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Nadine Ijewere first Black Woman to shoot a Vogue cover: new book challenges fashion stereotypes

Nadine Ijewere first Black Woman to shoot a Vogue cover: new book challenges fashion stereotypes

160 vibrant, groundbreaking, stylish portraits of beautiful black women that challenge the stereotypes in the fashion industry….

London photographer Nadine Ijewere’s stunning new book (published by Prestel on 7th September) which shines a light on her own experiences as a young black woman in Southeast London whose skin colour, hair, and body type were nowhere to be found in the pages of magazines.

Nadine Ijewere has worked with #Dior, Hermes, Nina Ricci, Valentino, Vogue, The Wall Street Journal, and Garage Magazine. Her work was featured in the 2016 Tate Britain Generation exhibition at the 2017 Unseen Amsterdam and Lagos Photo festivals, and in Antwaun Sargent’s The New Black Vanguard—Photography between Art and Fashion. Ijewere received the 2020 ICP Infinity Award: Applied for her first solo exhibition Tallawah.

Nadine Ijewere is at the forefront a history-changing artistic movement and became the first black woman to shoot the cover of Vogue in the magazine’s 125-year global history, when she photographed Dua LipaBinx Walton, and Letitia Wright on the Kentish coast in 2018. Her photography draws on her roots in Nigeria and Jamaica, and showcases her ground-breaking work in deconstructing the industry’s stereotypes with her stylish portraits that champion the diversity of models.

Inside the book: Nadine Ijewere  Our Own Selves

Tell us about your new book and how it came about?  How did you choose which photographs to include?

I was contacted by the 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 into the future perhaps a retrospective or something – initially at first I thought I couldn’t do it because I didn’t feel like I’d had enough of a career yet but I was also excited – excited to have my images in a space collectively . In terms of the photographs, I wanted to include projects I have loved working on , projects that for me celebrated beauty and identity and displayed the underlying themes of my work best 

When did you fall in love with photography: How did this evolve into a career?

I actually was going to pursue a career in medicine but alongside the science and math subjects at a level , I decided to take photography alongside it . I loved it ! It was all. Analogue working with film

And printing images in the darkroom – I guess it was the process for me and the patience you needed to have especially in such a digital world where everything is so fast . You really needed to think about your shot as it was limited to the amount of frames you have on the film . I also loved the excitement of when you got your film reel back . From there I knew I wanted to do something that revolved around taking pictures – I guess I was drawn to more portraiture which evolved into fashion I then Studied at LCF and worked on personal projects which I would share on my early social media platforms from there I just started to get work and thought maybe I can make this into something ! 

Who and/or what influences your work and the person you are today? 

Communities influence my work and the person that I am. There’s 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. 

Describe your photography style? 

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 subjects 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. 

What is it about capturing people through photography that appeals to you? 

There are a few things. First and most importantly its being able to dictate the narrative. 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’s its for. 

Finding different ways to capture a person’s beauty appeals to me very much so. 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. 

What advice would you give to a budding photographer and/or someone starting out in a career in the fashion industry?

Have patience, it takes time and what you think you want from this industry will change along the way. Every part of your journey is important, don’t forget to take stock. Take a moment to appreciate yourself and the people around you. The people around you are an essential part of your journey, you are just one link in the chain. 

Your photography pushes the representations of black women, why is this important to you? 

It’s important to me because I think 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 celebrated . I’m so glad that I have been able to do that and show that beauty / fashion doesn’t consist of one type of woman

What was it like to be the first Black women to shoot a Vogue cover in its 125-year history?  

Surreal, it was definitely an honour to be asked to shoot a cover by Edward Enniful at the same time I didn’t realise the extent of what it would mean – for me shooting a Vogue cover was huge within my industry but attaching history to that was a whole different level I guess . I hope there are many more to come though! 

Tell us about one of your favourite project/shoots to date? 

In 2019 I shot a campaign for Nina Ricci. I went to the Dominican Republic somewhere I’ve never been before. On arrival and throughout the trip although 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 casted people all from DR. I had so much creative freedom with this shot, I just immersed myself within and found my references along the way. I wanted to translate the love and energy within the community whilst 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. 

What has been your most challenging project/shoot?

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In 2019 I did a story for US Vogue in Jamaica. We had two days to shoot. Imagine being in Jamaica at the most beautiful location, the weather is perfect, the models are ready, hair, makeup and styling look absolutely amazing, everyone’s energy is incredible. All of a sudden like a flick of light switch the sky goes from sunny blue to black and stormy. It’s literally a thunderstorm, so we have to retreat to the bus and wait it out. The weather isn’t giving at all, time is running out and we have a lot to shoot. The mood did drop, I even cried, but together as a team we uplifted each other, and we started to drive around the island chasing good weather. It took a long time, but we found pockets of better weather. We literally had to jump out the van, look around find the spot and go for it before the storm came back. The next day we got up extra early to make the most of a clear morning it needed up being a great last day. Despite all of the disruptions the shoot turned out to be beautiful. I love to shoot on location, but unpredictable weather can make it really challenging. The Material Vales shoot for reminded me of the rules of life, nothing is guaranteed, things can change instantly but when times are tough or you find yourself in a difficult situation, do your best to be around positive people and spread positivity. 

What is the difference between a good fashion image and an iconic fashion image? 

I think an iconic image is one that stands the test of time no ? I think that’s why we are so drawn to fashion imagery from the 90s for example I also think we are bombarded by so much imagery everyday whereas before we could really appreciate imagery because were weren’t surrounded by it constantly scrolling 

What equipment do you use?

I mainly shoot analogue Mamiya RZ67 pro IID  65mm 50mm lens. Hand held, never a tripod. 

What do you like most about your job? 

Creating the images of course but it’s not just that it’s the community on set the energy and the vibe . The people you work with can  become your friends and it’s the buzz of being on set and creating together that I love or when you go away for shoots it’s such an adventure ! 

How have you found the past year and a half during the COVID pandemic?

Initially the first lockdown was okay to go through, but I did find the last winter lockdown tough mentally – it left me and I know many others in the state of what’s the point not feeling inspired by anything and feeling like life is on the same loop – it can really affect you .

What is has taught me is that it’s okay to slow down and not need to do everything and not need to go through it all so fast but to enjoy the present moment . It’s also taught me to balance things more work and self-care . I think it’s quite easy in my industry to get swept up in it all and be on a constant drive the more we do the more successfully we are but I think that’s not necessarily true and taking a step back to evaluate is super important . 

What’s next for you?

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