For the British fashion title, Kamara’s appointment as editor-in-chief heralded a “new era.” From London to China and Lagos to Brazil, the Sierra Leone-born creative takes us behind the scenes of the summer issue’s seven cover shoots — six of which he styled himself
If there was one defining characteristic of the past 18 months, it’s the familiarity of the local. Yet, while restrictions have hindered countless aspects of our lives, the ambitions of Dazed Magazine’s editor-in-chief Ibrahim Kamara appear to be more expansive than ever. Reflecting on his inaugural issue since Dazed announced their editorial shake-up in January 2021, the 26-year-old is resolute: “I wanted to do a global magazine. If you don’t work in fashion or go to art school, you don’t have access [to fashion magazines]. I wanted to offer a global point of view.”
And globally ambitious it is. Under the proposition ‘Collective Spirit’, the Dazed summer issue boasts an array of seven uncompromising covers. With ideas spanning ‘Cultural Coexistence’ in Guangzhou (exploring how the migration of workers from north and west Africa has changed the cultural make-up of the city) to ‘Nigeria Now’ (uncovering the new generation of activists in Nigeria), each one serves as a rich tableau of our times. “I was reacting to the lockdown, and to real issues in a way that was very immediate,” Kamara explains. Impressively, this immediacy is achieved without haste, insensitivity, or lack of imagination. On the Guangzhou cover, Kamara is particularly vocal: “We can have diversity in the West, but I wanted to go one step further and create a conversation about diversity in China.”
One can only hazard at the feats involved in executing such a vision in the current climate. Writers and creatives were hailed from almost every continent, against the twin tide of Covid and Brexit. Kamara recounts cancellations, delays, the frustration of simple tasks taking several days, and, on one occasion, “running around Paris trying to find clothes to shoot” after a delivery was stuck in customs. Still, corners were not cut by his team — whether they were creating their own 3D testing kit for Rafael Pavarotti’s ‘Testing Times’ cover (accompanying a story spotlighting youth culture thriving in the face of the pandemic), or hand-sketching concepts for each brief. “You learn and adapt,” Kamara muses, “but it was very hard. I like to see the clothes, I like to touch, and I can change my mind very quickly.”
The notion of ‘collective spirit’ soon proved itself both a driving force and a key challenge for Kamara as he sought out the right collaborators. His approach remained single-minded: “I want people who push me and I push them. You pick people because you believe in their talent.” Beyond that, “it’s about being nice.” Many featured artists on the project were first-time collaborators, including photographers Leslie Zhang and Luis Alberto Rodriguez. Others were thousands of miles away. Kamara sent one team to Lagos, while directing entirely local teams in China and Brazil via Zoom.
“Everything was so much easier once we started talking,” he recalls. “I plant seeds. I create a universe. And everyone contributes to make it amazing.” Despite the multitude of spinning plates, process is everything — and Kamara is sure to leave little room for surprises. “I know exactly what a concept is going to look like. I don’t divulge from my vision, and anything less [than that], I don’t want.”
“If my friends like my work, that’s not important. If my 17-year-old sister gets it, then I’ve done my job”
The learning curve involved in taking the reins of a new magazine would be sizeable in normal times. Given the circumstances of the pandemic, surely stratospheric. But of all the lessons Kamara learned, one stood out: “Knowing a cover when I see it.” He’s still in the process of “training [his] brain”, he divulges, referring to the process of the photographic edit. Unsurprisingly, what powers this training is an unrelenting immersion in culture. His time at Central Saint Martins pushed him to try “everything”: on a daily basis, his is a constant diet of music and film, a “love for libraries” and simply “looking at people”.
People, it seems, are the heart of everything. Surmounting the task of global relevance is the goal of connecting with individual readers. Kamara’s original ethos is unerring: relatability. Or, as he stresses, presenting stories in a “digestible” form; that is, with the ability to traverse both art and commerce, moving beyond his own “artistic” bubble into a more democratic, “everyday” space. “If my friends like my work, that’s not important,” he says. “If my 17-year-old sister gets it, then I’ve done my job.” How to achieve this? Emotion. “An image should stop and make you think. Either you hate it or love it — but if it doesn’t make you feel anything, then it hasn’t done its job.”
Indeed, the true marvel of these covers is the presence of emotions as diverse, rich and unfaltering as the visuals themselves. From context to casting, styling to storytelling, there is universality at every turn. The only question that remains: to which universe Dazed will journey next.
Louise Long is a London-based photographer and writer with a focus on culture and travel. Her work has been published in Wallpaper*, CEREAL, British Vogue and Conde Nast Traveller amongst others. She is also the founder of Linseed Journal, an independent publication exploring culture and local identity.