Meet self-taught Nigerian photographer Uche Ibemere. Born into a creative family of artists and designers in which his love of art was encouraged, citing his uncle's artist projects from art school as what first peaked his interest. Uche describes his early drawings of comic characters and superheroes as his way to "escape from the toxic atmosphere of public school in Nigeria".
Eventually progressing to photography, Uche's photographic series 'Life in Lagos' has just been released on the marketplace.
Pictured: Uche Ibemere
How did you get into photography?
I have a lot of friends who are into blogging, and some are still doing that. They used to ask me to come and take photos of them for their blogs and articles. I found out that hours or even moments before taking a picture, I would see a vision of how the angles and images would look. Thankfully, they also sent mood boards as well which I used to help guide me through the process. I would say that that was one of my first introductions to photography. The reviews I used to get after taking those pictures were always really nice. All of that really pushed me to explore photography.
I used to be on the roads a lot where there were so many activities going on around me which would catch my eye. I could see someone holding a cigarette having a conversation with somebody, and I would picture how great it would be to actually freeze that moment in time.
How would you describe your photographic style?
All my work is based on documentary and portraiture. There’s something about freezing a moment in time that is actually very fulfilling for me. I don’t go beyond those names, I just tend to take pictures without people knowing or taking portraits. That’s my style.
What is it about your travels across West Africa that inspires you?
Like I said, I’m a very curious person. The first time I travelled down to Ghana, it was a very impulsive decision. My friend sponsored the trip. He told me the day before we left, and luckily for me I had my passport, so I packed my bags and left the next day. I like to experience life from different perspectives and points of view. I enjoy learning about food, cultures that are different from mine, and traditions. I feel like there’s so much to learn during my trips.
The version of me that goes on those trips is a version that’s very different from who I am because I tend to shift my personal state. I become a very open-minded person ready to explore different environments. I try to engage in meaningful conversations with whoever I meet because you never know what you’re going to learn from a conversation. It’s better as opposed to sitting in one place and reading. Reading something that someone else has gone through or experienced doesn’t sit right with me. I like to experience things for myself.
Your latest series ‘Life in Lagos’ was created during the Lockdown in 2020, how did you find the creative process, and how did it differ to taking photographs before the pandemic?
I suffer from bronchitis, so I usually have breathing problems and so a lot of pressure came with the lockdowns. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really go out and document the happenings of the time. You know, essential workers, people with their masks on, and everything else. Twenty years from now, our kids will want to know what it was like for us going through Covid times.
My photographer friends were all out on the road doing so many things, whilst I was alone at home. So, I got really curious. I started to notice how closely knit our community was. I really experienced the power of community, and how people went ahead with their daily lives throughout it all in spite of everything.
Out of all your photos from your latest series, which is your favourite and why?
The Brother Love portrait because it was a totally unplanned photo, and those are the kind of photos that I like. Two brothers had just come out of the shower when I took the photo and were sharing the same towel. It was such a nice moment; I was really grateful that I take pictures with my iPhone because it meant that I was fully ready to capture that specific moment in time. It was really unplanned, and quite intimate at the same time.
For us guys, it can really be cold for us being the only male child in the African household. Girls are given more love and attention, and so seeing that between the two brothers, it was a very rare moment.
In your opinion, what is the most rewarding thing about being a photographer?
I would say that I sometimes see photographers as a kind of mini-god, because we have this ability to freeze special moments in time in which people then get to look at them and say, "how could you have imagined this to be possible?"
As a self-taught photographer yourself, what advice would you give to someone looking to get into photography?
I would say stay true to yourself, be open-minded, and discover which niche of photography you want to explore. I would also say, be open to doing internships with photographers who they respect and who are doing things that they hope to be doing in the future. Bringing your head down and being humble to learn.
Where do you see yourself as a photographer in 5 years?
I’m not going to lie, I’m living one of my futures right now: having my work on sale internationally, having my prints in the US and other places. However, I wish to eventually be exhibiting my work internationally and getting more recognition.
keep up with Uche on Instagram @byakinyele.