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Nadine Ijewere: Our Own Selves

Industry subverting photographer Nadine Ijewere reflects on her experience launching her first-ever monograph, being the first Black woman to ever shoot a Vogue cover and the importance of celebrating diversity within fashion and media for #10, The Family Issue.

This article originally appeared in BRICKS #10, The Family Issue, which you can buy from our online store here.

WORDS Emily Phillips
Images courtesy of Nadine Ijewere

Culture-crusader, rule-breaker, image-maker; Nadine Ijewere challenges the reductive conventions within fashion and the artistic industry, framed to persecute and subdue people of colour, that have prevailed since the start – and so do her photographs.  

On October 5, 2021, came the first photobook dedicated to her exceptional mind and the imagery born from it. It’s a celebration of the uniqueness of disparate cultures through themes of identity, diversity and beauty. Titled Nadine Ijewere: Our Own Selves, the expressly powerful narrative navigates unconventional standards of beauty through a unique amalgamation of editorials, advertisements and striking film stills providing imperative insight into identity and individual human beauty. With each brilliantly staged picture and radiant composition, the 29-year-old photographer’s savoir-faire is undeniable.  

Flipping through each page packed with Nadine’s effervescent portraits, the viewer can relish in 160 images taken from her series of Jamaicans across different generations; depictions of young people defying gender norms on the streets of Lagos; editorials from her work with Vogue, and fashion photoshoots for prominent brands including Stella McCartney, Dior, Gap, Hermes, and Valentino.  

The rich imagery is accompanied by an essay and interview conducted by Dazed’s Executive Editorial Director, Lynette Nylander, whose affirming words quite perfectly capture the essence of Nadine’s work and the ascension of cultural identity that she presents with such a comforting sense of familiarity to people of colour. 

The dazzling monograph is a vibrant visual record of Nadine’s passion for challenging traditional concepts of beauty. It offers an indulgence in ornate rhetoric, sanguine sets, and the piercing gazes of her subjects, through the visceral depictions of people of colour that lay within, and the beautiful explorations of identity that stretch across the dreamy pages of Nadine Ijewere: Our Own Selves.  

Nadine discovered a love of photography in her youth and went on to study at London College of Fashion in a bid to refine her skills – and she did just that. Soon after, her work was featured in the 2016 Tate Britain Generation exhibition, followed by Unseen Amsterdam, Lagos Photo festivals and in Antwaun Sargent’s The New Black Vanguard—Photography between Art and Fashion in 2017. In 2018, Nadine made history, becoming the first Black Woman in all of Vogue’s 125-year global course of life to shoot its cover. Dua Lipa, Binx Walton, and Letitia Wright, situated on the Kentish Coast and swathed in extravagant ostrich feathers and youthful frocks seen through Nadine’s subversive lens, make the magazine’s glossy exterior.  

Boldly forging her path through the cut-throat universe of fashion photography, Nadine has secured her place at the forefront of a history-altering artistic movement. But behind the dreamlike backdrops and the breathtaking subjects sits an ambitious Black girl whose skin colour, hair texture, and body type were far from found in the pages of the magazines she grew up reading. But with every click of her camera, she becomes increasingly sought-after for her work championing diversity.  

Raised in an eclectic culture concocted from her Nigerian and Jamaican roots alongside her South East London upbringing, Nadine’s groundbreaking imagery draws from the experiences of her youth and her heritage. Her veins overflow with artistry as she stands to deconstruct industry stereotypes and its notoriously white-washed, Eurocentric standards while paving a path toward genuine representation and equal opportunities for all those who tread after her.  

“This book is an insight into my journey thus far, it is a book about women,” she says. “My work has always had underlying themes of identity and diversity, celebrating our differences, reframing what beauty has stereotypically been and creating a space to elevate women of colour.” 

Prior to its release, we spoke to Nadine for a captivating conversation delving deep into what drives her and inspires her, the significance of her achievement shooting a Vogue cover and her advice to next-gen image-makers.  

Garage Magazine x Swarovski
Selena Forest, Moment of Clarity, British Vogue, September 2020
Love Buzz, Nataal, June 2019

Hey Nadine! Can you tell us a bit about how your Nigerian and Jamaican heritage influences how you see the world and how it seeps into your work?

The Nigerian and Jamaican communities influence my work and the person that I am. There is nothing more powerful than the love that resides within close communities. An important journey for me was going to both Nigeria and Jamaica; one similarity I found on my many trips to these places was a strong sense of community, a warm welcoming energy. I embody this positivity and togetherness in my work because it’s beautiful to see this type of love. It’s also important to continue to chip away at the stereotypes that have been constructed over time. For a long time, Black people have been put down by the media. I think it’s important for people to gather their own point of view from real experiences. I am who I am because of the people around me.  

What are you searching for in your work? What do you want to capture?

There are a few things. First and most importantly it is being able to dictate the narrative, photography is a powerful tool and we should be able to tell our own stories. For many years imagery has been used to spread hate and negativity against people of colour. Capturing the true beauty of my people is important to me. Celebrating these people for who they are and inviting the world to see the real us.  

I want to create more references. When I think of young girls happy seeing themselves within my work, this is what it is for. I want these you girls to feel happy seeing themselves captured so beautifully. Finding different ways to capture a person’s beauty appeals to me very much so. I like to approach my subjects from different angles, the whole time paying attention to how they look from these distorted perspectives; it is a search for many different beautiful moments. 

For many years, imagery has been used to spread hate and negativity against people of colour. Capturing the true beauty of my people is important to me, celebrating these people for who they are and inviting the world to see the real us.  

Nadine Ijewere

I’ve noticed that much of your work shares a vibrant, highly saturated palette; I was wondering if anything in particular draws you to these shades?

I love the warmth you get from these colours. It is wholesome; it is inviting; it is bright and exciting but soft at the same time. It correlates with my subjects and the energy I am trying to capture with my work. I shoot a lot of people of colour; we are vibrant and I feel that the palette I use best captures this.  

What led you to want to publish a book in a world where digital forms of exhibition dominate? 

When I was contacted by Prestel, my publisher, I wasn’t thinking of doing a book at the time. In fact, though I’ve always wanted to do one, I thought it would be way in the future – perhaps a retrospective or something. Initially, I thought I couldn’t do it because I didn’t feel I had enough of a career yet, but I was also excited; excited to have my images in a space collectively.  

For me printed work will always reign superior over digital. The different papers that can be used, the depth of colour, the texture, is just much more magical. I also love to switch off from a screen and pick up a book.  

I have always bought photography books – I have quite the collection – so it’s surreal knowing that I now have my own.  

In terms of the photographs, I wanted to include projects I have loved working on, projects that for me celebrated beauty, identity and the underlying themes of my work. This book is dedicated to us. 

Which image or collection of images are you most proud of that is included in the book? Why and can you tell us the story behind those images?

In 2019, I shot a campaign for Nina Ricci. I went to the Dominican Republic which was somewhere I had never been before. On arrival and throughout the trip, despite being so far away from home, I felt like I was at home the entire time. That familiar feeling of love within the communities was so powerful.  

I shot a mixture of models and street cast people all from the Dominican Republic. I had so much creative freedom with this project, so I just immersed myself in it and found my references along the way. I wanted to translate the love and energy within the community while also focusing on the fashion. The end result felt almost like a documentary-style editorial rather than an ad campaign. I absolutely loved and adored all of the people I met. Everyone should go to the DR.  

Kith & Kin
WSJ Magazine, September 2020


Cuba Project

You say that this is a book about women. What do you want it to say about women and why are you drawn to female subjects? 

It’s important to me to photograph female subjects, especially women of colour because for so long there hasn’t been enough representation, or the representation that has been present hasn’t been the most positive. Growing up I always wanted to see pictures of people that looked like the women I grew up around within fashion imagery and to see them celebrated. I am so glad that I have been able to do that and show that beauty and fashion doesn’t consist of one type of woman. I want to celebrate women in general. 

You include your series of Jamaicans across different generations – why was it the Jamaican community you particularly wanted to photograph? 

Being Jamaican and born in London I want to continue to explore my people. The Jamaican community is important to me. Growing up I would look to my mum, my aunts, my uncles and friends; their strong sense of community, energy, and love was always present. Now that I am older it’s interesting to pay attention to the current generation, the older and the younger. It’s also important to continue to chip away at the stereotypes that have been constructed over time. Jamaica is a small island but has had such an amazing influence on the world. Despite this, there is still a lot of negative representation. For me, it is about positively representing my people and their greatness.  

Your photographs of young people defying gender norms on the streets of Lagos are especially expressive in the narrative they portray. What about defying gender norms, in Lagos especially, felt important for you to capture?

A lot of people from the older generations are very much fixed in their ways. The world has been changing for some time and the younger generations are not afraid to go against what society expects of them. When visiting Lagos I immediately saw the vibrancy of the younger generation. The fashion dismissed what is expected and blurred the lines between gender. It was important for me to capture this, especially in a country that can be quite rigid with its views in this area.  

In this day and age, global industries should be represented by global teams.  

Nadine Ijewere

So you were the first woman of colour to shoot the cover of any Vogue in the magazine’s 125-year global history. What was that like for you? 

Surreal is the perfect word to describe the experience. It was an honour to be asked to shoot a cover by Edward Enninful for British Vogue. I didn’t realise the extent of what it would mean at the time. Shooting a Vogue cover is huge within this industry.  As much as I loved shooting these covers there is so much more to come from it. I hope it encourages more people of colour to pick up a camera – women in particular. I hope it has helped open the door for more people of colour. Shooting a Vogue cover was definitely a dream of mine which I am really grateful to have achieved. I continue to and love working with the publication. 

However, what does it make you feel to be celebrated for something that should be considered normal and is honestly just the bare minimum the magazine could do? 

I’ve thought about this a lot. Yes, it should be considered normal and should have happened a long time ago. Hopefully, we are moving towards a world with no more firsts – everyone should be included. All of that said, I am still happy this is being celebrated. It is a great achievement and a step forward for the magazine and will encourage generations to come.  

You’ve relentlessly defied traditional beauty standards & societal norms in your work by casting your own models. What do you look for when casting muses? 

I don’t limit myself or exclude anyone, but at the same time, I do look to photograph people of colour due to the lack of representation and inclusion.

People of colour are often relegated to perform as tropes and symbols within fashion imagery. What do you do to disrupt these norms?

As I said before I think it is important to be able to dictate the narrative, which is another reason I hope more people of colour take up photography and film, so these stereotypes are not reinforced. It’s important for us to tell our own stories the way we want them to be told.   

How do you feel about the expectation that is put on Black people and people of colour to come up with solutions to make our industry, and society at large, more diverse and inclusive?

I don’t feel like the responsibility should fall on Black people and people of colour. It is the responsibility of the majority to push diversity, which is (and, for most of the time, has been) white people. It is important for Black people and people of colour to be behind the scenes and involved in all aspects of the industry too. We need more of it. In this day and age, global industries should be represented by global teams.  

I want everyone to be seen in my work. More so the people of colour that have never been represented. I want to kick down as many doors as I can, I want the younger generation to follow, for one day I hope the industry will be an even playing ground. 

Nadine Ijewere

Do you feel a certain responsibility for the young generation as a catalyst for change, representation and diversity in fashion?

I do. When I started taking photos I just wanted to enjoy shooting. It was normal to me to shoot people that looked like me. But from early on I was very aware of the lack of diversity within fashion. This drove me to create more references and push diversity. I want everyone to be seen in my work. More so the people of colour that have never been represented. I want to kick down as many doors as I can, I want the younger generation to follow, for one day I hope the industry will be an even playing ground. Ultimately everyone should be seen within fashion; everyone should feel beautifully represented. I hope that the younger generations are encouraged to get involved and push for diversity and inclusivity. One day there will be no need for kicking or pushing.  

What advice would you give to next-gen photographers whose dream is to shoot a Vogue cover, especially to people of colour? 

I think the most important thing is to have patience. It takes time to get what you want in this industry, but what you want will also undoubtedly change along the way. Every part of your journey is important, so don’t forget to take stock. Take a moment to appreciate yourself and the people around you. Those around you are an essential part of your journey – you are just one link in the chain. Never give up on your dreams no matter what they are, if your dream is to shoot a Vogue cover go for it, but make sure you take pride in all the publications you shoot for along the way. This goes for brands too. There will be brands you dream to shoot for – follow that dream, just don’t discredit the brands you will work with that aren’t on your dream list. Creating beautiful imagery and giving it your all on every shoot you do should be your goal. You will be surprised years later what your favourite shoots ended up being.     

Finally, what’s next for you?

I hope to travel and do another personal project in the near future. 

Nadine Ijewere: Our Own Shelves is published in hardback by Prestel on 5th October. Available from Prestel, Amazon, Bookshop.org, Hive, Blackwells and Waterstones. RRP £39.99 

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