Nadine Ijewere has been interested in fashion imagery since she was a girl but it wasn’t until she studied photography at the London College of Fashion that she began to pick up on some of its more unsettling undertones – particularly the stereotypes used in the portrayal of non-Western cultures.
The Misrepresentation of Representation, an early project that she completed at university reflected on Orientalism and how it came to rigidly define certain cultures for a Western audience. Considering the tropes used to evoke Africa in fashion editorial, such as tribal make-up or animalistic poses, she was struck by the stranglehold that reductive clichés established in the 1950s still have on the industry today and set about investigating their origins.
In her current work, lights, wires and studio equipment frame the subjects, while friends from a variety of backgrounds dressed in costumes pose against intricately designed sets. Drawing the viewer’s attention to the studio environment, Ijewere consciously reveals the construction of the image while simultaneously using the elaborate set-ups to undermine a range of stereotypes.
“I wanted the subjects that I had chosen to not be from the country that was being portrayed, to show the diversity in today’s world,” she says. “Anyone can be from anywhere.”
Ijewere has developed this line of enquiry across fashion and portraiture, pursuing an open ended exploration of identity through her eye-catching images. The result is something that she steadfastly refuses to categorise or label. “My work is all about the celebration of diversity without creating a representation – particularly for women, as we are the ones who are more exposed to beauty ideals and to not being comfortable in who we are,” she says.
To this end, Ijewere does most of the casting for her editorials and commissions herself, often choosing models who she feels do not conform to industry standards. “I especially like to photograph those from ethnicities that are under-represented,” she says. “London is such a diverse place and I feel that needs to be reflected within the fashion world.”
Ijewere’s powerful images have already bagged her commissions from a number of fashion heavyweights, including Dazed and i-D, as well as clients such as Stella McCartney, Nike and Gap. A leading picture editor, who preferred to nominate anonymously, hails Ijewere’s style as one that is truly contemporary.
“It almost seems that the richness in details and layers in her portrayal of mixed-heritage youth is a visual metaphor that hints at the impossibility of identifying her subjects with any easy label,” she commented. “We live in a multicultural society with an intrinsic complexity and Ijewere’s work is a beautiful ode to that.”
The young photographer, who is half Nigerian and half Jamaican, is now turning the lens on her own roots with a personal, portraiture-focused project in Africa.
nadineijewere.co.uk This article was first published in the June 2017 BJP, issue #7860 – Ones to Watch, The Talent Issue. Nadine Ijewere’s work will be at Photo London with Red Hook Labs https://photolondon.org/exhibitors/2018-2/red-hook-labs/