Nadine Ijewere, Our Own Selves

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Prestel Publishing (here). Hardcover (24×28 cm), 192 pages, with 160 color photographs. Includes an essay by Lynette Nylander and an interview with the artist. Design by Delali Ayivi, Precious Opara and Magalie Vaz. (Cover and distribute the plans below.)

Comments/Background: the London-born fashion photographer Nadine Ijewere focuses her practice on expanding the notion of beauty, exploring overlooked facets of identity, sexuality and gender. She creates images that she feels were missing from her surroundings, having grown up as a young black woman in south-east London in the 1990s. Her photographs are also deeply influenced by her Nigerian and Jamaican heritage, and the diversity people she works with powerfully deconstructs many of the fashion industry’s long-held stereotypes.

Today, Ijewere is part of an art movement that is changing history. In 2018, she became the first woman of color to grace the cover of British vogue (in the magazine’s 125-year global history). A year later, his work was included in the landmark group exhibition “The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion” curated by Antwaun Sargent (revised here). She is also a recipient of a 2020 ICP award, and last year she completed her British vogue blanket with American blanket vogue. She is part of a growing cohort of black photographers (Tyler Mitchell, Arielle Bobb-Willis, Dana Scruggs and Adrienne Raquel to name a few) who are expanding the representation of black culture in all its richness and diversity.

our own self is Ijewere’s first photo book. It presents an overview of his work, covering the period between 2018 and 2021. our own self is a hardcover book with a simple design and few surprises. A photograph of a young woman from the #FutureStartsNow campaign (taken for Nina Ricci) is inserted on the cover, taking up most of the available space; the light pink color of the model’s outfit softly matches the fabric cover. The book includes a short introduction by Lynette Nylander (the Executive Editorial Director of Dizzy), followed by Nylander’s interview with the artist. The credits list at the very end of the book provides details of her various projects, as well as the publications that commissioned them and the teams of people who worked with Ijewere (makeup, hair, set design, styling, casting etc.) for create the looks.

The monograph includes a range of editorial works by Ijewere shot for vogue, Seduce, Garage mgazine, and WSJ as well as fashion shoots for Nina Ricci, Stella McCartney, Dior, Gap, Hermes and Valentino. As seen here, her vibrant portraits seamlessly blend elements of fashion and fine art photography. Ijewere often casts models herself (through her circles, on the streets, or via Instagram) to ensure the people she photographs reflect her vision. She also intentionally works with makeup artists familiar with different skin colors and hair types, focusing on embracing and showcasing their distinctive features. These choices help create elegant, joyful photographs that deliberately reframe ideals of beauty and uplift women of color.

The book opens with a horizontal image of a model wearing an oversized shirt floating in water, and it immediately shows Ijewere’s unconventional and graceful approach to fashion campaigns. A few spreads further, we see five barefoot men in suits on the beach holding banana leaves, and as their heads are cut off frame, we can feel the energy, movement, and elegance they share. Ijewere often creates movement by placing parts of his models out of the picture, or by rotating the camera angle to twist the compositions. The vertical shot across the spread of the men in suits is a close-up of their heads huddled together. This juxtaposition creates an unexpected pairing, filled with visual dynamism and excitement.

Bursts of warm colors, patterns, textures and movement bring out many of Ijewere’s images. A photo from a “One Flew Over the Couture’s Nest” shoot shows a model in a yellow tank dress beaded with ostrich feathers against a heather blue background, while another image captures a model in a long bright cocktail dress, as she rests on a Fence of concrete pillars near the Eiffel Tower. Ijewere’s photographs also celebrate a range of sexuality, including various expressions of femininity and masculinity. An androgynous model with beautiful long hair and large flowery earrings is photographed in a suit against a yellow background, and appears again in a nearby group photo, showing young city dwellers dressed in sleek white; part of the series titled What Onda?, these photographs were taken in Mexico for Garage Magazine.

The last section of the book presents the personal work of Ijewere. Her “Tallawah” series celebrates the hairstyles of Jamaican women across different generations, and the images were produced in collaboration with hairstylist Jawara Wauchope during the artist’s first trip back to Jamaica. One plate begins with a portrait of a confident young woman standing against a purple wall with palm fronds beside her; her dress mimics the patterns of the Jamaican flag and her hair is shaped like a bulbous flower using light streaks and colors. Across the spread, a man’s dreadlock hair has been decorated with colorful beads and smiley face pins. The very last photograph in the series (and the book) shows a woman seated by the ocean, seen from behind; this moment seems calmer, as if the artist was taking the time to reflect.

This monograph comes relatively early in Ijewere’s career, outlining his initial journey as an artist and his origins. As a complete body of work, his photographs are fresh and lively, filled with exuberant joyful colors, unexpected textures and fierce looks, all to celebrate individual human beauty and diversity. Her dynamic and innovative portraits of black women also challenge prevailing stereotypes in the fashion industry, showing that everyone is welcome. It all seems intentional and directed, in an ongoing effort to control the representation of the black community and appropriately celebrate race, beauty and gender within one’s own culture.

Collector’s point of view: Nadine Ijewere is represented by CLM Agency in London (here). His work has yet to find its way to secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for interested collectors to follow.

Leave a Comment