Q&A with Nataal: the media brand championing contemporary African culture

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Nataal.com was born in 2015 as a platform to communicate the creativity coming out of Africa. It was launched by Sara Hemming, former art director at AnOther magazine, Helen Jennings, former editor at Arise magazine, and Senegalese actor and director Sy Alassane. Focusing on fashion shoots, long form features and visual essays, Nataal collaborates with emerging artists around the world who are shaping global narratives around African culture.

This year, Nataal published its first annual print magazine, built around the theme “Future Gaze” and containing 336 pages of photography by well-known artists such as Viviane Sassen, Lorenzo Vitturi and Nico Krijno, as well as commissions by up-and-coming photographers such as Arielle Bobb-Willis. The photography is accompanied by in-depth editorials covering a range of topics including fashion, visual arts and music, as well as a short story by American-Ghanaian writer Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, and articles about contemporary African culture and business.

BJP spoke to creative director Sara Hemming and editorial director Helen Jennings about Nataal media and why photography is so integral to their magazine.

© Nico Krijno X Edun, Courtesy of Nataal

BJP: Where is Nataal based?
Nataal: Nataal’s core team is based in London while our family of contributors can be found worldwide.

BJP: How has Nataal grown into what it is now?
N: The website was well received and we soon moved into hosting cultural events and talks. Then in 2016 we teamed up with Jimmy Moffat at Red Hook Labs in Brooklyn for our first annual co-curated group show, New African Photography, which is now in its third year and has become a vital part of Nataal’s growing voice. Other opportunities include being a media partner for Afropunk and 1-54 in London, Design Indaba in Cape Town, AKAA in Paris and ART X Lagos.

Having spent three years building up a community of contributors and followers, this year felt like the right time to take the next step and bring out our debut annual magazine. We have a love of independent publishing and feel that the talent we work with and feature deserves and needs exposure in a high-quality, large-format print edition. It’s our way of further celebrating the artists and projects we love. It’s also a natural extension for us, bringing all elements of the brand together.

BJP: You have a great mixture of established photographers and up-and-coming image-makers. How do you choose your contributors?
N: The team has many strong relationships with photographers both across Africa and globally who share our appreciation of positive and inclusive visual storytelling. We work with the fresh generation of artists as well as renowned names to ensure an interesting mix of perspectives and also inspire a spirit of collaboration. It’s about creating special and uplifting work that you won’t see anywhere else, and giving opportunities for people to explore and experiment.

For example in the magazine, we have young New Yorker Arielle Bobb Willis, who wanted to use her abstract portraiture style to shoot a fashion story for the first time, so we paired her up with the Kenyan fashion designer Recho Omondi. In Lagos, we styled a menswear shoot with rising star Lakin Ogunbanwo, who we also exhibited at our first Red Hook Labs show. We asked Tyler Mitchell to build a concept for the musician serpentwithfeet – a story that was meant to be two pages, but was so fantastic that it became eight! And Viviane Sassen shared her personal take on street style photography from the Congo.

© Kristin Lee-Moolman, Courtesy of Nataal

BJP: Why do you have two different covers for your first issue?
N: We have a double cover because as our first issue we wanted to make a clear statement about Nataal being a magazine that is inspired by Africa and not just another women’s fashion magazine. Our female cover features New York-based Senegalese model Mame Thiane Camera in Dakar, shot by Julia Noni, and styled by Naomi Miller. Our male cover was conceptualised by Cyndia Harvey, shot by Kristin-Lee Moolman, and styled by Nell Kalonji, and conjures up the young punks of London. Side-by-side they are very different stylistically, but both exude the same confidence and integrity, which we love.

BJP: Why is photography important to you as a magazine?
N: Photography and words are equally important for the magazine. As an annual publication, we’re trying to create something beautiful and meaningful that the reader can cherish and keep; something that you can’t digest in one sitting because every story goes so deep and each page feels so arresting. This is done by taking as much care and consideration over the photography and art direction as on the copy. We have a 5,000-word essay and an original work of fiction alongside several indulgent yet authentic shoots, unique portraits and archive photography stories.

Having said that, photography is of course our passion, and something Nataal has become most known for thanks to the magazine and exhibitions. It’s about developing a visual language that inspires, innovates and celebrates.

BJP: Making print magazines can be challenging in the current state of the industry, why did you decide to print? What gap do you think Nataal fills in the print market?
N: We felt that there needed to be a truly global and inclusive publication that could do full justice to the hugely exciting goings on in the African creative space. The magazine is for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the abundant energy coming from African-inspired visual arts, fashion and music, and we hope this is filling a much-needed niche.

The first issue of Nataal is available to purchase for £10 from Nataal.com, issue two will be available in April 2019

© Fatouma Diabata, Courtesy of Nataal


© Keyezua, Courtesy of Nataal
© Ronan McKenzie, Courtesy of Nataal
Styling Makram Bitar, Models RYm Beydoun, Pauling Magnine. All Clothing Super Yaya. © Joyve Sze Ng, Courtesy of Nataal
© Arielle Bob-Willis, Courtesy of Nataal
© Baloji, Courtesy of Nataal
© Mike and Quiet, Courtesy of Nataal
© Lorenzo Vitturi, Courtesy of Nataal
© 2manysiblings, Courtesy of Nataal
A re-enactment of the game “In-Out” in a classroom in Shehu Sanda Kyarimi school. Maiduguri, Nigeria, 2017. A series created for the theme “Borders” for the World Press Photo Joop Swartz Masterclass. © Rahima Gambo, Courtesy of Nataal
Jo-dean Martin, who is the ‘drummies’ team ‘leader, and Ashnique Paulse, the team ‘sub-leader’ wear pink and white busbys, signalling their senior positions in the team. © Alice Mann, Courtesy of Nataal
© Nakhana, Courtesy of Nataal
© Keyezua, Courtesy of Nataal
© Julia Noni, Courtesy of Nataal
© Adama Jalloh, Courtesy of Nataal
© Liz Johnston Artur, Courtesy of Nataal
© Ruth Ossai, Courtesy of Nataal
Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.