FabAfriq Magazine

One-On-One with Penjo Baba, Founder of Penjo Studios: The Talent, the Determination and the Charisma

Ramses Wato: Penjo Baba, thanks once again for taking part in this interview.

Penjo Baba: Thank you Ramses, the pleasure is mine

Ramses: First off, who is Penjo Baba?

Penjo Baba:My name is Peter Njodzeka. Penjo is a combination that comes from my two names. Pe comes from Peter and Njo comes from Njodzeka so Pe-Njo. I am from Kumbo, Nso in the North West Region of Cameroon. I am twin (My twin sister is called Rita), I’m 43 years old and a father of 2 boys.

Ramses Wato: Tell me more about ‘Penjo Studios’. What sort of work do you do under this brand?

Penjo Baba: PenjoStudios is a full production company of everything that involves Video, Audio and Photography production. We are into video productions as in Music, Movies, Documentaries and Events, including corporate and others. We provide every content our clients request from us. 

Ramses Wato: How has the pandemic affected your work on a daily basis? Are you still covering your usual beat?

Penjo Baba: Well, the pandemic has really affected my work and business a lot. Since the lockdown was announced in March, I have travelled out of Yaoundé to Limbe and Douala only twice for some small works. The savings I had is all gone on household daily expenses. You know, it’s easier to spend money than to work for it, worst is when you do not have any more work coming in, you spend what you have. We are praying for things to return to normal. Almost every client that booked us for their events this year has pushed them to next year. If the Pandemic is gone and things return to normal by December, for sure we will have double work next year. I am already preparing my team for that and training more.

Ramses Wato: Tell us more about the challenges of doing your job in this environment. What are your greatest obstacles and concerns? What are you doing to keep yourself safe? 

Penjo Baba: Really, these few jobs I have had these few days, I could only continue respecting the preventive measures to stay safe. Thank God it was not an event or big project, but as I travelled, I was so conscious of it all. Apart from that, the challenges I have is just that there are no jobs and life has totally become more difficult.

Ramses Wato: Moving on to your work as a photographer, what do you think are the core elements of a “strong” image? 

Penjo Baba: As a photographer, basically, there are five common elements that great images typically have; Good use of light, color, a captivating moment, correct composition for the given situation, and the photographer's choice of distance to their subject.

Ramses Wato: So how do you feel when encountering one?

Penjo Baba: Hmmm it gets so tough when I have to do an outdoor shoot at night. That’s my worst thing ever to do. The lighting becomes incredibly challenging.

Ramses Wato: Do the type of stories or emotions you want, affect your work in the field (color choice, composition, background, time of day to shoot, etc.)?

Penjo Baba: Oh sure, I always tell people, if you are a photographer who only ends in the studio and do not engage in outdoor shoots, then you still have a long way to go. Just like when a photographer comes from Europe, USA, or Asia, they find difficulties having the best images here due to the environment and lighting. But when I go there, I feel like am in heaven when doing my outdoor shoot because of good lighting and colours. Our own in Africa is full of riches so natural that you find anywhere. When you master it, you win.

Ramses Wato: Can you share some workflow you’ve mastered over the years in your people photography? For example, how do you choose between a close-up shot and an environmental portrait, when you encounter a striking face?

Penjo Baba: Well, they’re two different categories in photography. That’s why you have some people who specialise only on environment/outdoor/landscape photography while others focus on studio portrait photography etc… I try to do all simply because I happen to move everywhere. Having a striking face for my close-up is always never planned or prepared. When you shoot someone in action without them being aware, it gives you that natural picture. But it’s not every picture you must take as you go. Sometimes you have to prepare your character.

Ramses Wato: Today, when every corner of the globe has been photographed, can one still create an original image, especially when photographing at your local town or city? How do you keep your eyes and mind sharp to help you look for that unique image?

Penjo Baba: Photography is never going to end. You can have a particular object or site in the city where 100 photographers have shot, but if you look at those pictures, you will not see them the same. It is about my angle, the beauty I see in it will give me a different angle and that is how it works for every other. It’s just like when I look at the picture of others even without their names on it, I can tell this person took this shot. I am talking about the colleagues I know. If you’re not sharp you will hardly know though. This is to say, as we are alive, we will keep creating new images from the same city or country.

Ramses Wato: What equipment is a must-have for you no matter where you are going to be working?

Penjo Baba: My camera, Lenses, Flash and Strobe, Microphone, Tripod, light.

Ramses Wato:What professional photographers have influenced your work, and how do you incorporate their techniques into your photographs?

Penjo Baba: I really do love good works, I do not think any photographer’s work has influenced mine in anyway, simply because the way I started my photography was more in the rural communities and most photographers I know were doing more of studio photography. I started wedding photography, which many of them weren’t doing and it became a huge business for everyone. I do love most of their works, but to say they influenced me in my own, I do not think so.

Ramses Wato: Are you considering a photography academy?

Penjo Baba: For sure, I’ve been working on it since 2018, as it’s a single hand project, am taking my time. Have hustle for loans, but each time I approach, they want to be part of it by buying shares. For now, I really do not consider that.

Ramses Wato: What Can You Call the Highlights of Your Career Yet?

Penjo Baba: Well, every moment of my career is memorable and special. I really do not have a particular moment special than the other.

Ramses Wato: What other future plans do you have?

Penjo Baba: Well, I just want to put my company in place first and have it running.

Ramses Wato: Considering the fact that your work has taken you far and wide and you have won numerous awards and accolades, can you say photography in Cameroon is getting the recognition it deserves abroad?

Penjo Baba: Yes, it is getting recognition, but remember, it has to be an individual effort to make it. Hard work from different angles will gain many more recognitions.

Ramses Wato: If you had to choose a different field other than your own, what would it be?

Penjo Baba: I don’t think I will love to chose anything different from what am doing, in as much as it’s paying and am able to learn every day from it and handling my community development projects. It’s so many things happening at once.

Ramses Wato: It’s not easy to summarize your entire career in one sentence but can you share one core piece advice with me, something that helped you to become the photographer you are today?

Penjo Baba: Initially, I had not considered getting into photography or cinematography. However, while doing ICT I stumbled on a US based NGO called Engineers Without Borders. That was in 2005. After studying what they do, I communicated with them and we eventually became partners working together on a water project in Nkuv, Cameroon. After that, I started work with another US based NGO called Thirst Relief International. While I did this community service, I was required to send pictures to complement my monthly reports. I had no camera then. So, I would borrow an analog camera from a friend and take these pictures, which I would send to them. The chairperson of the NGO Jim Hicks, who was equally a photographer greatly, loved my photography. This is how my interest in photography was born. I began studying more on how to improve my talent. Eventually I saved some money and got a professional camera for myself and also created my brand, ‘Penjo Entertainment’, now PenjoStudios.

Ramses Wato: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Penjo. 

Penjo Baba: Thank you too

 

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