Updated: Jul 17, 2022
This week on #TheSpotlight, we catch up with Obinna Obioma, a Nigerian-born Conceptual / Fashion Photographer, visual artist, and art director based in New York. As an artist, predominantly, his work is centered on individuality, identity, and a reflection and celebration of his African Heritage. The latter from which he draws inspiration from and also helps to carve out motifs for most of the themes of his work.
“Growing up seeing how black faces haven’t been represented adequately in MainStream media and also how African narratives are not being told accurately. I believe that it is my moral obligation to rewrite those bad connotations and narratives about black people and African stories.”
Obinna’s photography is more than just a hobby or a career. He has been featured on Vogue Italia, BBC, The Guardian amongst other major news platform. Obinna is using his photographs to convey important messages about the society and each image he creates stands as a catalyst for change.
Tell us briefly about your journey in photography. What inspired this career path and how did you find your niche?
I am an alumnus of the International Center of Photography (ICP, NYC) where I studied Photography and Art Direction, but that wasn’t always the case. I initially come from a more international Affairs background. I had my undergraduate and master's degree in international relations, diplomacy, and international law respectively.
Years later, after my formal education in England, I enrolled in YouTube University to teach myself a bit more about this art. At that time, I also had the privilege of being mentored by Photographer Henry Nwaeze and working at his photo studio as a photo intern first and then as a photographer.
After gathering crucial real-life photography experience, I decided I needed to get a degree in photography to make it “legit” and I joined ICP to study photography and art direction. As for my style, it is ever-changing and evolving.
I am a lover of portraits, fashion, and editorial photography and often found myself creating bodies of work to that effect for clients and personal work. These days I would say that my style is a merge of all these things and I call it Conceptual Narrative based Photography which is inspired by my African background and my love for storytelling.
Was the childhood dream always to become a photographer?
I always wanted to be a career diplomat who would travel the world. My inspiration to venture into photography was somewhat dormant for years. However, the seed of loving the arts was planted while I was still a child living with my parents. I was exposed to photography through my photo enthusiast father; he owned a camera at the time and would often photograph us for birthdays and other social events. I remember sneaking into his room to fiddle with the camera.
It would be years later after I graduated from university did I own my first camera. My mother had given it to me as a gift. Like most, I started off photographing plants and sunsets LOL but later found that my taste to learn more was growing and I had the craving for fashion and portrait photography.
Is photography a means for you to change something about the world? If so, what are you actively trying to change with your creativity?
I firmly believe that photography is an art and like any other art it should be a means of passing a message or addressing an issue. Growing up seeing how black faces haven’t been represented adequately in MainStream media and also how African narratives are not being told accurately. I believe that it is my moral obligation to rewrite those bad connotations and narratives about black people and African stories. Therefore, The work I create is very special and dear to me as they are not just designed for aesthetics but to pass a message.
What’s a series you shot that you loved a lot? And why?
This is a hard one because every project to me is special and dear to my heart in its way. I would say however that whenever I have the opportunity to work and collaborate with amazing and talented creatives, I treasure all those memories.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
I wish I had known to start networking earlier on in my photography journey because your net worth is your network and good work takes a village. Art, especially photography, is such a device or vehicle that can be used to speak on important issues, inspire and ultimately make a difference in this world. Work that has meaning is what matters more in photography.
Far in your photography journey, what seems to keep you going when things seem to move slowly?
I always remind myself why I started photography and why I love the art form so much. It is visual art that sparks an exchange between the artist and his viewers. The former can invite the latter into their world and see things that matter to them. I call this a visual dialogue or waltz.
When did you recognize that your career's big moment had finally come? Any accomplishments you'd like to highlight?
It’s funny because I still don’t believe my big moment has come. I still feel like I don’t know anything or have achieved anything and I must remain humble and determined to not rest on my Laurels. That being said, I am grateful for the growth and development I have seen over the years and for all the people that helped and still help me on my creative journey.
Going through your page and works one could see your transition from black and white photos, to shoots of brown-skinned females to colors and your famous, "Anyi N'aga" shoot for BBC and we're curious what was transitioning like for you? What were the various stages that prompted those transitions through your works?
I have always loved color and color photography. As for the use of black women as muses; that comes from the way black women are portrayed and overly sexualized in mainstream media. I want to show them as forces of grace, elegance, and bravado.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest work? What you're working on currently and what we should be expecting from your creativity desk?
My most recent work takes direct inspiration from my heritage of being Nigerian. The work "ŃÁÍJÀ" is a Conceptual Fashion and Art Collaboration with Filmmaker and Cinematographer Davidson Ogujiuba through Photography and Video to highlight and address some of the main Social, Economic and Political issues bedeviling “The Giant of Africa”. The work is very personal to me because I have lived through most of the themes I addressed in it. Despite all Nigeria has to offer, many - including her citizenry would argue that she has not lived up to her potential as the country is in a constant state of flux and is not changing for the better. This is our collective reality. As for future work, a few really interesting projects are in the works, but I don’t want to give too much away.
What do you want people to remember you for when they hear the name Obinna Obioma? What legacy do you hope to leave behind through your work?
I would say there are two major ways I want my work to stand the test of time. Firstly, I want my work to be a true reflection of African and by extension black excellence and bravado. Secondly, I want my work to stand for something and address core issues. I want it to be a beacon of hope and inspiration for others. I want it to start conversations because art should inspire and offend you. I also hope it inspires young creatives to champion their heritage and speak on issues that are very dear to them.
What words of wisdom would you impart to young people who look up to you and are about to venture into editorial photography or to budding artists in general?
One, Master your art. Give your all to it. You’ll have to make sacrifices from time to time, it’s all part of the journey. Two, create work that matters. Photography is an art and you should use it to say something. Aesthetically beautiful images are nice but work that matters last the tests of time.
Every photograph is special to Obinna and he believes that despite all Nigeria has to offer, many - including her citizenry would argue that she has not lived up to her potential as the country is in a constant state of flux and is not changing for the better. For his future projects, he would be working based on this notion, it promises to be inspiring and we can’t wait to see it!