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Nadine Ijewere, Our Own Selves (2021)
Nadine Ijewere, Our Own Selves (2021)Photography Nadine Ijewere. Courtesy of Prestel

Nadine Ijewere is the photographer reframing exclusory notions of beauty

A new monograph, Nadine Ijewere: Our Own Selves, traces the career of the groundbreaking British fashion photographer whose distinctive, dazzling work celebrates diversity

In an ocular world saturated with images, visibility is powerful and who gets to be seen and how they’re represented is a very live and potent issue. Everything is propaganda. In the words of curator and art critic Aindrea Emelife, “What we see is political. Taking up space is resistance.” 

As the first woman of colour to shoot a cover for Vogue, Nadine Ijewere’s work amplifies the presence of her community. The London-born fashion photographer draws on her roots in Nigeria and Jamaica to create images that expand the narrow cultural repertoire of how society at large perceives beauty, reappropriating the power that comes with beauty and visibility. 

Nadine Ijewere: Our Own Selves, published by Prestel, is the new book presenting the work of a photographer who consistently strives to raise the collective consciousness. Deconstructing and dismantling the fashion industry’s persistent stereotypes and reframing notions of beauty are concepts that run through all aspects of Ijewere’s creative process. The British photographer often uses non-models, street-casting distinctive individuals from beyond the industry’s exclusory conventions.

Determined to take control of the narrative, Ijewere eschewed the idea of working her way up through the ranks as a photographer’s assistant – the traditional trajectory – and instead decided she didn’t want her focus to be shifted or her style encroached upon by a more established photographer’s influence. Instead, she chose to hone her skills in her spare time, taking pictures of friends and gradually building up a portfolio of stunning portraits from which she began being offered commercial work. This uncompromising approach resonates throughout her work. Featuring an essay by Dazed’s executive editorial director, Lynette Nylander, Our Own Selves is a dazzling monograph celebrating diversity, non-conformity, and multiplicity. 

Take a look at the gallery above for a glimpse of some of the images from Our Own Selves. Below, we talk to Nadine Ijewere about exploring new angles on beauty, the power of photography, and exploding the fashion industry’s rigid stereotypes. 

Please could you talk us through some of the overarching themes in your work?  

Nadine Ijewere: My work celebrates my community and communities that are not often represented. I would like to say my style is quite fluid, I always work handheld so I can move freely with my subjects. I often look to capture natural movement and real emotion, I try and capture the subject’s personality. I love group shots the most because when the subjects bond and forget they are on a shoot, you can really capture the love and energy. 

You’ve explored gender really beautifully, especially in projects such as 9-ja_17 with Dazed’s editor-in-chief, Ibrahim Kamara. In what ways have you observed attitudes towards gender changing in different parts of the world? And what are your hopes for the future of gender? 

Nadine Ijewere: Being a woman of colour in any industry comes with its challenges. We live in a male-dominated world, it is also a white-dominated world. Navigating this world as a Black woman is not easy. All of that said, women – women of colour in particular – keep pushing. Even if you have to work five times harder, keep pushing. It is possible, just don’t be discouraged by the disappointments along the way. The more of us that push through the better. Once we push through the door, one can only hope that it will eventually be held open. 

It’s equally problematic and important in other genres. There are countless examples where women struggle to get the same recognition and reward as their male counterparts. There are countless examples where women of colour struggle to get the same recognition and reward as their white female counterparts. Hopes for the future... an even playing field, as I have said time and time again.  

It’s important to be able to dictate the narrative. Which is another reason I hope more people of colour take up photography and film. For many years, imagery has been used to spread hate and negativity, primarily against people of colour. It’s important for us to tell our own stories the way we want them to be told. 

Capturing the true beauty of these people is important to me. If I am documenting people outside of my immediate community, it’s important for me to have people from that community involved in the process. When shooting people of colour, I ensure they are captured at their best. It is fundamental that I work with hair and make-up teams that understand and know how to work with Black hair and skin. There are still so many hair and make-up artists that only know how to work with European features. The lighting has to be right, there is lots to consider. Most importantly of all, the message. 

“It’s important for us to tell our own stories the way we want them to be told” – Nadine Ijewere

Your images disrupt and dismantle so many harmful stereotypes. What was it about fashion imagery particularly that felt like the right medium in which to express your ideas?

Nadine Ijewere: Photography is a powerful tool. For many years imagery has been used to spread hate and negativity, primarily against people of colour. Capturing the true beauty of these people is important to me. Celebrating these people for who they are and inviting the world to see the real us. When I think of young girls seeing themselves in my work and feeling happy, this is what it’s for.

I feel that your images are incredibly joyful and convey optimism. Do you agree? And what brings you joy and hope?

Nadine Ijewere: I would like to believe they are joyful. Finding different ways to capture a person’s beauty appeals to me very much. I’m not massively into straight-ups, I like to approach my subjects from different angles the whole time paying attention to how they look from these distorted perspectives. It’s a search for many different beautiful moments. 

Nadine Ijewere: Our Own Shelves is published in hardback by Prestel and is available now