‘Cuba project, 2018’ from Our Own Selves
Nadine Ijewere was the first Black woman to shoot a cover for Vogue magazine when she photographed Dua Lipa, Binx Walton and Letitia Wright in 2018.
The photographer, who honed her craft at the London College of Fashion, counts Dior, Hermes, Nina Ricci and Valentino among her commercial clients. Her photographs featured in the 2016 Tate Britain Generation exhibition, the Unseen Amsterdam and Lagos photo festivals in 2017, and in Antwaun Sargent’s landmark 2019 book The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion.
Her work, commercial and personal, is inspired by her roots in Nigeria and Jamaica, and by her experiences as a young Black woman in London whose skin colour, and hair and body type, were absent from the pages of magazines.
“My work has always had underlying themes of identity and diversity, ,” says Ijewere, “celebrating our differences, reframing what beauty has stereotypically been and creating a space to elevate women of colour.”
In an extract from the photographer’s first monograph, Lynette Nylander, executive editorial director of style magazine Dazed, pays tribute to this trailblazer.
I remember clearly the first time I came across Nadine Ijewere’s work.
As a young editor, I had become disillusioned and disappointed. Diversity had become a buzzword that was being peddled for relevancy but I felt it had little effect. While conversation felt progressive around who was in front of the camera, little conversation ever dwelled on those who worked on actually making fashion images. I had observed that the stylists creating the sartorial language, the editors deciding the message, and of course the photographer – who is tasked with producing a timely but lasting image of beauty and allure – went under the radar whenever a model was of colour. I wondered who, what and when would ever lead the change.
Ijewere’s image was of a young Black woman calmly sitting amongst an array of greenery and gazing directly into the camera. It was a photo that was part of the series The Misrepresentation of Representation, a title which encapsulated exactly how I had been feeling in one simple and powerful statement. It asked, in short, why are we making images, for whom and what are they meant to stand for?
Even from this initial image, you could see all the potential of a wonderful picture-maker in the making, one who undoubtedly had ‘the eye’. I saw a beautiful consideration of light and composition and colour, but what struck me and continues to strike me about Ijewere’s work is the comforting sense of familiarity.
Hers are images that tell stories about people you know, or that you want to know. The stories of the women who raised me. Mothers, sisters, aunties and friends. The happiness, joy and warmth that can be missing from contemporary fashion images are abundantly free-flowing through Ijewere’s work. She carefully considers the symbiotic relationship between her own point of view and her subject, and with it something magical happens with every click of her camera.
A woman photographing a woman is a beautiful thing; a Black woman photographing other Black women is beautiful and validating. Ijewere is acutely aware of the need to celebrate the majesty of Black hair, Black skin and Black faces.
This is not to say she doesn’t do justice to people of all skin tones, but the presence of Black women in her photographs makes for a potent freedom of expression. As a fellow Black woman – whose beauty is often miscommunicated as otherness – that feels affirming and an ascension of our cultural identity.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that Ijewere’s first monograph, Our Own Selves, has come relatively early in her career. Culture has finally caught up with her work. Ijewere has often been the ‘first’ to shoot a lot of milestones as a Black female photographer, but to categorise her in such binary terms feels like a waste of her individualism and identity.
I instead ask myself: what is next, and, more interestingly, what will it look like? How will Ijewere’s insight set a standard for what one sees and how one sees it?
This is an edited extract from the monograph Our Own Selves by Nadine Ijewere, published by Prestel on 5 October 2021.
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Image credits, clockwise from top: ‘Cuba project, 2018’; ‘Nina Ricci, Spring Summer, 2020’; ‘The cowboy who fell to Earth, 2018’; ‘Love buzz, 2019’; ‘Haut, 2019’; ‘Moment of clarity, 2020’; ‘Love adorned, 2019’; ‘Family values, 2020’; ‘Cuba project, 2018’. All images from Our Own Selves by Nadine Ijewere.