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Barrier Breaker of the Month of July 2020

The Barrier Breaker of the month of July Is….


Smart Adebayo, a Nigerian who currently resides in The Gambia and founder of Smart Studio65.


Jois: Welcome to the Barrier Breakers Corner. Thank You for wanting to do this interview with me, I am truly grateful.

Smart: Thank you for what you’re doing and having me. This is awesome.

Jois: Did you always want to be a photographer?

Smart: Yes I did. I loved watching movies, I liked to see the ‘behind the scenes’ of how the art of a film is being made. 

Jois: Oh wow that’s great. Tell me your story.

Smart: In 2000, I told my dad that I wanted to study Cinematography or Photography. I got a school in the US and after looking at the schools and the school fees, my dad said to me ‘my son even if I sell this whole compound, I don’t think I will be able to pay a fraction of that school fees’. So I decided to let go. I got my first job after 12th Grade as a receptionist and used my first salary to buy a small analog amateur camera. I became a professional amateur who had no idea about photography. It was so funny that  if I took a photograph of you and you wanted to pay me I’ll tell you not to pay me.

Jois: Lol. Why

Smart: Because at that time I did not have a digital camera and so when I took a photo of someone I was not seeing them on my camera. It was only after I had printed the photo that I would know whether the picture was good or not. So if your picture comes out good then you pay me, if it does not, you did not have to pay me and if you ask me where your pictures are because you had not received them, I’ll ask you ‘Did you pay me, please leave me alone’.

Jois: Lol. At least you were being honest with them. Lol

Smart: Sometimes I would travel far to get these pictures printed and that was very frustrating. But I was always hopeful that I would become a Professional Photographer, a Filmmaker and a Creative Art Director. I wasn’t from a wealthy home so I had to create the dream for myself.

Jois: Yeah. One has to work hard for the dream.

Smart: In 2003, I gained admission into the University as a fresher. One day, my room was broken into and my school fees and hostel fees were stolen. The person who came to steal, only wanted my camera but when they opened the camera box they were blessed to see a lot of money inside. Lol. I was totally devastated and that was the end of the photography career for me. I focused on studying Biology until 2008 when I graduated from University. After University, I believed I wouldn’t get a job with the government in Nigeria. My dad was not influential, I could not pull any strings. The only way I could do anything was to work hard for myself and make it happen. 

Jois: Yeah, You’re Right.

Smart: In 2009 I got my first digital camera and started shooting. I shot everything. This time around, I could see what I was shooting but then I was shooting professionally as an Amateur. I was only being curious so as to know how to make my pictures or film look good. I later bought a car which I used as a taxi.The money I made from the taxi, I used it to buy another camera. One of the major reasons why I got into photography, aside from the fact that I loved creative art was for me to be able to create a job for myself to survive. I tell people photography is not fun for me. It is business for me. It’s not a hobby, IT IS BUSINESS!. Yes there is the love for art but for me it is still Business. I need to make money, I need to improve, I need to grow, I have family to take care of, I need to expand. Don’t tell me photography is a hobby; Well, it is a hobby I want to earn money from. I invested money into it, I need to make money out of it.

After my NYSC (National Youth Service Corps – this is a scheme set up by the Nigerian government to involve Nigerian graduates in nation building and the development of the country – Wikipedia) in Nigeria, I came back to my state, continued the photography but I also applied to do my Masters in Educational Technology which was related to Photography, Filming and Art but I had to defer the admission because of some unforeseen circumstances up to date. 

Jois: But you can always go back if you want to.

Smart: Yes. I always have it at the back of my mind to do that.

Jois: That’s good.

Smart: In 2014, I moved to The Gambia and continued doing my photography but I was also a Biology teacher for about 5 years and later resigned to do photography fully. During this period I was able to improve myself professionally and build a market for myself. It has not been easy but I keep pushing.

Jois: Since you took my photos, I have seen that persistence in you and a great improvement. You really love your photography, you do not joke with it at all. But I think your price was on the high side. I don’t know about your pricing now since this was five years ago but one thing is for sure you love what you do and are really into it. What gave you this push?

Smart: One thing that has made me push myself is that I have never seen myself as a good photographer.

Jois: Hmmmmmmmmmmm

Smart: People who are close to me will realize that I am very poor on Social Media. It’s not that I do not have images to put on Social Media, it’s just that I am not satisfied with them. I have never loved my pictures before.

Jois: But you really have good photos. The pictures I have seen are really good and you should really put more pictures out there. You have the market right now and I believe you are one of the top photographers in The Gambia.

Smart: Yea that’s what they say, but I do not believe them. They are deceiving me.

Jois: Lol. Whatever; Lol

Smart: They are deceiving me, People will put you up and put you down anytime and as a human being if you let all that sink into your brain, you might start boasting thinking you are the best photographer. Before you know it, you are a nobody.

Jois: Well that’s true.

Smart: If you have this mindset that ‘I am not good but I want to be better than my yesterday’, then you will keep pushing and believe that better days are ahead. If you check my Instagram, I follow a lot of photographers because I learn a lot from them. I tell other photographers that they should not see me as a threat, I am not their biggest competitor. They fail to know who their competitors are. I believe their competitors are their potential clients that use iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Jois: Lol. For Real…

Smart: For a client to patronize you, you need to do better than what their phone can do. You need to add more to your skills, your communication, your business, your level of delivery and timing. All these are what people are paying for now. Everybody is a potential photographer. With your phone, you can shoot anything, and as long as you have a filter, the pictures will come out great but for someone to patronize you, you must spend a lot of money. Buy a camera that is more expensive than iPhone 11 Pro Max, buy a lens that is much better than what an iPhone 11 Pro Max can do and add value to yourself.

Don’t hate, Create. Don’t listen to side talks too. People tell me ‘Adebayo danga serr’ (Wolof – a Gambian Language) meaning Adebayo is expensive (I (Jois), speak Wolof too). I respond by saying ‘Yes, I will forever be expensive and I will never go cheap’. I know what I am doing, I know what I am investing in. A lot of people want to be like Smart but when they get closer to me, they realize that Smart does not sleep. Smart works 20 hours out of 24 hours a day. The word Smart Photography involves a lot of things.

I believe there are better days ahead, I believe I can still do more, I believe I am not good enough, I believe I can have a better version of myself, I believe I can change the world with my photography, I believe I can tell a better story soon. I have a lot of Dreams, aims and objectives. This has been my drive.

Jois: Yessss. What I have learnt from what you’ve said is that one needs to create value for themselves, You have to keep pushing, you cannot just stay at one level and not do anything to improve yourself, learn more and grow. I have seen people start something and stop and I wonder why they stopped. You need to keep pushing through, you can’t keep stopping every time you face a hurdle. What is your drive, what is your why. I see you have your own why. This is what you loved from the beginning but you kept pushing because you want to make money from it and do well for your family too.

Smart: Yes. I want to make MONEY. I am not making friends. I keep telling people that they are not patronizing me because I am their friend. They are doing that because of the value they get for what they pay for. I always give this analogy that as big as a stone may be, you cannot buy the stone for a thousand Dalasis (Gambian Currency equivalent to $25) but as small as a 35 carat gold or diamond may be, you can pay a lot for it. What are you paying for? 

Jois: You are paying for the value.

Smart: Yes the value of the Gold or Diamond. Nowadays when people come to the studio for photography I charge them 1500 Dalasis ($35) for 5 photos. They tell me that other photographers charge the same price for about a hundred photos. I also tell them that that is them and this is me. Even at that, I am always busy. There is a photographer in The Gambia that people do not even know about – Ayoh Pictures. That is my younger brother, I trained him. Sometimes people will say but Ayoh Pictures is cheaper, they have no clue that the money is coming to the same family.

Jois: LOL. Wow.

Smart: It can be cheaper but the money is coming to the same family. It’s funny that the photographer you think is better than Smart or is like Smart, is coming from the same womb.

Jois: I would never have known either. He took pictures of my mum and sisters a few months ago.

Ayoh Pictures – My mum and Sisters

Smart: Yup. People do not know, I helped him by setting him up in the photography business. Anytime you talk bad about me in his presence, he just smiles because they do not know that we are brothers.

Jois: Lol. I think what you did is very good because you invested in another person and that’s what other people need to know. Whatever you do, don’t just do it for yourself, you need to help others get there.

Smart: Yeaaaa. I can always go to my brother Ayoh and tell him I need some money and he will give it to me. I did not need give him fish, I just showed him how to fish. Now with all the schools closed (he used to be a teacher), he’s smiling because his business is still going on. I always want to create value and see that others around me improve themselves. 

Jois: Awesome. What are some of the challenges you have faced with your photography?

Smart: I do not see anything as a challenge. My name is Smart Adebayo, I am a Christian, I do not go to Church, I do not pray. I pray once a year. As of today I have not prayed for this year but I do what is right in the presence of God, I do not commit crime and I do not cause trouble. I do not see challenges as a challenge, I see it as part of life. I have never faced disappointment in my life. You cannot disappoint me because I never appointed you. It is only when you appoint someone that they disappoint you. The only thing is sometimes it’s difficult to communicate properly with some of my clients because of language barrier. 

Jois: Oh Yes because you are not Gambian and English is not the first language for many Gambians. (English is the official language in The Gambia but not at home. Most people like most other countries speak other languages).

Smart: So I have not really seen any challenges because I see them as part of life.

Jois: But Smart, it is important to pray and commit your business into God’s hands. You can’t be a Christian and not pray.

Smart: Lol. I told you the simple truth. I do not think I should lie to you.

Jois: I know but I am just letting you know that you cannot call yourself a Christian and not pray. Even if it is a few minutes a day, or once a month. I just feel it’s important. Yes you’re doing good, not committing crimes etc. That is the right thing every human being should do. But God is the one that made the way for you, brought you to this point. Yes your hard work paid off but God has helped you along the way and you need to be grateful.

Smart: Lol. It’s because I do not have problems.

Jois: Noooooo, you do not pray because you have problems. You’re alive today and that is one thing you need to be grateful for. Even if it’s just to say thank you Lord that I am alive today, I think that is important.

Smart: You’re right, I will do that.

Smart: I think one of the main challenges I may have is to grow big. I want to have professional human resources to work with. There are a lot of things I want to do but I am scared of investing into it. Who will handle it? My staff are from Nigeria, bringing them from Nigeria wasn’t easy. I have a lot of equipment and production that I invested into but I do not have adequate human resources.

Jois: Is it because it’s hard to trust someone with what you have been able to set up?

Smart: No. They do not have the kind of energy and drive I have. When they do not do it well, it will affect the brand name and I have to protect the brand name. I always make sure things are being done the right way. 

Jois: Hmmmm I see. What advice can you give to people?

Smart: If someone has no reason to go to school and the parents force them to study for example medicine, being a medical doctor will feel like being a taxi driver to them. People always have a reason to do something. I always say do not be a photographer because Smart is one. See what you can do within you, see what you do with ease without little or no supervision, see what you can create. Anything you can do with ease, build on it professionally. If it is Make-Up you do and people say it’s good, then go for it professionally. Never do or start anything because someone else is doing it. Look inside of you, look deep down, ask yourself what can I do with joy and a smile on my face no matter how difficult it may be. 

For example, ask me to teach for one hour and I will be frustrated but tell me to work with my laptop for thirty hours and I will do it because I enjoy what I do. Let them have a mindset that no one is poor, poverty is a state of mind. If you believe that you’re poor, you will be poor. If you believe that you’re rich, you will be rich. Also be a problem solver, not a problem creator. If you solve people’s problems, they will pay you for it. I solve people’s problems by creating good photography and images and I am being paid for it. 

Jois: Fantastic! What lessons have you learnt?

Smart: Just like I told you, I do not see challenges as challenges but as part of life. So for me anything that comes my way, such is life. No matter what situation I find myself in, I do not see it as an issue, I see it as part of life and a step to move higher because without a test, there will be no testimony.

Jois: Your’re Right. Without a test, there will be no testimony.

Smart: So sometimes if I want to improve on anything I’ll be like ‘Oh boy this week, ah no get problem ooo ahhhh na wa ooo’ (OMG this week I have not had any problems at all). Lol. I am waiting for problems to come so that I can improve.

Jois: For real. Lol. That’s true and this has been awesome. Thank you so much for the time you took out to do this. This was short notice but you created time and I am super grateful. 

Smart: Thank You too.

Jois Donkor