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Shanelle Nyasiase, Haut, Vogue Ukraine, July 2019 (1) By Nadine Ijewere

Nadine Ijewere on shooting for Vogue and creating safe spaces

The photographer is making her mark while creating opportunities for other artists

Shanelle Nyasiase, Haut, Vogue Ukraine, July 2019

 

Nadine Ijewere is on a roll. From social media to her history-making covers of Vogue, she has carved out a career photographing non-traditional faces to showcase a new standard of beauty.  

Now, she is the recipient of the RPS Award for Editorial, Advertising and Fashion Photography. She speaks about her photographic journey, the importance of opening up opportunities for other early-career photographers, and the changing faces of the industry.

NI Azfactory 02 V1c

AZ Factory/Thebe Magugu, 2022 campaign

You’re part of The New Black Vanguard exhibition – a collection of images from 15 international black photographers – at the Saatchi Gallery, London. Tell us about that exhibition. 

It’s been touring [including stops in multiple US cities, as well as France, Qatar, and Australia], so there’s not so much prep in that sense. It’s been around for a long time, around three years, and it’s been interesting to see the work on its journey around the world. It’s been seen by so many different people in different spaces. Some of the images I have swapped out, though. 

Why did you want to change your images? 

Some of the work I made maybe four or five years ago. I’ve grown, you know, and even if there’s an image you love, when you look at it you think, ‘if I was to shoot it again, it would be in an entirely different way’ you know? I’m very self-critical when it comes to the photographs I take. I can see technical mistakes and things like that going on, and I want to show I’ve learned so much more since then. My method of doing things – the way I print or the way I frame – has changed slightly and Saatchi is such a prestigious gallery, so I wanted to show something more recent. 

You became the first woman of colour to shoot a cover for Vogue, namely the January 2019 UK edition. What was that experience like for you? 

It was such a huge thing in my career. That was my first time working with Vogue and it had always been something I’d aspired to do but I didn’t think it would happen so early. The whole process was so exciting, but it was also very nerve-racking. It’s like being thrown in at the deep end and you’ve got two celebrities and a model [pop star Dua Lipa, actor Letitia Wright and model Binx Walton] that you’re working with. I’m proud of it but I still feel a sense of being nervous when I look at it.  

As an artist, I’ve grown in confidence in what I do and so if I was to do it now, the images would be completely different. I’m never fully satisfied, I guess. I always think I could push it a little bit more. 

How does having your work being shown as part of a collective compare with having it stand alone?  

It’s nice to exist in a space where you’re part of a community as well. And also the fact I’m among all these incredible artists, and all of us are very different and telling our own individual stories, that’s what’s exciting. I don’t think there’s been a collective like this – of people working in the industry, working within fashion – and hopefully we will be for a long time to come. 

With these things, you don’t realise the extent of where they reach. I’ve had people writing to me saying ‘I saw your work and it really inspired me because I know I can have a space within the fashion industry, or I can become a photographer’. Us doing this is being part of a pipeline that has also opened a lot of doors for other artists of colour as well.  

Have you detected a major shift in the industry, in terms of opening up opportunities for black creators and creatives? 

It’s definitely been changing. What’s more important is that now you’re seeing, yes, more models of colour and diversity in front of the lens, but it’s also happening behind the lens a lot more. The editors-in-chief, the art directors, the people on the camera, the DOP, et cetera, are black people, people of colour. That means for the younger generation there is this way, there is this space. I didn’t necessarily have that.  

Things needed to change. I think we were all tired of seeing the same thing: fashion imagery not reflecting society. When I looked in a fashion magazine I saw none of the people from different backgrounds. For me, my mum and her sisters – they love fashion. My auntie and my grandma in Nigeria, they may be wearing traditional clothing but they’ll have a Gucci handbag or show, you know what I mean? But they weren’t represented. So I did that. 

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'Inside your temple', Replica Man magazine, April 2022

Congratulations on your RPS Award. Tell me a little about what that means to you and where you’re at in your career right now. 

Thank you! I’m in a space where as an artist I’m wanting to create more fashion imagery. I’m working on a studio in southeast London where I can also help or give aid to young aspiring photographers, especially photographers of colour. It’s a space they can come in to create work and experiment and try things as an artist, because photography is very expensive. 

When I started out, it was hard to access spaces and equipment and cameras, so I want to be able to give that back to the community I grew up in. 

As an artist, I’m continuing my journey and being present in it all. Having this space means I can go back to the roots and try something different. I can create and feel like I’ve got a safe space to do so without anyone judging me – I’m just shooting for me.  

7 Nadine Ijewere Untitled

'Achok Majak, the cowboy who fell to Earth', Garage magazine, September 2018

All images by Nadine Ijewere

An excerpt from the book 
Nadine Ijewere: Our Own Selves, published by Prestel, is featured in the November/December 2022 issue of the RPS Journal. The exhibition The New Black Vanguard is at Saatchi Gallery, London, until 22 January 2023.