Winnipeg has always been a natural hotbed of understated creativity. In 2010 the city earned the title of ‘Cultural Capital of Canada’ based on its thriving art, theatre and music scenes – all of which manifest a unique mix of homegrown talent and global perspectives.
Among Winnipeg’s artists who are chasing their dreams is Daniel Oluwami, the founder and owner of Dannyola Photography. This is his story.
Daniel Oluwami moved to Winnipeg as a teenager, and has since worked multiple jobs to fund his photography business that specializes in portraits and fashion. Photo: Daniel Oluwami
I came to Winnipeg from Nigeria just last year, from the city of Ibadan. Ibadan is really big – there’s lots of historical places, and actually, the first TV broadcasting channel in Nigeria was founded there.
I picked up photography in high school when I was 16. I originally started taking pictures with just my phone but really enjoyed what I was doing – it really ignited a passion in me.
I had an uncle who was really into photography as well; he owned a studio and he took me under his wing. I didn’t have to pay any learning fee or anything, he just took me in and I started working for him and we became like brothers. I guess he saw potential in me because after about a year he actually started paying me as an employee. He just liked the way we worked together and all that. So I was able to develop skills in photography that way.
But then I moved here with my family, under permanent resident status – there’s four of us, my mom, my little sister and my dad. My mom’s sister was already living here and she said it’s a good place to start a family and do all those things, so my family just said: Okay, let’s start the process. Well, it was a long process…
Bodija market, a popular vendor spot in Ibadan, a sprawling historical city of over three million people in southwest Nigeria located between the country’s commercial centre, Lagos, and federal capital, Abuja. Photo: omohemi1/Flickr
I came with my mom first in May 2019, and my dad and little sister came about five months later. I still remember that when me and my mom arrived, it was really chilly back then. I came totally unprepared. We landed at the airport and I came out shivering. (*laughs*) Even before that, when we had a stopover in Toronto, I was already cold! It’s crazy. But Winnipeg is OK.
My experience has been much different from my mom’s experience, at least when it comes to jobs. When me and my mom came here ahead of my dad and sister, she couldn’t find a job for five months.
Some places she applied to did recognize her credentials, but at the same time they didn’t. Many of the places where she applied said to her that she was either overqualified, or she was just told: oh, sorry, we don’t need you.
But for me, when I got here, I had already been doing photography for a few years, and because I was able to travel a lot while working with my uncle in Nigeria, going from Ibadan to Lagos, I already had quite a lot of experience.
I really love doing portrait photography and studio photography, those are my favourite. I don’t take pictures of products for marketing or whatever, and I don’t do baby shoots. I used to, but I don’t anymore. You know how you can compose a fully grown adult in a photoshoot? You can’t do that with babies, and it sucks. They’re always somehow crying, or they’re sleeping, and it’s not nice.
Since I came here I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to make a lot of friends – I love going out, making friends. I actually got a job the first month that I arrived, working at a gym. Back in Nigeria I was able to build up a ton of contacts because when I first started doing photography I took a lot of photos in clubs, including getting shots of a lot of Nigerian celebrities, so I had a ton of people tagging my photos.
So through working at the gym I’ve been able to save up and get some new gadgets, which has been helpful in linking up with different Instagram models throughout the city to do photoshoots. And from there I started gaining actual clients, so it’s been good. It’s been easy to network in this city even though I just moved here a year ago. I can’t complain. When I told people here that I got a job in my first month of arriving they didn’t believe me, so I must have been really lucky.
But oh, the cold….the cold! That’s been the hardest thing to adjust to, by far. I was actually surprised when summer came and everything was humid. It made me think that Winnipeg is just full of surprises.
Demonstrators protesting for racial justice after the shooting death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis confront riot control cops in Washington, D.C. on May 30, 2020. For many immigrants to North America, building a life for themselves in Canada or the US includes personally experiencing deep-seated racism for the first time. Photo: Rosa Pineda/Wikimedia Commons
Speaking of that, you know, most people don’t think they’re racist in Canada, but like, come on. There was this one time at I was at this 7-11 and there was an old man standing behind me and he kept muttering like: go back to your country. And man, I was really mad. I had to control myself and stop myself from saying like, you know what, fuck you.
He was just this really old, like almost ancient man. Like, I didn’t experience racism at home in Nigeria, so that was my first time encountering real, raw racism. But it was good in a way, because after that I really understood intimately what people meant by racism and what that feels like to have that directed at you.
But Winnipeg on the whole is nice. Besides a small number of people, like that old guy at 7-11, everyone I’ve met here seems to be really nice. Even when I first arrived I hung out with my cousin who was already living here and we went to the club and people were just nice.
Actually, Winnipeg people are almost, too nice. You know, I work at a gym, and I’m not used to everyone telling me, have a good day! At first I thought it was strange, and then it was like, I could get used to this.
But, I mean, sometimes I do really wish people here would be more direct.
There was this one time at work this guy wanted to use a particular tanning room at the gym and I needed to activate something to allow him to use it, and I did. But, after that he was still just standing right there, not using the room. So my manager came by and told me: you need to help this guy. But I just did! I had no idea what this customer was thinking because he just said thanks and was super polite. It made no sense.
I’ve also picked up some new hobbies since living here, learned new things. Hockey – no. I was always falling down! (*laughs*) But fishing, that was something new that I’ve learned since being here and it’s something I still do quite regularly. It’s so peaceful to get outside of the city some times here and there.
My photography business hasn’t really suffered as a result of the Covid-19 lockdowns. In fact, I’ve actually made several new clients during the whole process, since it’s given me more time to market myself online. I work two other jobs during the day, as tech support at a call centre and then the gym, like I mentioned.
Photography is ultimately what I want to do, but you need to get capital coming in from elsewhere to support yourself in the beginning. Photography isn’t something you make money from every day, you need to have the security of a job on the side. But it’s true that during the lockdown I was able to use a lot of social media strategies to gain new clients, I did. (*Checks phone*) See, I just got another new one 30 minutes ago!
“I just like capturing moments” – Examples of portraits composed by Daniel Oluwami. Photos: Dannyola Photography
Once I get more established I want to focus my photography on portraits, fashion, events, weddings. I just like capturing moments. You know, facial expressions on people, how they react in the moment. That’s something natural that you can’t regain, you can never regain it.
Otherwise I also definitely want to finish my education. Back home I was enrolled in my second year of computer science at the University of Ibadan, but I didn’t finish because of moving here. Right now I’m aiming to go back to school, but getting my transcripts has been really hard. I wish I had known that before I moved!
Some of my favourite spots in Winnipeg include The Forks, Red River Ex…and the monastery in St. Norbert. My family is happy here too, so far. When I can I’m moving to a different city though, I’m moving, Toronto or Vancouver. I’m just an active person that likes new things and exploring new places.
You’ve got a lot of cultures and people coming in through here so you can get any type of food you want, including African food. You know, I wasn’t expecting it – I was just scrolling through SkipTheDishes one day and saw One Stop African restaurant and thought, really?! I can do this in Winnipeg?! Okay! It was real nice.
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