Tell us a little bit about your work. What do you like to photograph the best? Why? How did you get started with photography?
Senior year of high school, I chose to take AP Art because the teacher who was teaching the class was the funniest person ever! I didn't want to miss a chance to be in her class before I graduated. I chose photography because I definitely couldn't paint, draw, or sculpt anything. I already knew that I liked seeing people laugh, and dew on flowers always made me pause and stare. I did not know that that would translate in my photography. After the first few weeks, I realized that I had a natural skill for framing a photo, at the least. We weren't really taught in the class, so I didn't learn more than that and the bare bones of photography since every student had a different camera and were focused on different subjects.
During undergrad, I started shooting events and on campus protests, and realized that I just loved photography as it helped me to destress from the pre-med life. By my second year, I was getting paid to shoot graduation photos which is where I guess I got my start doing portrait photography. The summer after I graduated, I shot my first wedding, and decided to finally take on the title of being a freelance photographer a few months later. It was a scary thing because as a child of Nigerian-immigrants, doing anything other than the top three (medicine, engineering, and law) was not understood and looked down upon. My parents thought I was giving up on going to medical school and getting distracted with photography. My dad actually called it a hobby till last Christmas because he was really insecure about it. But I supported myself the past 4 years through photography gigs which silenced my mom lol.
I definitely love to shoot portraits of women the most. I only realized it as I thought about the question. I think it is because women have this pressure to be perfect all the time, especially with the increase in social media and the warped sense of beauty that is being pushed on us. We are all beautiful in our own ways whether or not we wear makeup, and I love to capture that and the special light we have inside.
Could you speak to your relationship with global health efforts in India and Thailand? How do you use your photography in conjunction with that?
Yes, of course! When I was pursuing my Master in Public Health degree, I chose to go to India to do my global health project. I love to travel and have a desire to serve in underserved communities in the US and abroad, so it seemed like a great opportunity to get exposure abroad! I went to Calcutta (Kolkata), West Bengal, and India, and worked at the Institute of Indian Mother and Child. I noticed that a lot of the patients that came into the clinic had illnesses because of poor hygiene and because of that I decided to make health education material around that topic. The Institute has an orphanage and several rural schools; I thought a great idea would be to make hand-washing posters to put up in the schools. I was able to utilize photography by photographing one of the orphan girls (the perfect little model) to demonstrate all of the proper hand-washing steps. Then I wrote down the steps, translated them into the local language Bengali, and created the flyer. It was so exciting to see a simple way that I could incorporate my photography with global health.
In Thailand I didn't use my photography for global health efforts, but I did do some work in Cambodia with Agape International Missions! They are an organization working to fight sex-trafficking on many levels. They rescue women and children, rehabilitate them, and then educate and train them in skills like sewing, soap making, jewelry making, etc. I shot the products that the women were making in order for AIM to create an online store and post on social media. It was one of the best experiences ever since I had to create a stage for the products in a local cafe and an apartment without any equipment. Creativity at its finest.
Could you tell us a little more about your travels? What's the most impactful thing you've captured when traveling abroad?
I have been to 29 countries! It's crazy to say honestly. My parents started the travel bug at a young age by taking us to Nigeria as much as possible, and taking us to visit their siblings in Europe. I started my count from those trips like 3 years ago when it crossed my mind that I had been to a good amount of places! In college, I studied abroad in England and traveled to Spain and Sweden before coming home. I think that is when the travel bug really started to take root. Going to India was my first solo trip, and I got to meet so many amazing people in my discomfort of being alone.
I'm not sure what the most impactful thing is that I've captured… I have so many photos, but I would say that my favorite set are my India photos, especially of the parents and children that came to the clinic.
Let's talk about your photo series "My Kind of Beautiful." Those photos are absolutely stunning. Could you go into a little more detail regarding the inspiration behind that shoot, and how you felt while doing it?
Thank you! It was my first major project that I directed and shot so I was so nervous! I styled and shot the whole thing in an hour and a half before rushing to make it to church. All of the women volunteered their time so I didn't want to take too much of their time (will take more next time though, for the sake of being thorough).
I was inspired after seeing the March (women's history month) cover of Vogue. There was a lack of diversity amongst the top models in the world and they did not reflect the actual world in which we live. I was irritated because I did not see anyone that reminded me of myself. The one curvy girl had her hand down on her thigh while all the other girl’s arms were up. I would hope that it wasn't intentional, but it made me feel like the curvy girl was covering herself somehow. I wanted to recreate their shoot with a diverse group of women to show that we each have our own unique beauty, that no norm is really the new norm. This first shoot I did was to show the diversity within the African diaspora, and the next that I hope to do will hopefully be a representation of the beauty in the world.
There's a strong girl-power vibe to a lot of your photos. Is this intentional?
It wasn't intentional at first. It kind of just happened, honestly. I try to say what comes to mind and lately, that has been the message. And I mean, we as women are strong amazing beings so why not?
If you could say anything to inspire young girls who may look up to you, what would it be?
You have everything you need to reach the highest of heights. If anyone tells you that you can't, ignore them and do what you need to do to succeed in whatever field you want. Nothing is off limits to you. Don't let fear keep you from achieving your dreams.
What's the best part of photography to you? What do you absolutely love about the work?
I love the ability to freeze a moment in time. You can capture everything but the sounds of that moment in a photo. Staring at a photo can take you back to that specific moment… I love the ability to elicit emotion through photos too.
Can you tell us about a time recently when you felt particularly challenged, either creatively or otherwise? When was it, and how did you persevere to overcome it?
I have so many! When I was deciding to share MKOB (My Kind of Beautiful), I was so scared. So scared that people wouldn't like the message or the photos, maybe even worried that no one would care or feel as I did. I had to literally rebuke any thought that was about anyone else but myself. I was proud of what I had done. I put my emotions and my heart into the project, and it showed. Once I believed that, I was able to share it with whoever wished to look at it regardless of the outcome.
Also, applying to medical school was rough too! My sister was applying with me and other people I know, and the comparison bug was bugging me! I again had to remind myself of the truth. I was qualified and passionate about the work, and I deserved to be a physician because my heart’s desire is to serve! Constantly reminding myself of the truth, keeping my thought positive and also, staying busy shooting helped a ton.
Could you speak a little about your career trajectory? You're pursuing a position in the medical field. What made you choose that career?
I have wanted to be a doctor since I was a little girl. For a while in college, I questioned whether or not that was my desire or if my parents had done inception before the movie came out hahaha. But I am honestly taking things one day at a time! I don't know how, but I want to merge photography with medicine and global health… maybe even consulting and being a light to other young girls and women who want to pursue creative and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers. Just waiting to see how I will be able to use all my talents! I might have to create a new career title or something!
How do you see your photography transforming as you pursue becoming a medical doctor? Do you think it will change? Why or why not?
I got two film cameras before I moved away for school. I thought it would be a good way to hone my photography skills. I think I will be shooting more film and really focusing on playing with natural light and emotions as the environments I will be in will be pretty intense whether here in the States or abroad. I hope that it will get better because the environments might be more sensitive and intense. I might not have time to do too much planning for executing my own projects for the next year or two, so it will definitely take a more commercial (I got a job shooting for my school!) or documentary-type turn.
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