Jonathan Adagogo Green (1873-1905) will go down in history as Nigeria’s first professional photographer.
Jonathan Adagogo Green was born in Bonny, an Ibani Ijo [Ijaw] community in the eastern Niger Delta region of Nigeria, in 1873. The son of a successful Ibani Ijo (Ijaw) palm oil trader Chief Sunju Dublin Green, he attended the Church Missionary Society [CMS] High School in Bonny. It is believed that he went on to Forabay College in Sierra Leone and studied photography. There is conjecture that his father’s close working relationships with expatriate traders and missionaries may have greatly benefitted his career. Nonetheless he served “as the primary photographer for the British, as well as his own people, between the early 1890s and 1905.”
Green’s body of photographs is well-known in his home region of the Niger Delta and, the rest of the world! Obliquely though, only one or two generations of people in the Niger Delta and beyond; especially prominent Chiefs in Bonny, Opobo and Kalabari-land whose portraits and household he had photographed, British colonial officials who had commissioned him to photograph Oba Ovonramwen, their activities of governance and the expatriate merchant class who also commissioned him to take their portraits, their social activities and, bought Green’s photographs of land and seascapes, cultural, industrial and glamour/pin-up photographs [for their private albums] definitely personally knew the man Green himself as well as his great work which they all admired. For good measure he made sure he stamped his professional signature of ‘J. A. Green, Artist Photographer, Bonny, Opobo & co’ on all his original photographs/prints to permanently protect and validate their authenticity!
Interestingly, there are now just over 300 of these original ‘authentic’ Green photographs in the world, and sadly, they are mostly in private collections and museums in Britain and the United States of America. Naturally, a lot of value as rare artistic originals is placed on these J. A. Green photographs. There might still be a few of these original Green prints in the Niger Delta.
Nigeria’s first professional photographer:
Jonathan Adagogo Green (1873-1905), an Ibani man from Bonny, Rivers State.