“Why I left architecture for photography”

Damilola Elliot trained as an architect but makes a living from photography, a hobby he picked up early on but honed 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.

Although he was never trained directly by renowned photographers Don Barber and Tam Fiofori, who operate from the same axis of Surulere as him, architect-turned-photographer Damilola Elliot studied them. He explained that they were “my mentors but unknown to them” as we talked about his art.

An architecture graduate from the University of Lagos, Elliot, whose Damell Photography does portraiture, industry, food, architecture, destination, bridal and events and live action photography, never practiced. However, he found a comfortable niche between architecture and photography.

“It was an easy change for me,” he began. “I studied architecture, but I don’t practice. I do a lot of work for those who practice. That’s the irony of it. Why leave lucrative architecture? But it is the tool that suits you best that you should promote. Combining them was easy for me.

“We have documented several areas inside and outside the country, from inauguration and construction to delivery. So practicing architects and real estate agents find it easy to work with someone like me because I know what they want to showcase in a project. Combining architecture and photography was very easy for me. It wasn’t a problem.

Continuing his unique journey, Elliot revealed that he knew early photography was his calling and that he was not going to practice architecture. “The first obstacle was to make my choice understood by my family because, at that time, photography was not a recognized profession. But things have changed; people have seen that photographers are amazing creators. So there are no regrets. Photography has taken me to different countries and continents.

He then explained his preference for photography: “While I was entering school, I wanted to do something creative. I knew I wouldn’t do fine art, but I wanted something in the creative field, and I didn’t understand what that was. The architecture was the second best thing because there was no photography at UNILAG. So I headed for architecture, and the lecturer gave us a project on street architecture. It was a photographic project. It triggered the fountain of excellence within 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 add even more value to his services, Elliot registered Damell Photography in 2006. But then, it wasn’t easy. “It was a real learning curve, but as things started to progress it became a lot clearer,” he said with a contrite smile.

Returning to the issue of unknown mentors, he explained how Barber, Fiofori, Kelechi Amadi-Obi and others influenced him. “Unconsciously, they helped me understand that there was so much more to photography; that it was more than portraits or weddings. I saw there were more; landscape photography, fine art photography and abstract photography. Real estate, event and culinary photography. My eyes have been opened to different genres, and over the years I’ve met some one-on-one.

Commenting on his evolution, he revealed that he started with weddings. “At the time, we didn’t have drones when we were doing architectural photography. Every time we went to do real estate photography, we rode in a helicopter. You can imagine the thrill. Using a helicopter, we covered new real estate properties and installations in Lagos and outside. Damell has grown from an individual show to a group of people who understand how the business works.

Unlike prominent photographers, Elliot does not operate from a studio. Despite its more than 15 years of existence, Damell manages an agile and mobile operation “We do not manage a studio but a virtual studio. We come to your space or wherever you choose to be. And we’ve noticed that our customers like that we can bring our studio to them. People feel a sense of comfort when they are in their space. When you have a nice house, sometimes we shoot using the ambience without the usual blue, gray and black backgrounds.

The company’s agility and quick thinking allowed it to meet the challenge of containment linked to COVID-19. It gave him a new perspective, as he explained. “COVID is a highly contagious virus, so when people died, most of their loved ones were unable to attend their funerals. So we started the live broadcast. We included it as part of the business. We then saw that we could take her to other events, including birthdays and corporate events like seminars.

Asked about the affordability of Damell Photography, Elliot answered in a neutral tone: “We run a premium service. However, we are able to provide premium service to different markets. We understand that people love what we do and would also want us to serve them. We can create different categories for our work without compromising on quality. Whether in the business world or in the private world, we are able to satisfy different strata.

Continuing, the architect-turned-photographer revealed that his business operates on commission in and out of the country.

Unlike some of his peers who sell their work online, Elliot does not. He explained his reason this way “We’ve had situations where some agencies asked for our records, but not that we made it public for people to buy.”

Elliot shared his aspirations, “Over the next five years and beyond, we see ourselves evolving in a way that would allow us to remain relevant in everything we do.”

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