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African Rural Life Through The Lens Of Documentary Photographer Ene Ochayi

Ene Ochayi is a documentary photographer based in Nigeria, Africa, who records the everyday life of people and the beauty of rural cities while volunteering for various non-profit organizations that provide education and management resources. Simultaneously, Ochayi has been working towards a Barrister at Law degree to qualify as a Barrister and Solicitor of Nigeria and is expected to travel this upcoming year to explore Benue State’s culture and government and open an exhibition.

In this article, I will discuss Ochayi's passion for documentary photography, how she got started in photography, how the different programs and volunteer work helped develop and enhance her career, and her future plans to have a photography exhibition in Benue State. 

“There is beauty on the other side of life,” said Ene Ochayi. “People just see those in the rural as poor and suffering, but I have seen them when they are happy. That spoke a lot to me. That changed me. To see them not have, and they express such happiness, even with the little (that) they have access to. I love the realness of life.”

As a result, Ochayi launched Ene Ochayi Photography towards the end of 2022 and does weddings, brand events, commercial and portrait photography, and photo series that cover social and environmental issues surrounding women and underprivileged children in Nigeria, Africa. 

Along with this, Ocahyi joined the African Photojournalism Database (APJD) of emerging and professional African visual journalists in July 2023. Ochayi states that being a member of APJD has resulted in her photos and stories getting more exposure and has since focused on sharing stories through photography.  

“I’m into documentaries. That is what I am passionate about, documentary photography,” said Ochayi. “I love to tell stories of people in the rural areas. Most of them do not get to have their stories shared. Those kinds of stories matter most to me.”

Ochayi was initially on the path to solely getting her Bachelor of Laws degree when a school pastor mentored her and taught her how to use a camera.

“In 2018, I held a camera for the first time. I used to follow him around for such events… to master using the camera. He was into event photography. He shot weddings, concerts, and all types of events.” said Ochayi. “I was doing that for two years. I was doing it as a hobby, (and) it turned into a passion.”

Afterward, Ochayi continued to develop her photography skills by being a media manager for Farmify. This platform helps farmers access quality and affordable farm products, as well as volunteer as a photographer for non-profit organizations. It was while doing volunteer work in October 2021 that she met Madam Vera, a widow with ten kids in Benue State, Nigeria. 

 

 

 

“When I visited the camp, I saw her; she was smoking. I approached her, and I got to discuss it with her. She told me that she has ten kids (and) she’s widowed. She told me she lost her husband to the crisis that forced them out of their homes. They had to be forced to stay in an unfavorable condition at the IDP, Internally Displaced Persons Camp,” said Ochayi.

According to The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 71.1 million people were internally displaced at the end of 2022 due to conflict, violence, and disasters. The Women Strong project by Ene Ochayi Photography was initiated due to her encounter with Madam Vera. It was designed to raise awareness, gain support, and provide resources and funds for widows to start their own sustainable businesses. The photo of Madam Vera gained attention from the World Press Photo Foundation and was then featured on their Instagram page.

“I envisioned getting her the capital to start a sustainable business,” said Ochayi. “When I met her, she had nothing sustainable to do. When I posted those photos, a person reached out to me. They wanted to help out.”

In Addition to her work with IDP, Ochayi joined initiatives such as Project Build A School and the Samuel Ioron Foundation. This organization increases menstrual health educational services to women and girls in Nigeria.

“Volunteering for me has been a strategy for growth and personal development,” said Ochayi. “It has helped me develop personally. It exposed me to a whole lot. It allowed me to meet with other people. That photo that I was talking about, that woman that I was talking about, I was volunteering when I saw her.”

Currently, Ochayi is focusing on qualifying as a Barrister and Solicitor of Nigeria. Leading into next year, Ochayi will be doing photography full-time with her brand, Ene Ochayi Photography.

“The first thing I want to do next year is to have a photography exhibition in Benue state in Nigeria. I want to talk about the Benue people and their culture and generally talk about Benue. Telling the Benue story,” said Ochayi.

Benue State is a region in north-central Nigeria that consists of the Benue River, the second largest river in Nigeria, and defines the western half of the territory. Various ethnic groups reside in Benue, including Tiv, which is the largest ethnic group in Benue, Idoma, and several smaller groups that are mainly agricultural people.

“I talked about a part of Benue. There is a popular market in Benue that I have spoken about before. It’s just different… (because) it was a bustling market. It expressed the beauty of Benue because Benue is the nation's food basket. So when I got to the market, I saw fresh vegetables and food. They depicted the richness of the land. My project next year is going to cover many of the local governments. So I’ll be traveling a lot before the exhibition,” said Ochayi.

In Conclusion, Documentary Photographer Ene Ochayi continues to tell stories through photos that focus on social and environmental issues in Nigeria, including volunteering for non-profit organizations that provide resources to people in Africa, as well as exploring people of different cultures and backgrounds through her photography series. 

Images provided by Ene Ochayi

Edited by Whitney Edna Ibe


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