Damilola Elliott trained as an architect but lives on photography, a hobby he picked early but refined at the University of Lagos with a ‘point and shoot’ camera. In this interview, he shares his story of capturing priceless moments, emotions, landscapes, and places.
Though he never trained directly under renowned photographers Don Barber and Tam Fiofori, who operate from the same Surulere axis as himself, architect turned photographer Damilola Elliott studied them. He explained they were “my mentors but unknown to them” as we chatted about his art.
An Architecture graduate from the University of Lagos, Elliott, whose Damell Photography does portraits, industrial, food, architecture, destination, bridal and events and live streaming photography, has never practised. He has, however, found a comfortable niche between architecture and photography.
“It’s been an easy switch for me,” he began. “I studied architecture, but I don’t practice. I do a lot of work for those who are practising. That’s the irony of it. Why would you leave lucrative architecture? But it is whatever tool that works best for you that you should promote. Combining them has been easy for me.
“We’ve documented several estates within and outside the country from ground-breaking and construction to delivery. So, practising architects and realtors find it easy to work with someone like me because I know what they want to showcase in a project. Combining architecture and photography has been very easy for me. It’s not been an issue.”
Continuing on his unique journey, Elliott disclosed that he knew early photography was his path, and he wasn’t going to practice architecture. “The initial hurdle was getting my family to understand my choice because, at that time, photography was not a celebrated profession. But things have evolved; people have seen that photographers are amazing creators. So, there’s no regret whatsoever. Photography has taken me to different countries and continents.”
He further expatiated his preference for photography: “While I was getting into school, I wanted to do something creative. I knew I wouldn’t do fine arts, but I wanted something in the creative realm, and I didn’t understand what it was. Architecture was the next best thing because there was no photography at UNILAG. So, I went into architecture, and the lecturer gave us a project on street architecture. It was a photography project. That unleashed the fountain of excellence in me. I saw that I could communicate my creativity without using lines and shapes. I could work with images, communicate 1000 words with my images.”
To further add value to his services, Elliott registered Damell Photography in 2006. But then, it wasn’t plain sailing. “It was a real learning curve, but as things began to progress, they got a lot clearer,” he said with a rueful smile.
Returning to the issue of unknown mentors, he explained how Barber, Fiofori, Kelechi Amadi-Obi, and others influenced him. “Subconsciously, they helped direct my path to understanding that there was much more to photography; that it was more than portraits or weddings. I saw that there’s more; landscape photography, fine art photography, and abstract photography. Real estate photography, event and food photography. My eyes opened to the various genres, and over the years, I’ve met some of them one-on-one.”
Commenting on his evolution, he disclosed that he started with weddings. “ Back then, we didn’t have drones when we were doing architecture photography. Anytime we were going to do real estate photography, we got into a helicopter. You can imagine the thrill. Using a helicopter, we’ve covered new real estate properties and facilities in and outside Lagos. Damell has grown from a one-person show to a group of people that understand how the business works.”
Unlike prominent photographers, Elliott doesn’t operate from a studio. Despite its over 15 years of existence, Damell runs an agile, mobile operation “We don’t run a studio space but a virtual studio. We come to your space or wherever you choose to be. And we’ve noticed that our clients love that we can bring our studio to their homes. People feel a sense of comfort when they’re in their space. When you have a beautiful home, sometimes we shoot using the ambience without the regular blue, grey and black backgrounds.
The company’s agility and quick thinking saw it through the COVID-19 lockdown challenge. It opened a new vista for it, as he explained. “COVID is a very contagious virus, so when people died, most of their loved ones could not attend their funeral. So, we started live streaming. We included it as part of the business. We then saw that we could take it to other events, including birthdays and corporate events like seminars.”
Asked about the affordability of Damell Photography, Elliott replied matter of factly: “We run a premium service. However, we’re able to cater a premium service to varying markets. We understand that people love what we do and would also want us to render our services to them. We can create different categories for our work without compromising quality. Whether in the corporate world or the private world, we’re able to satisfy different strata.”
Continuing, the architect turned photographer disclosed that his company operates by commission within and outside the country.
Unlike some of his peers who sell their works online, Elliott doesn’t. He stated his reason this way “We’ve had situations where some agencies have requested from our archives but not that we put out in the public for people to buy.”
Elliott shared his aspirations: “over the next five years and beyond, we see ourselves evolving in ways that would keep us relevant in all that we do.”
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