Bio. Offer us a short, snappy (not-copied-from-your-website or any publication), fun biography. Who are you?
I am a visual storyteller and I am an artist. Is it the same thing? Perhaps. I’ve always had a strong sense of self, always knew the kind of person I wanted to be: kind, (mostly) patient, adventurous, funny, protective. But I was never certain about what I wanted to do until I stumbled upon photography. It is the one thing that makes just as much sense as being me.
Becoming. Can you identify when you first started calling yourself a photographer —when you felt comfortable naming yourself as such? How did you morph from someone who takes pictures to “photographer”?
It started with intention; I think that’s the difference. At first, I was photographing randomly, without question. Then with time, I started to have conversations with myself and others. I started to ask more questions, moving with increased purpose. Of course, there is the validation that comes when people seek you out for what you do. But, more than anything, it is the relationships—some brief, some long—that I form with people I meet and places that I encounter. I believe that as mobile and as occasionally homeless as we may be, it is the connections, the attachments we build that make us photographers. It is the big and little things that move us and others.
Being. What are you working on now? Where? How? Why?
A good deal of my work focuses on the health, education, sexuality, and beauty (standards) of women across Africa; however, I recently did a story on the climate migration crisis around Lake Chad, which led to an interest in our environment and our relationship with it. I’m still exploring this. Lagos is an interesting case study: it’s right by the Atlantic and is overpopulated, but I’m also interested in some of the land restoration processes in Kenya and how we cool down the planet. Very different topics, but I am enjoying learning about them and seeing where that could lead me.
When I can, I go back to my long-term personal projects. Relearning Bodies connects human scars to already existing patterns in our natural environments; Lagos Fashion Through the Ages documents Lagos styles and trends since 2014.
Borrowing. Tell us a little about your artistic lineage. Who are the artists and/or works that influence you? Who or what inspires you and why?
I come from a family of academics, homemakers, and artists. It’s the little memories that remain that I believe add to my artistic process: my grandmother’s extensive recipes, all in her head; the books that littered our home; my brother teaching me how to draw; my mother making the most beautiful paper butterflies, late nights doing homework by candlelight; my sister’s writing; helping to farm on our small patch of land. I pull a lot from memories and familiar people around me who, in turn, pull their inspiration from others.
Between. Discuss the relationship between you and your subjects (whether people, objects, land). What is the nature of your relationship with the things you photograph or film?
I often talk about how I am drawn to nostalgia—people, things, and places that remind me of my childhood home in Aba. Aba is loud, hot, and filthy. I am comfortable in certain spaces because a foul smell, for example, might be the exact same scent I encountered when trekking home from school. Or I linger around someone because their hands remind me of my father’s hands and a story emerges from that reminder.
A lot of times, I simply become comfortable really quickly and that leads the rest. I’m either lucky or skilled at doing the right thing around the people I intend to photograph (I’m quite useless on a “‘normal” social day). Let’s be honest: some relationships are short while others stretch into weeks or years, even after the work is completed. But it is the time spent that matters. I do my best to make people feel—to know—that we are working together. I always ensure that they know they have a choice. In certain environments, the camera creates a power dynamic that some may not be aware of and it is crucial to let people know that they have the power. Nothing moves without them.
Better. How do you work towards continuous improvement, on honing your craft?
I remain open. I don’t believe that there is one answer, one solution to remaining in this field. Exploring is good. I often joke with my friends, telling them I may be doing this for the next 10 years or tomorrow I may decide to become a florist. I allow room for these ideas and possibilities.
Business. Can you talk a bit about the business versus the art of photography?
It’s a hard space to navigate alone and when I started, I had a lot of questions. Do I cold email a photographer I admire or even an acquaintance and ask them what a fair day rate is? Is there a particular invoice template to use? What exactly does x, y, or z in this contract mean?
I started openly talking about these things and watching what was right near me. A friend of mine is a travel influencer and excellent at handling her business and accounting; she shared with me her strategies. So I got a business account and started learning how to manage it. A musician friend of mine is a superstar with grants, so I looked into them (it’s insane how much money is just out there). Another friend taught me how to negotiate. If you’re not sure of something, ask. We all hate that feeling of knowing we just got taken advantage of. The art of what we do is great, but you do have to be business smart, especially as an independent artist. My saving grace is this: I’m great at saving and budgeting which are essential as a full-time freelancer.
Bolster. Whose work do you think deserves a shout-out here, and why? Who haven’t I been hearing about and whose website I should check out immediately?
Gulshan Khan, Etinosa Osayimwen, Bhumikaa Bhatia, Joana Choumali, Alexia Webster, Sarah Waiswa, and Stephanie Nnamani. Their approaches and styles are very different from one another. Some are experimental, others more traditional. But that’s the best part of it all—the variety.
Balance. When you are not photographing, what are you doing that keeps you grounded? What (else) do you do for fun?
I put self-care first. It’s never all about getting jobs or all about my personal photography projects. What kind of life is that? As much as photography keeps me functional in so many ways, I also want to be happy without it every now and then. I want to be good at other things. I draw cartoons, I obsess about my cat, I write, I work-out, and I make sure to be present for my friends.
Best. What is the best advice you have to offer someone reading this?
I would tell them, if possible, not to worry so much about how they may be perceived by others. Especially women in this field. Many of us have worked incredibly hard to get to where we are now; we have made sacrifices. The most common thing I witness is the hiving off of our full self-expression. Some of us are not as goofy as we want to be, after all, because who will take us seriously? Others don’t show their true, bold selves because, in some spaces, no one likes an intimidating woman. You “can’t” be too feminine and you “can’t” be too masculine. It is a fine balance. But take the time to ensure that what you are doing is for yourself first.