Chinwe is a self-taught photographer whose works are mainly influenced by African culture and history. In this interview, she talks about what triggers her art, leaving Nigeria, and more. Excerpts:
You describe yourself as a self-taught photographer. How did it all begin for you?
Photography began for me a year ago through blogging. I am the founder of lifestyle blog, which covers pop culture, from art to fashion, travel and lifestyle. I also curate photojournalistic features on hotels and destinations on my blog. I got into photography shooting with my iPhone to make portraits of people around me. My interest in portraiture started randomly, by taking pictures of family, friends and strangers and later on got a Nikon DSLR Camera.
You were born in England and then spent some years in Nsukka and then back to London, England. How would you say these changes shaped your career path?
My time in Nsukka was more based on my academics, being the daughter of a University Lecturer. So, when I moved back to London, I had more freedom to express myself in the arts. I guess my time in Nigeria held back my artistic tendencies and bloomed when I moved back to London.
What themes do you love exploring in your work?
I love exploring the themes of identity, African diaspora, heritage and representation. My photography champions the African culture and celebrates the African identity. I love the randomness of taking a photograph of someone I come across. I am always searching for interesting faces and special light situations. My portraits are characterised by a clear visual language and the power of showing raw emotions.
How has your recent past shaped the kind of stories you prefer to tell?
My passion for African culture and history has helped to shape my stories through my photographs. My mother and late grandfather influenced me as historians.
Your photography focuses on contemporary African culture. How has it been received so far, both in Nigeria and abroad?
It has been received very well. CNN featured me as one of the leading African heroine women photographers you should be following. I was nominated for RPS 100 heroines by the Royal Photographic Society Great Britain. I won an honourable mention award in the people portrait category in International Photography Awards New York.
My photographs will be published in African Lens Publication Volume 5 April 2019, a publication and photobook that showcases and shares the diverse stories of Africa and shines light on the beauty, rich and diverse culture of Africa.
An exhibition in South Africa and Ghana will be happening later in the year.
The highlight was being awarded a fellow at the Royal Society of Arts in light of my contribution to the arts through photography last year.
Last year you won the 2018 fellow at Royal Society of Arts (RSA). Kindly share that experience and its impact on your career?
I was awarded a fellow at the Royal Society of Arts in light of my contribution to the arts through photography. Its an honour to be a fellow of a respectable society whose past members and present members include Benjamin Franklin, Charles Dickens. Marie Curie, Stephen Hawking, Adam Smith and Karl Max. The impact of being a fellow at the Royal Society of Arts provides me with so many opportunities, from connecting with a powerful network to leaders with expertise from within the fellowship, and also the support from the RSA.
How has your passion for fashion, food, travel and pop culture influenced the visual stories you tell so far?
I have been fortunate to do a bit of travelling in my life. With a huge passion for fashion, food, travel and pop culture I have come to the realisation of what the world around me is like. Photography is a great excuse to engage with the culture you are visiting.
Some of your portraits include that of a royal guard at the Emir of Zaria’s palace in Kaduna State. Did you travel to the northern part of Nigeria with the singular aim of taking the photograph? What’s the back story?
I travelled to Zaria with the intended aim of taking a portrait of the Emir of Zazzau, Zaria Emirate and I was mesmerised by the Royal Guards, the architecture of the palace and the culture, and that’s how I captured the Royal Guards.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a few projects at the moment which I can’t divulge right now but it will involve exhibitions in the UK and Nigeria.