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Photography is like therapy to Ayomide Oyeniyi, July’s artist-in-residence for the Eyes on Main Street outdoor photo festival.
“Photography saved me from when I was like losing it because I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life at that point,” Oyeniyi said. “When I am feeling bad, I take a walk and take photos and that helps me all the time. It has never failed.”
Oyeniyi, 23, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, and a Chicago resident, is the youngest photographer to be an artist-in-residence for Eyes on Main Street.
Oyeniyi came to the United States at age 16. Since he’s been here, he has earned an Associate in Science degree from University of Illinois at Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts in photography from Columbia College of Chicago.
Oyeniyi decided to get his first camera in 2015.
“I have a big family with lots of events and nobody was documenting them,” Oyeniyi said.
While completing undergraduate work toward his training to be a pharmacist, Oyeniyi found that the camera was distracting him from his studies.
“I got more interested in taking photos than doing chemistry class,” Oyeniyi said.
Oyeniyi’s father was disappointed when he decided he wanted to be a photographer.
“He was pissed, but two weeks ago he bought a print from me, so I guess we are getting somewhere,” Oyeniyi said.
Oyeniyi has only just arrived in Wilson, so he’s only made a few photographs.
“Yesterday I walked around. I hope to get a good body of work of people doing daily work. I am interested in rural places and underdeveloped spaces,” Oyeniyi said last week. “From what I have seen in the last three days, Wilson seems like a real, true community. In general, I think my time here in Wilson would help me get better. I think this will improve my eye as a documentary photographer.”
Oyeniyi arrived in Wilson after facades of downtown buildings had been covered with 100 enlargements for the photo festival.
“First of all, it is different. I have been to a few cities in the states and haven’t seen anybody doing anything like this,” Oyeniyi said. “There’s not a lot of people that would let you put art on their wall, first of all. It beautifies the city, if you ask me. The idea of having a photographer here for a month providing a place for them to stay, giving them a stipend, letting them create work from their point of view with no assignments, is amazing. That’s a way not only for giving back to the community but also raising the next generation of photographers.”
Oyeniyi’s work, including documentary, portrait and fashion photography, can be seen at his website, ayosamaphoto.com.
“An important role for Eyes on Main Street is to give young and upcoming photographers a chance to develop their skills and trade,” said Jerome De Perlinghi, artistic director for Eyes on Main Street. “Welcoming Ayomide Oyeniyi in Wilson is part of that broader mission of this festival. We put our trust in them and in return, they develop a wonderful body of work about our community.”
Oyeniyi is the 26th resident in 23 months. Photographers have signed up to take residencies for every month through June 2020.
The Eyes on Main Street festival will continue for a sixth year in downtown Wilson in 2020.
“After five very successful years, the festival has proven its qualities; it is used by many in the international community as an example of how art can transform a place in a quiet way,” De Perlinghi said in a report on the 2019 festival released in June.
For the 2019 festival, some 750 photographic artworks were hung in galleries and storefronts on Nash, Tarboro and Barnes streets on April 27 and will remain until Aug. 4.
“The board of Eyes on Main Street Inc. projects that over the 100 days of operation of this year’s festival that approximately 5,200 unique visitors will be attracted to historic downtown Wilson,” the report states. “It must be noted that this number would certainly increase and perhaps double to 10,000 unique visitors with stronger marketing collaborations and fiscal strategies between Eyes on Main Street Inc., local tourism and the city council of Wilson.”
“This is what I call a great success story that we should nurture together for many more years to come,” De Perlinghi said.
The budget will increase from $108,500 in 2019 to an estimated $143,418 for the 2020 festival.
According to the report, people in all 50 states and 167 countries worldwide have visited the Eyes on Main Street website.