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 spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: The London-born fashion photographer Nadine Ijewere focuses her practice on expanding the notion of beauty, by exploring overlooked facets of identity, sexuality, and gender. She creates images that she says were missing from her environment, growing up a young Black woman in southeast London in the 1990s. Her photographs are also deeply informed by her Nigerian and Jamaican heritage, and the diversity of the people she works with powerfully deconstructs many of the fashion industry’s long-standing stereotypes.

Today Ijewere is part of history changing artistic movement. In 2018, she became the first woman of color to shoot the cover for British Vogue (in the magazine’s 125-year global history). A year later, her work was included in the landmark group show “The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion” curated by Antwaun Sargent (reviewed here). She is also the recipient of a 2020 ICP Award, and just this past year, she followed up her British Vogue cover with the cover of American Vogue. She is part of a growing cohort of Black photographers (Tyler Mitchell, Arielle Bobb-Willis, Dana Scruggs, and Adrienne Raquel to name just a few) who are expanding the representation of black culture in all its richness and diversity. 

Our Own Selves is Ijewere’s first photobook. It presents an overview of her work, covering the period between 2018 and 2021. Our Own Selves is a hardcover book with a straightforward design and few surprises. A photograph of a young woman from #FutureStartsNow campaign (shot for Nina Ricci) is tipped in on the front cover, filling most of the available space; the light pink color of the model’s outfit softly matches the cloth cover. The book includes a short introduction by Lynette Nylander (the Executive Editorial Director of Dazed), followed by Nylander’s interview with the artist. The list of credits at the very end of the book provides details on her various projects, as well as the publications that commissioned them and teams of people who worked with Ijewere (make-up, hair, set design, style, casting etc.) to create the looks.  

The monograph includes a range of Ijewere’s editorial work shot for Vogue, Allure, Garage magazine, 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 art photography. Ijewere often casts models herself (through her circles, on the streets, or via Instagram) to make sure the people she photographs reflect her vision. She also intentionally works with make-up artists knowledgeable about various skin colors and hair types, focusing on embracing and highlighting their signature features. These choices help contribute to stylish and joyful photographs that deliberately reframe beauty ideals and elevate women of color. 

The book opens with a horizontal image of a model in an oversized shirt floating in the water, and it immediately shows Ijewere’s unconventionally graceful approach to fashion campaigns. A couple of spreads in, we see five barefoot men in suits on the beach holding banana leaves, and while their heads are cropped out of frame, we can feel the energy, movement, and elegance they share. Ijewere often creates movement by placing parts of her models out of the image, or by rotating the angle of the camera to twist the compositions. The vertical photo across the spread from the suited men is a close up of their heads clustered next to each other. This juxtaposition creates an unexpected pairing, filled with visual dynamism and excitement. 

Bursts of warm colors, patterns, textures, and movement make many of Ijewere’s images stand out. A picture from a “One Flew Over the Couture’s Nest” shoot shows a model in a yellow tank dress beaded with ostrich feathers staged against a mottled blue backdrop, while another image captures a model in a long bright cocktail dress, as she rests on a concrete pillar fence 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 big flower earrings is photographed in a suit against a yellow background, and appears again in a nearby group photo, showing young city slickers dressed in stylish white; part of the series titled Que Onda?, these photographs were shot in Mexico for Garage Magazine. 

The last section of the book features Ijewere’s personal work. Her series “Tallawah” celebrates Jamaican women’s hairstyles across different generations, and the images were made in collaboration with the hairstylist Jawara Wauchope during the artist’s first trip back to Jamaica. One spread starts with a portrait of a confident young woman standing against a purple wall with palm leaves next to her; her dress mimics the patterns of the Jamaican flag, and her hair is shaped almost like a bulbous flower using light nets and colors. Across the spread, the dreadlocked hair of a man has been decorated with colorful beads and winking smiley face pins. The very last photograph in the series (and the book) shows a woman sitting by the ocean, seen from the back; this moment feels quieter, as if the artist is taking time to reflect. 

This monograph comes relatively early in Ijewere’s career, highlighting her initial journey as an artist and her origins. As a complete body of work, her photographs feel fresh and alive, filled with exuberant joyful colors, unexpected textures, and fierce gazes, all in celebration of individual human beauty and diversity. Her vibrant and innovative portraits of black women also challenge the prevailing stereotypes in the fashion industry, showing that everyone is welcome. All of this feels intentional and directed, in an ongoing effort to control the representation of the Black community, and to properly celebrate race, beauty, and gender within its own culture. 

Collector’s POV: Nadine Ijewere is represented by CLM Agency in London (here). Her work has not yet found its way to the secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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