Photographer extraordinaire, Graphics design savant, web designer, AmazingKlef is a frontrunner amongst the propagators of the new African dream.
At Just 24 years of age, Oguchukwu Martins Abanobi has created such a huge following with his art so much more that there are only handful celebrities he hasn’t worked with. With an endless list of corporate and individual clientele, such as TripleMG, Instant Pickup, SmartCab Nigeria, Billionaires Bet etc. AmazingKlef isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
I had a sit-down with him recently to talk about his journey, art, style and what he does to leave every client amazed all the time and with a very infectious aura of confidence and an ever-present happy mood, he made sure it was a fun time.
“I started out with hand paintings and soon felt I needed another medium to express the visuals in my head. That’s how I transitioned to doing graphics designs for Alaba mix tapes and it was really my training ground. I developed my skills here for about three years. I got to meet a lot of artistes and got commissioned a lot of times to work on their designs. It was a marvelous experience.”
TRANSITION TO PHOTOGRAPHY
“I don’t get comfortable in a space. I wanted more ways to portray my art. While I was in Alaba, I got tired of using graphics design only to convey my messages. I always had to wait for materials to work with and often times, they never really flowed with the ideas I wanted to express via my art. So I decided I needed to start shooting the images I used for my designs and I’ve fell in love with photography ever since.”
Photography or art in general wasn’t his childhood dream however. As a kid, he wanted to be a doctor.
“As a kid, all I wanted was to be a doctor. I would literally go around the neighbourhood with a rope on my neck as a stethoscope testing everyone. I badly wanted to be a medical doctor because I really wanted to save people. But then, I grew up and reality happened and the dream died.
The Nigerian system is a dream switcher, I can say mine was actually for the better. If Nigeria makes you change your dream and you realize it is for the better, glory be to God.
Would you say You’re fulfilled with your career now?
Obviously, this is just the beginning. We’ve just been in these for approximately two years. I can say I consider this a career now and I am happy with my work. But of course there will always be an evolution as time grows. For now I am loving the fulfillment it brings.
Two years and you’ve come this far, what is the secret?
Hardwork and Grace! It is a super combination for all eternity. Due to my background, I got used to working myself to result. I stay up all night improving myself, investing thousands of dollars in improving my skills. I also consider networking as a major key. The ability to connect with people especially clients is priceless. I have worked consistently on portfolios with same clients over and over again. They love me and feel free around me. They’ve got to love the person before the business to keep coming back. And of course, the key part is God.
Let me put you on the spot. If you were to choose between photography and graphics design and you only had one choice, which will it be?
Ha! This is hard. I’m sorry graphic design, I have to go with photography. Photography for a lot of obvious reasons – satisfaction, financially… It has to be photography.
How did you learn your art? School or apprenticeship?
I am self-taught. I learnt from Youtube, Google. I bought and still buy lots of tutorials, attend photography seminars and invest a lot of time in personal development.
What was your high school life like?
High school was regular. I am what you will refer to as a semi-kpako kid in Nigeria. It was normal, the rough plays, the girls, the studies, the triumphs – it was memorable. Shout out to Bright excellence college, Ojo.
Which point and what work really broke the ice for you?
I think it was when I started working with Ice Prince Zamani. I remember driving to a studio in Lekki and we made photos and I released them the next. All of a sudden I started getting calls from places, and people I couldn’t imagine.
Firstly, I’ve been a big fan of Ice Prince since forever. I met him through his manager at that time, Mr. Tobi Sanni Daniel of State of Mind Entertainment – a talent management company with the likes of Ice Prince, Yung L, DJ Caise, Chopstix, DJ Spinall amongst others. I was his graphics designer. He liked me and invited me to his house and we linked up and the rest was boom.
Whats up with the name Amazing Klef, Your mum didn’t name you ‘Amazing Klef’, did she? (Laughter erupts…)
Like every average Nigerian kid of my time, I was a rapper. My rap name was rap kid, but unfortunately, there was another guy with the name, who had his song on major download platforms and I just could wrestle the name from him anymore. So I sat down and started scribbling names and ‘Klef’ kept coming up. That was how I got the company name came up. I added ‘amazing’ and it just came out perfect. From that day on, Amazing Klef stuck and ‘Rap kid’ became extinct.
Moving from graphic designer to photography over the years, what was your most difficult constraint?
As a graphic designer over the years, I already handled tons of photos of different exposures, compositions and resolutions. I blended everything in my head and knew the way I wanted to light, compose and shoot as a photographer. So, moving from graphics to photography was not so tough.
But the problem was lacking funds to acquire proper training and that meant I made lots of mistakes early on in my photography. I bought wrong equipment and was just wasting money experimenting.
Which photographer would you say influenced your work?
I can’t really say a particular photographer influenced my work. In Nigeria, I love different things about different photographers. If I have to mention a photographer’s work I particularly love, I’d say Aham Ibeleme. He’s fantastic portrait photographer. I should also say it that while I appreciate and get inspiration from the works of other artists, I try not to expose myself to too much. Sometimes, I go online and see tons of beautiful arts of various genres and It can seem a lot at times. So I just streamline what look at and keep my focus on what I want. Too much information isn’t good for my health. This is a major reason why an average Nigeria is creatively stressed.
When you say you’re an ‘urban photographer’, what do you mean in plain terms?
When I say im an urban photographer, to me it means I’m ‘new school’, not limited to genres as long as it is pop and vibrant. This also explains why I have shot so many music artistes.
What technology/software/camera gear do you use to keep focused on what you do best, as you photograph?
When it comes to gears, I am as basic as it gets. I don’t get distracted by ‘gearcentric tendencies’. I shoot with a Nikon 7100, basic quality lights. I edit in camera raw and post in photoshop. I also do all my graphic work in Photoshop. I always advise that if you’re on a budget, try to stick to the basic gears and do magic with that. But if there is availability of budget, then explore aplenty.
What is your dream gear?
My dream gear will any full frame 4k camera with a 70mm – 200mm telephoto lens with the lowest aperture available in the market. For lights, I’ve shot with elinchrom and the rest of them, but I think I want the current top range Paul C. Buff.
Who is on your ‘would-love-to-shoot’ list that you haven’t shot?
I’d love to shoot Wizkid, Barrack Obama, Rihanna and Chris Brown.
Let’s into the gear war, Canon vs Nikon, who wins for you?
I’m naturally not a gear driven but having used different brands of cameras, I have to the best quality for money brand I have used so far is a Nikon. But in the end it is always about the photographer first before the gear.
What motivates you to continue taking pictures economically, politically, intellectually or emotionally?
Firstly, I will say I am intellectually driven then economics comes in next. I won’t say I am too emotional tied to my images, but there are some I really love and I have them framed in my studio.
When you are out shooting—how much of it is instinctual versus planned?
When I’m shooting, 70 percent of the time, it is instinctive. We plan but instinct kicks in once the plan is laid.
Describe your creative process.
Let’s say I get a booking, the first thing I request is a brief. Then, I research, think, plan and create.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
I think most times, that comes often in the planning process. I remind myself not to spend unnecessary time thinking, and spend time creating.
What project have you completed that has made you the most proud in photography and design?
I did a shoot for “Instapickup” laundry brand. The images are everywhere! I’m not even bragging but there are just a few photographers with their works everywhere and they’re industry legends. Everytime I see their vans, bikes, billboards, I feel proud and encouraged to do more.
How big a role has social media played in your work?
Social media is everything! It is the game changer. After God, it is social media. Without social media, you probably won’t know Amazingklef. You put a photo out there and thousands get to see it in minutes. It is magical!
Who are the brands you’ve worked with or worked for?
Countless! Instapickup, Billionaire Bet, Triple MG and many more. I worked on a project for DJ Khaled, so that means ‘We the Best’. I’ve worked with many brands acroos the world that I don’t even put on instagram.
I mostly work with startups because they trust me to come up with concepts and execute from beginning to end.
Tell us about your ambassadorship deals?
I’ve always had coded deals. The deal I had with Smartcab Nigeria really put my face on the map. Each time I’m driving downtown and I see my face on a billboard, I am awed. It is a blessing.
Where do you hope to take your photography and design?
I always say I want to get to a level where if you haven’t worked with our brand, you feel left out. That’s the goal.
What’s the most important tip you’ll give to starters?
We are at a point right now where most Nigerian youths are frustrated. They need hope right now. I started hustling at 17 in Alaba. I stayed up all night and worked my ass off. I am from a place that isn’t on the map. I want to let everyone out there realize that it may not make sense at first but if you keep at it, God will look at your hardwork and make a way for you.
For photographers, the art is interesting but you must love it first to get through the hard stage. Money is key but it isn’t the main yardstick. If you can’t spend 5 to 6 years improving yourself, spend the night improving yourself. There’s a lot of years being slept on. Don’t worry about what you don’t have, appreciate what you do have and be magic.