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07 Mar Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

Profile of the Photographer as a Businessman

In 1991when Mr Chris Oputa started Studio 24, it was not out of love of photography but of a need to provide him with what he calls basic money, that is, money for food, shelter, and clothing. He was not even a photographer. He had studied Chemical Engineering at Lagos State University (LASU) and at the time practised as a procurement specialist but had come into a difficult period in his business.

As a procurement specialist, he was an intermediary between foreign manufacturers of machines and local users. As the story goes, he would order equipment from abroad and deliver to his clients in Nigeria. However it took up to four months to complete the process of placing an order, having it delivered to him, and he to his clients. In the interval there was nothing to do but wait, and there was little money to spend. In order to survive the wait and lack, he decided to open a salon, a photocopying centre, a video club, and a photography studio.

Two decades later, Studio 24, which took its name from its first address in Kaduna, has outgrown the vision of its founder and now provides more than basic money. It has over 10 branches across the country and with the launch of its franchise scheme in progress, there would be many more in the future. “We have a lot of demand already,” he said of the franchise scheme during an interview in his office at Wuse 2. “Apart from the people who are already on our list, we are going to open it up to the public.”

Despite the success of the company Mr Oputa is still quick to disclaim the profession that has made him famous, insisting that he is not a photographer, technically. “I am in the business of photography,” he said.

Photography, for which he is most popular, is not all that he does― he is into real estate among other ventures― but he finds it most profitable. “The business that you get money from but doesn’t fulfil you cannot be called profitable,” he explained. “You put a property in the market, people want it, they pay you money for one year, you wait for another year they pay you money again. So it is not really fulfilling as a business, it creates naira profit but not fulfilment.”

“With the photography business,” he said, “you have to think, you have to plan, you have to engage, you have to keep abreast with competition. So that is very fulfilling, that’s very profitable.”

It is common practice in Nigeria that when a man acquires some wealth, he becomes slow in movement and most notably in speech, a peculiar speech impediment that causes him to drool over long, boring speeches designed to punish his audience. Mr Oputa is not given to talking in that manner. His speeches, whether in public or private, are brief (as at the launch of his flagship store in December 2013) and fast, perhaps too fast. They seem to be chased by habit into hasty conclusions, sometimes demanding keen attention to be understood, nonetheless delightful at all times.

The Pechakucha Global Night in Abuja, in which he participated in September 2013, was suited to his method, the idea being to present, in an informal gathering, an inspirational speech on any chosen subject; the speech illustrated by 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide put on auto-forward.

Mannerisms besides, Mr Oputa is indeed a ‘big man’, both in status and well, in stature. Despite his standing, he is neither intimidating nor condescending. He manages to remain calm in the fluster of his busy schedule, and humble, too. He grew up in a home where he said humility was not preached but enforced. “We had a situation where my parents were bringing people from our villages to go to school and they would live in our home with us,” he said. “And I as a kid would think, hey, this is my parents’ house, therefore if there were plates to be washed, they would wash them and I would watch TV. But I learnt through the enforcement team that they should watch TV, and I should wash the plates.”

He has imbibed this principle, saying firmly as though it were his creed: “you must not ever look down on people who are not as privileged as you are.”

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