Creator Spotlight is a weekly series celebrating young Nigerians in the creative industry doing unique things. Everyone has a story, and Zikoko wants to tell it.
My full name is Alexander Chidiebere Ashimole.
People tried to give me different nicknames at different points in my life, but the only one that stuck was the one I gave myself — Lex Ash. I’m a photographer, but I’m also a musician. I’m relatively good at every artistic thing I’ve tried, so I’m thankful for that gift. I’m deeply spiritual, and I don’t like anything that stresses me out. When I want to relax, I watch comedy. I’m also an amala hater. I’m a gadget person, so if I had all the money in the world, I’d probably just be buying tech gadgets for the sake of it.
Lex, this is not a safe space for amala hate. Also, only rich people like gadgets. Do you have Starlink?
I’ve tried amala, and it’s not worth it. I don’t know why people put themselves through that, but Nigerians voted Buhari twice, so yeah. I’m not rich o. I spent all my money on a new place, and I’ve decided that until further notice, no big purchases. But Starlink might be somewhere in my future. I don’t just spend money like that. I have to plan and think about it.
All I’m hearing is wealth. I’ve added you to my list of rich people
Where did the wealth come from, please? I started by saying I don’t have any money.
I refuse to hear about poverty. A new place in this regime? Work must be great, then
Work isn’t going all that great, so you people should give me work. So if you guys have an opening in Zikoko, please, let me know. I do like money, so any extra source of income is welcome. Photography can be, and I hate this part of it, seasonal. Sometimes, it’s good; other times, you get worried because you don’t know when money will come again. It’s spaced out, so I don’t get a lot of jobs too frequently. So annoying. For example, there are seasons when people get married more frequently. And I think I’m one of the more expensive brands in wedding photography. Some people come to me after some of the photographers they want have been booked, a lot of people also come to me because of my style, so I’m thankful for that.
You make it sound like you’re second choice
That’s usually the case. But a lot of event planners don’t refer me because they probably don’t see a lot of my wedding photography work online. I’m trying to change that. At the same time, if I don’t get photography jobs, where will I see photography pictures? Event planners have roasters of people who cover their weddings. Most times, it’s the couple who reach out to me, and they always love my work. If you know anybody who’s getting married, or ageing up and has money as well, please tell them I’m available.
What’s your price range?
I have a base charge. I have rate cards for weddings.
For portraits, I charge somewhere per outfit, depending on the situation. I also started creating alternative options for people with lesser budgets, we can come up with a custom price or package for you. Studio shoots are cheaper. And charging per hour doesn’t work because we Nigerians have a time problem.
What happens when the person wears a suit, then takes off the jacket? They technically did not change the outfit
You also get a limited amount of images per outfit. So if you’re wearing a jacket and take it off, you didn’t change the outfit, but you’re still limited to three images. I deliver three retouched images per outfit, no matter what you do to your outfits.
How do you charge for weddings?
I charge a day rate with extra charges for whatever service they want to add to it. If you’re going to do a pre-wedding session, an after-party, photo books and frames or if I need extra hands, those cost extra.
Can you give me a rough estimate? What’s the highest you’ve been paid?
₦4.something million for a four-day wedding. The first day was thirty minutes of work. The last day was four hours of work, but the main wedding events lasted two days.
Wow. I didn’t know Nigerians spent money like that
People spend as much as 200 million on weddings. Probably even more.
Does being around all that jazz make you want to settle down?
The weddings themselves don’t necessarily make me feel like that; there’s just the human urge to be coupled. Have you seen how stressful weddings can be? Even me, as the photographer, I know. In fact, let’s take out all the traditional wedding activities. Why do people feel the need to make sure the whole world is at their wedding, and they all have to dress up in certain weaves, aso-ebi and whatnot. I don’t like spending money like that, but if it’s my close friend, I’ll do it.
How did you get into photography? Did you grow up with a camera?
So remember how I said I like gadgets? I had this friend who got a camera in school. In fact, it was a camcorder, and I was just playing around with it during our science and technology week when I was randomly given the assignment to make a photography workshop happen. That was my first-ever experience in the same space with a photographer and people who are interested in photography. This is all the way back in 2011. People would see me with my friend’s camera and say, “Oh, this is nice. Take a picture of me.” And by 2013, I definitely wanted to do it for real.
What kind of pictures did you take at first?
I used to do graphic design. And it was just hard to find pictures of black people to use for designs. That was my first project, manipulating, putting somebody who’s dancing in a place where there’s water flowing, for example. Or changing a person’s face to grass. Something like that, just random things.
Do you remember your first official project?
In 2012, my friend allowed me to borrow his camera, and we were having a trade fair in school. I was just going around taking random pictures when somebody was trying to make a decision about buying asun. So I took a picture of the asun and showed it to them, and they went, I’ll take two packs, please. The fact that the picture I took made them decide to actually buy the asun was very interesting and funny to me. Later in 2013, the pictures I took during some chapel services were used on a billboard. That was pretty cool too.
Did they pay you for that?
I wasn’t even thinking of payment that time. I just made friends with the people in the Corporate Affairs Unit, and they’d let me borrow their cameras once in a while. So it was okay.
Did that asun story prompt you to use photography to tell stories?
Probably, but I think it was everything together. I always just loved the idea of creating images other people can connect with. From my graphic design to photography, or even when I was writing and singing in school. I always wanted people to have an emotional connection to it. But I didn’t know how that would take shape exactly. The asun incident was just one of the things I was doing to pass the time that contributed to the big idea.
What did you study in school actually?
I studied estate management, but that’s not what I want to be hired for. I want to be the chief marketing officer of a tech startup.
How do you go from estate management to marketing officer?
Estate management is about selling and evaluating landed property, and marketing is attached to it. I’ve always been big on brand building since I started doing graphic design. So all my work experience has been related to that. I worked two months in Unilever Nigeria with the internal communications team. I also worked in radio as the chair of content management. I worked in a tech company for two years before I quit in 2017 to try this photography something.
Do you ever regret taking a bet on yourself like that?
No, not at all. I knew it was coming. I just didn’t know when, and after I left, I was broke for a while. But I knew what was possible. This is the sixth year, and I haven’t regretted that decision one bit. I don’t miss the 9-5 life. I can’t deny that consistent income helps you plan your life and gives you something to do on a daily basis. But I don’t think I’d ever want to go back. If anything, I’d do consultancy where I choose my hours. Even now, the only reason I’m looking for a job is because my eyes have tear. I want more money. I love money. I’m trying to burn the candle from two ends. I want to get consistent money while I get photography money in a way that’s maximally efficient.
How did you now get into music?
I was in the choir in Covenant University. Even when I finished youth service, a church paid me to be part of their choir l. I say music was my first love. But I’m the type to double my talents like that parable from the Bible. Everyone needs an alternative source of income. At the very beginning, I had photography, but I didn’t feel like I could stand alone with it. It’s possible for you to love something, but because it’s your source of income, it becomes more stressful and challenging. So you want to find other artistic hobbies as an outlet. So I still love photography, but music started for me because my photography business had come to a point where I could explore another side of myself.
So with music, you want to express yourself, not earn?
No o. I want to earn and express myself, please. Remember what I said about money and liking it? So if it can get me money, of course I’d take it. I’m looking for money. At the end of the day, please, it’s important.
Are you earning from music yet?
Not as much as I’d like. As much as I want to earn from it, I’m also big on doing what I love. I’m creating music, but I don’t have a label, or the financial backing is not as big as it needs to be. That’s also how my photography started, right? I was doing stuff I loved, and eventually, people came around to it. Now, people pay me a lot of money for it. Before you can make a lot of money off streaming, you need to get a million streams or something. I haven’t gotten to that point yet.
But does photography open doors for you?
Yes, my photography has helped me meet some really interesting people. I’ve met Mark Zuckerberg. I’ve been able to change people’s lives. I’m thankful because I’ve mentored people who now live on their photography. I’ve been talked about in places I’ve never been because of my photography. You know, the bible says a man’s gift maketh way for him and puts him before great men. That’s my testimony.
Hallelujah. Do you feel like you’re at the peak of your career?
I don’t think I’m anywhere close to up there. I think I’m, if anything, a tiny local champion — even “champion” is a strong word. I hope to be a global phenomenon, not just in photography, in everything. Photography, as much as I love it, is still a stepping stone to my bigger goals.
What are these goals? What does going global look like?
I want somebody somewhere in Bangladesh to think, “I can be a great photographer” because this random guy from Nigeria did it. I want people I probably will never meet to connect with my work on a personal level.
I want to establish a University of the Arts in Nigeria. I don’t know how it’ll happen or how I’ll get there, but there are so many incredibly gifted people in this country who never get the opportunities they need to showcase their gifts. I hate how they may never get the chance to pursue their passion. The Grammys are big because there’s an academy of scholars who’ve studied music and the arts to the point where they’ve come together to create a conglomerate that celebrates them. The reason why we don’t have that in Nigeria is because the art world is still growing here. But also, people don’t think it’s a viable, life choice to become an artist. There are no schools people respect, like universities where you can study the arts.
Are you doing anything to make these dreams happen yet?
Everything I’ve done up to this point has led me here, and it’ll lead me there, if that makes sense. I don’t have a school currently, but one thing I’m trying to do in 2023 is create a mentorship program. I won’t restrict it to photographers, but they’ll be the main focus. And hopefully, this coming election will be the starting point of a new era, and we get to the point where our passports can do better, so creatives can stay or go and come as they please.
Here’s my final question: Why do you tell such bad dad jokes on Twitter?
I take offence to that. What do you mean my dad jokes are bad? First of all, I’m not a dad; it’s just a joke. Secondly, for you to call it a joke, that means it’s funny. I feel like it takes a refined mind to appreciate a good joke; bad is not a word I’d use for art. So the fact that you did not snicker at my snickers makes me doubt the bounty of your ability to imagine.
You should stick to photography
Who do you know that’s a better jokes person than I am?
Honestly, if you ever do stand up? I’ll be throwing tomatoes and that shit’s expensive
I’ll be getting vegetables, and that means I’ll be getting a balanced diet. So I don’t mind it. I’d still keep on my stand-up career.