A Celebration of Identity

In March 2021, Nadine Ijewere made history when she became the first woman of colour to shoot a Vogue cover in the magazine’s 125 year history. “As a young Black woman, I didn’t imagine that I would one day have the opportunity to shoot a cover for American Vogue,” she wrote at the time in an Instagram caption for her portrait of Selena Gomez. Without detracting from this pioneering achievement, it feels shocking that it took so long. “It’s not shocking, it’s expected, which is the sad truth,” she tells Aesthetica. “If you look at most industries, there is a lack of inclusivity.” But, she adds, “it has now happened and the industry will continue to shift.”

Ijewere (b.1992) is among a wave of young fashion photographers of colour whose work is redefining beauty, breaking out from the narrow parameters of a certain ideal of perfection. Together with Tyler Mitchell, Campbell Addy and others, her work featured in The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion, an exhibition and book by curator Antwaun Sargent that presented 15 groundbreaking Black photographers whose work fuses fashion and art. Now, the southeast Londoner’s first monograph, Our Own Selves, is published by Prestel.

Across 160 images, sourced from commercial commissions and editorial shoots as well as personal projects, the book captures what makes her image-making so compelling. There are the subjects, first of all – sometimes street cast models or friends of the artist – whose beauty transcends the traditional expectations of the industry. What’s harder to pinpoint is that particular feeling the work conveys. “I want to create positive imagery that speaks [to] joy, community and celebration. I want these images to change the narrative. I am inspired by my peers who are also pushing for us to be seen,” she says. Although commercial work has “certain deliverables”, she is conscious to collaborate with brands to ensure that her creative intentions come through.

Self-initiated work offers a chance “to focus and explore acute details,” she says. Shooting projects in Portland, Jamaica and Lagos, Nigeria, has been a way to explore her own identity. “My roots are Jamaican and Nigerian. It was important to go back to both places as an adult to form a real personal perspective. I love both places for different and some of the same reasons. The energy of the people and community is inspiring. I saw elements of it growing up in London but over there it’s on a much broader scale. Seeing the beauty of the people as an adult made me detest the stereotypes even more. This drove me further to create the references I do.”

Nadine Ijewere: Our Own Selves is published by Prestel

Words: Rachel Segal Hamilton

Nadine Ijewere: Our Own Selves is published in hardback by Prestel. Available from Prestel, Amazon, Bookshop.org, Hive, Blackwells and Waterstones. RRP £39.99
All images by Nadine Ijewere
1. Image from Cuba Project
2. Image from Cuba Project
3. Selena Forest, Moment of Clarity, British Vogue, September 2020
4. Image from book jacket
5. Achok Majak, The Cowboy Who Fell to Earth, Garage Magazine, September 2018