Yagazie Emezi is a highly acclaimed self-taught documentary photographer from Aba, Nigeria who left when she was 16 to live in the USA. She returned to Nigeria in April 2014 after a number of years abroad.
She began her journey in 2015 and has since been commissioned by Al-Jazeera, New York Times, Vogue, Newsweek, Inc. Magazine, TIME, The Guardian, Refinery29, Everyday Projects, and UNFPA. She has also been featured by British Journal of Photography, Huffington Post, Nieman Reports, Mashable, Feature Shoot, and Buzzfeed. In 2017, she was a participant of the World Press Photo Masterclass West Africa and is a contributor to Everyday Africa. We ask her about her motivation for returning home and how the decision has influenced her career and life.
You were born and raised in Aba, Nigeria before moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico for college. How would you describe that transition?
I actually moved from Nigeria to finish high school. At first, I was excited to be away from Nigeria. I was more than happy to be around constant electricity, washing machines, and all the sweet food I could eat! But I was away from the friends and family I had known literally all my life. Having been exposed to different cultures at a young age, there was no culture shock, though I was obviously still out of my element. I had no friends and was painfully shy. I got a job in less than two months of moving and my life got filled with work, school and being at home with my mother. I only really settled down once I got to college and found that freedom that young adulthood brings.
After living in The States for several years, you decided to move back home to Nigeria. What sparked this decision? How long did the process of moving back take?
Moving back to Nigeria was an action I had always known would take place because my personal plan had been to finish school and then go home. It was a simple knowledge of “I’m going home.” I was tired of working in an office and predicting my days. I had so much creative work I wanted to do in Nigeria. And more importantly, I finally had the money for a plane ticket. So what was my excuse? I had none, so I just left. In December of 2013, I looked up plane tickets with my sister and bought one for April 2014. The day arrived and I packed the clothes I was sure I’d wear the most and simply went back home.
How did you prepare for your move back to Nigeria?
The foolish thing was that I didn’t plan. I worried that the longer I planned, the more I would delay the move. So I just picked up and moved. I was naturally worried about the logistics of my move, how I would earn money, find a job, or even a place to live. But I didn’t want to stall any longer.
Knowing what you know now and having experienced living in Lagos for a year now, would you have done anything differently to prepare for your move?
With what I now know, I would still stick with the advice I’ve been giving everyone: secure a place to live and a job first. In my situation, I thought I had secured a place, but it just didn’t work out for me! I do know that all the planning would have delayed my moving process, but looking back now, not having to deal with all the stress that came from not securing things concretely would have been great!
What are some cultural challenges you’ve experienced since moving back? How have you overcome them?
Lagos is a very different culture from Aba! Lagos is massive, and it is impossible for me at this time of my life to explore all of it and all its culture. But it’s still home. It’s still a Nigeria that I grew up with and I’m familiar with. I am yet to encounter any cultural challenges with my environment
What have been some of your favorite experiences being back in Nigeria?
I can’t really single out my favorite experience to one scenario, but my best memories always come from being around the most sincere of people. Could have been the time I spent all night until dawn on Elegushi Beach, or a simple meal with friends or sitting by the dock; they were with the right people which is crucial to any memorable experience.
How has your move impacted your life and career? What has surprised you the most?
Being back in Nigeria has expanded the humble plans I had for myself upon arrival and the move has actually GIVEN me a career. The most surprising part for me was the willingness of other people to help. I’ve met so many kind people who genuinely want to help; and they do so honestly. They’ll let you know how long they will help you for and to what capacity. I was expecting a dog eat dog world which it jolly well can be, but I’ve just been lucky with meeting the right people.
What are three things you know now you wish you knew before moving?
I wish I knew how business works here. I’m still figuring that out. I wish I knew how to apartment hunt here! I wish I knew when to say NO. But all those have little to do with moving to Lagos but with personal growth. My advice to others from the Diaspora considering a move back to Nigeria would be to just be smart. Some will have it easy and will have little to worry about. They’ll already have a home to get settled in which takes care of half of the issues. But some won’t. And for those who don’t, find it before you come back.
To keep up with Yagazie’s travels, work, and local photography of Lagos, be sure to visit www.yagazieemezi.com and follow her @Yagazieemezi on Instagram.