Being a global Nigerian – the images of photographer Ima Mfon

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Ese (shot Feb 22). Lives in New York City, Photographed in New York City. She is an accountat and aspiring writer. I chose her as a subject because like me, she understood the frustration behind Nigerian identity, trying to balance your ownvalues with those that have either been forced or projected on you. Her headtie in some ways represents an aspect of Nigerian identity: It is normal for woman to wear headties or wrap their hair. It serves as a commentary on casual dressing in Nigeria

“I’ve always liked photography,” says Ima Mfon, on his brave decision to quit a successful job in IT and graduate with a Masters in Photography.

“I got to a point where I wasn’t feeling fulfilled in my job anymore and I think I wanted to do something else,” he continues, “I remembered back in school how I used to love being in the dark room.”

This foray into photography led to black and white photo series Nigerian Identities. Is there such a concept as a Nigerian identity? Such a loaded question is the topic Lagos-born Mfon chooses to address.

“It’s a very personal project and I’m not in any means speaking for Nigerians or saying what the Nigerian identity should be it’s more about me.”

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George (shot March 24). Lives in New York City, photographed in New York City. George is a student getting his masters in City and Regional Planning. I chose him as a subject because he shares a similar interest in the subject of identity. He is pictured wearing his glasses, which are not a symbol of Nigerian identity. This image presents the idea that what we wear or possess does not necessarily give us our identity, as George is no more or less Nigerian than others in the series with Nigerian names or attire.

For him, “at least in America where I spent most of my adult life, whether it was in school or in the workplace I found that … it’s usually lumped with either being black or just African as a whole”, says Mfon “when there is so much uniqueness within Nigeria.”

In the series, individuals are photographed on a white background, looking directly at the lens with digitised skin tones.

“One of my biggest icons or influences is Richard Avedon [American fashion and portrait photographer]. He mostly shot in black and white. He had the ability to convey emotion like no one else, I think that sometimes he can get extreme emotions, if you look at any of his portraits, they are so beautiful and they are so engaging”, he explains. “It wasn’t very flashy and I think that is something I really admire.”

The project has inevitably attracted controversy on all angles, but for the photographer it’s about unearthing that dialogue.

 

“I do think there is a concept of Nigerian identity and with my project I am not necessarily telling anyone what that concept is I’m more thinking out loud, almost asking questions about it.” He adds, “right now we are in a generation where it is cool to be African. It wasn’t cool to be African [previously]…For me it’s not so clear whether Nigerian art or creativity is being embraced or it’s being eroticised.”

Currently Mfon has been snapping Nigerian youths on their relationship with international football and support of foreign teams. You can see the images over at Vice Sports.

 

This is an edited condensed article for African Digital Art. You can read the original in full here. 
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