photographer have their peculiarities.

The gear matters in terms of resolution, pixel, clean image, but that’s basically where it ends. Image is an image. The work is easier with more expensive and technologically advanced equipments, but skill is majorly more important. If all photographers had the same gear, then we’d know who really has the skill.
So gear doesn’t really set me apart. It’s my skill, my style, how I handle the gear, and the  perspective of my creative process.

AFAS Press: That’s actually a good perspective to look at it from. Can you describe a particular photograph you’ve taken that best represents your artistic vision or style? What was the story behind that image?

Aremu Onifoto: That’s a big question. As I said, beauty is what drives me in this craft, hence, I tilt more towards beauty and fashion editorials.

I don’t really have a particular image that I’d rank above all others. I’m still in the art and I still have many more projects to undertake. But, if I remember correctly, there is a picture I shot in 2020, it was a collaboration with some other creatives at an abandoned palace here in Ibadan. The image depicts the Iyalode of that “ruined” palace. I sent the image to other more experienced photography creatives, I wanted to know their opinion and see the art from their perspective. It was well received and it made me feel better about my skill. And at that point, I was just starting, so it drove me to continue.

There is also an image I shot of a model, it tells the story of nature and beauty.
Basically, creating beauty is the story behind all my photographs. I’d say that’s even my artistic style. Something alluring, that’s my goal. I don’t want people to just scroll past my pictures, I want them to pause, take in the beauty, and wonder who created it.

AFAS Press: Are there any photographers or artists who particularly influence your work?

Aremu Onifoto: Yes, of course, a handful of them. One of them is Prince Meyson, a beauty photographer. There is Julia Kuzmenko, a beauty retoucher, Karl Taylor, Tosin Junaid, Kayleigh June, a lot of them.

Sometimes, when I need inspiration to create, I go through their profiles. Lindsay Adler is particularly one of my favourites, I bought a lot of her courses while I was starting out.

AFAS Press: Have you ever faced challenges or limitations while working on a photography project? How did you overcome them?

Aremu Onifoto: I believe that even the most experienced creatives face challenges, so yes, I do too.

One major challenge I remember was my first time working with a brand. I was very tense, so I reached out to a friend who had done that before. He walked me through basic ethics and how I needed to calm down, because if a reputable client sees me jittery, it comes off as unprofessional and it would be bad for my brand. And that was it, I faced the challenge head-on and did the shoot.

I also remember shooting with an international model, I was so anxious and panicky. But what I realised was that, if I wasn’t doing well, I wouldn’t be getting clients and projects, they must have seen my previous works, loved them, and decided to reach out to me. So, with that mentality and working on believing in myself, I overcame my biggest challenge in my art, which is anxiety.

I also have the best team of people I work with, a team that loves and enjoys working with me and that makes everything so much easier.

AFAS Press: That’s admirable. What do you hope viewers take away from your photographs? How do you want your work to impact others?

Aremu Onifoto: I was once a viewer before I got into this art, so I put myself into the position of the viewer I once was.

In all my pictures, I hope the viewers get some realities and expression that resonates with them. Joy, for instance, is contagious. So I want the expressions in my photographs to be contagious. The viewers should feel whatever my model was feeling in the picture/during the shoot.

In impacting others, I get a lot of questions and one thing I always reiterate is growth. It’s a process. Growth and how it’s a process are what I want others to learn from my art, and that’s why I don’t delete my early works. If anyone goes through my Instagram page, from the first picture to the most recent, they’d notice how much I’ve grown and I want people to know that it doesn’t just happen, it’s a process.

AFAS Press: You really are insightful. What do you believe sets your photography apart from others in your field? What makes your perspective unique?

Aremu Onifoto: I’d say it’s the fact that I believe in myself and I don’t get distracted by the style others adopt. Photography is broad, so I pick the aspect I love and I learn more about it. For me, it’s beauty, and I’m always driven to know more about the concept and how to achieve it in my works.

If you live something, naturally you’d learn more about it and find growth in it. So what sets me apart, and I believe sets others apart too, is that you’re finding growth no matter what.

A photographer friend of mine, Nimi, focuses on documentaries. I, on the other hand, shoot portraits and beauty. This doesn’t mean we both can’t do what the other does, because I know I’ve done documentaries before, but I don’t post them as much because it’s not my niche. Same applies to other photographers.
So although I can shoot weddings and documentaries, I choose to focus on beauty portraits. And as I  focus on that and I continuously get better at it, it attracts more people to me.

AFAS Press: How do you handle constructive criticism or feedback on your works? How has feedback helped you grow as a photographer?

Aremu Onifoto: First,  this is the major thing that can discourage creatives in whatever niche or field. Because if you’re a creative that doesn’t believe in yourself and doesn’t know how to handle criticism, some feedback will pin you down.

And many of the feedbacks are second opinions. For instance, if I shoot a portrait and friends of the model say they don’t “like” it, the client might end up being influenced to dislike it as well, without considering the previous or regular style or niche of the photographer. See that? So sometimes, these people need to be literate in photography. “Customers are always right” is a fluke in creativity.

When I work on new projects, I like to add more and new features and elements than in previous pictures. There is this client that always loves my works, when I did the whole adding of new elements for her, she didn’t like it and I had to explain the concept to her. I told her to post it online and see how people react, she did and came back to me with good testimonies.

One of the most important things about criticism is that it should be constructive, some people don’t know that and their criticisms and feedback come off as negativities. And on the part of the artist, it’s how they take the criticism, put it into effect and use it for growth.

I accept comments. If I need to explain the style and concept to them, I do so. But sometimes, I re-do the work the way they want it done, I take the blame sometimes because I’m not perfect. But importantly, I use every comment as a ladder for growth. I also ask all my clients if they have a theme in mind or if they want me to  suggest some to them. That way, there won’t be problems or conflict.

AFAS Press: Now, to Aremu Onifoto as a student. How do you balance work and school? What are the challenges?

Aremu Onifoto: To be honest, merging school with photography is difficult. But, I know my goals, so I know the places my hardwork should be channelled into.

I have a lot to deal with already as a photographer— clients, shooting, creative blocks, a lot. And I don’t think I need to explain the stress of schooling, we all know how it is. I’m doing fairly well in school, because it’s possible to excel in both. But there are times I get failure on either side, because sometimes I give up one thing for the other, knowingly and unknowingly.

How I do the balance is that I choose my art most times. Studying is also a priority, because of course, that’s what I came to UI to do.  I miss tests, yes, but I could have a photography project worth 150,000 naira that I can’t pass up on. My career is important and more long-term than my academics.

I also pray. I believe God sees my heart and He helps me. I’m chasing two things at the same time. Sometimes I find myself working when I should be reading, because some clients don’t care if you’re a student or not.  I’ve been running on God’s grace, majorly. And I don’t compare myself with other students who only focus on academics. I just ensure I put either one before the other whenever necessary. It’s all part of my story.

I’ve failed a course before and I did it again and passed. I’ve thought of quitting photography for now, but it’s also my career and equally important, so I don’t know yet.

AFAS Press: We are rooting for you. Do you have any training classes coming up for aspiring photographers, especially students of the faculty? What’s the range of payment for your training?

Aremu Onifoto: Of course there will be training classes. There will be classes for beginners, for intermediate, and for experienced photographers who want to advance. There’s always something more to learn. I held something similar last year, the Entrepreneur Skill Summit, with other creatives.

I’m currently planning a workshop where I’ll teach my photography style and retouching techniques. And of course, it would be student-friendly, students will pay 20,000 naira and non students will pay 25,000 naira.
It’ll happen this month, the details will be out soon.

AFAS Press: Finally, looking at the future, say the next five years, what are your goals and aspirations as a photographer? Are there any specific projects or collaborations you dream of pursuing?

Aremu Onifoto: First, I’m super excited that, to some extent, I can now place my work side-by-side with the works of top photographers. My aspiration is to work with more international models and brands. I’ve done these before, but I’m hoping for more on a larger scale. Going international is my ultimate goal— international models, brands, beauty organisations, I believe that it is achievable.

I also want to explore the world through travels, and capture the beauty of the world. I have started building my portfolio and a template that looks like what I’m looking forward to. Go international, go global. With God’s help, I will get there.

AFAS Press: Thank you very much for your time. Aremu Onifoto to the world.

Aremu Onifoto: Thank you for having me.

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