Gillian Hopwood showcases 60-year old Lagos photos

An exhibition of 39 black and white photographs by Gillian Hopwood showcasing iconic buildings and areas in Lagos dating back to 1954 will be opened to the public on March 20th at the Wheatbaker Hotel in Ikoyi.

The exhibition, in conjunction with the release of a book with the same title, presents the growth of Lagos over a 60 year period.

“This set of photographs was taken over several Sundays in April to May 1954, when the weather was good for photography,” says Ms. Hopwood, 88. “It’s the onset of the rains, you get clear skies, nice cloud effects and you could take the photographs. Each photograph’s composition was thought about carefully as film was expensive and had to be used sparingly.

“So we would go out on a Sunday morning. Because as architects we didn’t want many people. We wanted buildings; we wanted people basically just to give scale to buildings. Because if you go out on a normal day you’ll have many people saying, ‘Take me’ ‘Take me.'”

Ms. Hopwood arrived in Lagos with her husband, John Godwin, in 1954, both young architects having just graduated from the Architectural Association School of London and were embarking on a professional adventure of a lifetime.

Gillian Hopwood Photograph, 1954 of Ebute Ero Wharf
Gillian Hopwood Photograph, 1954 of Ebute Ero Wharf

Before she left London for Lagos, Ms. Hopwood’s father gave her a new camera to document her journey in ‘the Dark Continent,’ and she studied the instructions during her two week sea passage from England.

Some iconic places she photographed on arrival include the Central Mosque and Tinubu Square, Holy Cross Cathedral and Upper Broad Street, and the Brazilian Quarter and Onikan.

“But then, having taken the photographs, what does one do with them?” she says. “It’s a bit dangerous to send undeveloped film away, so my father had sent me out an envelope full of instructions as to how to develop pictures. I’d done it with him of course from an earlier age at home. So there I was in a PWD flat in Ebute Metta, no closed windows, they were all louvres, where do I go to get a dark room? So I shut myself inside a cupboard.

“They all came out reasonably well, and I was able to send them back to my father who made prints for me, scattered them around to friends and relatives who wanted to know where we were.”

In 1955, Ms. Hopwood and her husband moved from Ebute Metta to Lagos Island and eventually opened their own architectural firm – a five storey house on Boyle Street which served as their home as well as their company, Godwin & Hopwood.

They have lived and worked in Lagos for more than 60 years, writing several books on the growth of Lagos.

In 2013, they became Nigerian citizens. While the Nigerian gave her husband a national honour, Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR); Hopwood received an MFR (Member of the Order of the Federal Republic).

“We were asked way back in 1956 by the then Director of Museums and Monuments to identify old buildings who should be preserved. We’ve done it again for the current government,” she says. “What we are saying to many people now is you can’t expect to preserve everything. Because the land values are too high, the space is too small, but you should document.”

The exhibition highlights an incredible story of urban transformation and evolution and, in some parts degeneration, according to Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago, the exhibition’s curator.

“What is very important to highlight is that this is an artistic treasure, a historic book and exhibition that shows us as Nigerians, where we have come from and what we should be addressing today in terms of environmental standards and every thing else that mega cities around the world grapple with,” says Mrs. Mbanefo-Obiago.

In his foreword in the book, Babatunde Fashola, the Lagos State governor, wrote that the book helps to create a “torch passing moment” between his generation and those coming after him.

“Lagos is an enigma and this book ‘A Photographer’s Odyssey’ captures the development and essence of this every changing City-State over a 60 year period,” said Mr. Fashola.

The photographs, which are on display to the public at the Wheatbaker until April 9th, are already attracting a lot of interest, says Mosun Ogunbanjo, Director of the Wheatbaker, which is sponsoring the exhibition together with Arra Vineyards.

“The frank, naked and non-judgemental nature of the photographs leaves the viewer to reach his or her own conclusions regarding present day Lagos, whilst the side notes capture the richness of a moment in time,” Mr. Ogunbanjo says.

Mrs. Hopwood and Mr. Godwin have also written several papers documenting the growth of Lagos and have dedicated much of their time to preserve and restore buildings in old Lagos.

Together with like-minded professionals, they setup up Legacy, a historical and environmental interest group, which has documented and restored a number of important old buildings, including Jaekel House at the Nigerian Railway Corporation in Lagos, which today is a museum.

A Photographer’s Odyssey will be available in bookstores in April, and the exhibition will be open to the public for the next three weeks at the Wheatbaker.

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