Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.
I am a multi-genre photographer based in London, and I shoot the following: still life, portraiture, events, live performances (music and theatre), headshots, fashion and documentary.
I have a degree in drama and theatre studies with performing arts. From roughly 2009 to early 2010, I took an online course in photography with The Photography Institute. What I liked about this course was a) I could take my time to soak up the information that I was given, and b) they taught the technical side rather than the art side of photography. After that, I went on to take their portraiture course, which was short but very insightful.
I am a massive fan of fashion, so I naturally gravitated towards that. Through networking, attending events and talking to people, I found out how to attend London Fashion Week and what the photography process was for the event.
I also began to approach photographers in regards to assisting them. At the time, I felt ready, but in reality—I wasn’t. The amount of work, effort, stamina and knowledge that goes into being a photographer’s assistant and the responsibility that comes with it is a hell of a lot.
So I continued to self educate and then went to work as a freelance studio assistant to gain more knowledge, especially when it came to learning the different types of photographic equipment. Once I felt confident with this, I began to contact photographers to assist them again.
I continue to assist while working as a freelance photographer. It seems odd to some, however, it is another source of income, and as we have all seen from COVID; it is important to have more than one income.
I have had my work featured in many media outlets such as Evening Standard, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Grazia, The Mirror, Metro newspaper, ESPN, Yahoo, The Times, The Sun, AOL, GQ France, ITV.com, Shortlist, Marie Claire Russia, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Business Insider and Runners World.
In 2020, I exhibited in an exhibition called ‘We Are Here’, which was a great success and had coverage from The BBC, The Guardian and local media in the Midlands.
I was also a photography consultant for Channel 4’s female-led drama anthology series ‘I Am Danielle’, a collaboration between director Dominic Savage and actor Leticia Wright, which aired on August 12, 2021, on Channel 4.
In conjunction with the Harris Museum, I have also given online workshops. One was on assisting in photography, and the other was about navigating your space as a female in photography.
Lastly, as part of the UKBFTOG community group, I exhibited at The Photography Show, which was a great success because we were able to put the UKBFTOG name out into one of the biggest photography trade shows in the UK.
What made you want to pursue a career in photography?
I have always had an interest in photography and drama since college. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend both courses because they were taught at the same time, so I picked drama instead.
When I had graduated from university, I did a couple of theatre shows but spent most of my time working as an admin assistant or as a PA.
I realised that whilst being a PA, my job description was essentially helping someone else with their career, but who was helping me with mine?
I then decided to study photography online, and when I felt confident with my photography skills, I left to become freelance and never looked back! I feel like it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Yes, I work non-stop, however, it is all for me, and I will be the one gaining from it in the end.
Your work covers a wide range of genres. Is there one you prefer more, and why?
I love to shoot still life photography because it allows the photographer’s creativity to be reflected. The process is a lot slower, and you get into the nuance of composition, which is essential to that genre of photography. It can also help your work to be more engaging and unique.
Another reason why still life is my favourite genre is I can tell a whole story or more in one image; like the saying goes: “A picture paints a thousand words”.
Shooting still life allows me to express myself and my vision in ways that can’t be said about many other genres. For example, one can take something very ordinary and very mundane, like a coffee cup, and by manipulating the light, angles and expressions, I can tell a completely different and unique story with it. I find it a great way to challenge myself and push my creativity.
“Shooting still life allows me to express myself and my vision in ways that can’t be said about many other genres.”
In 2020, you published a photo book entitled ‘Generational Racism’ featuring your documentary of the Black Lives Matter protests in London. Do you feel the events of the past two years have changed the focus/direction of your work?
In some instances, my focus/direction remains the same. Since creating my book, I have realised that it is always important to capture the narrative through the emotions of the protestors in addition to their picket signs. I tend to find the stillness in all the chaos, creating a powerful vessel for what is being said, without saying it. This is an acting degree technique that I always use.
I hope that the images I create shed light and change the way people react to protests and protestors.
Protestors create awareness regarding the challenges that we are facing. They are the voice that pushes for reforms in a society where systems are deemed broken.
Protestors are the unsung heroes who sacrifice their time, energy and sometimes their safety in the cause of justice, equality and freedom. They are the ones who force us to question the systems that govern our lives and the roles that we play in those systems. I have a lot of respect for them.
“I hope that the images I create shed light and change the way people react to protests and protestors.”
You are a member of the UKBFTOG, a community for black female photographers in the UK. Could you tell us more about the group and how it started?
I am part of a team that manages a community of black female photographers in the UK called the UKBFTOG. I am also one of four community leaders.
Jemella Binns, the founder of UKBFTOG came to the realisation three years ago that she didn’t know enough black female photographers, thus the UKBFTOG community was born.
We are now in our third year, and we have over 300 members. We did an exhibition in 2020 in light of the misfortune of George Floyd working with black businesses to amplify the voices of black female photographers who are overlooked in a male-dominated industry.
Aptly, we called the exhibition ‘We Are Here’, which took place in Walsall. We sort sponsorship from Nikon, MPB, One Vision Printing and many more. Our exhibition has been reviewed by The Guardian, The BBC and local media outlets in Walsall. The Mac Museum, Harris Museum and Medicine Gallery (to name a few) were the micro exhibitions of our first exhibition. We also exhibited at The Photography Show in September.
I have been in other photography groups on Facebook where members are taken the mickey out of for asking questions that are deemed simple or they get a “you should know this by now” reaction. I felt like I couldn’t seek help or ask questions based on a lack of support from those groups.
The important thing about the UKBFTOG community is that it provides a safe space for black women to come to support each other, learn, vent, share their experiences and elevate their mental health.
What changes would you like to see in the photography industry?
Equality, equality, equality!
The changes I would like to see in the photography industry is black female and black non-binary photographers shooting in male-dominated genres.
The industry gatekeepers say it’s ‘difficult’ to discover and commission black female photographers, which makes me question, how hard are they looking? There are platforms such as the UK Black Female Photographers, Black Women Photographers and POCC, among others, to support and empower black female and black non-binary photographers. These Platforms are for the industry gatekeepers, who have no excuse for not finding black non-binary or black female photographers.
At present, the narrative is very one-sided when there are always two sides to every story. Let’s hear that other side and see how it differs from the narrative presented thus far. We live in a world where people come from different backgrounds, cultures, genders, opinions, and religions—photography should reflect exactly that!
“We live in a world where people come from different backgrounds, cultures, genders, opinions, and religions—photography should reflect exactly that!”
What does a typical day working day look like for you?
My typical working day depends on what genre I am shooting; my process can be longer or shorter.
For example, if I am shooting still life, the process can be longer because it is a bit more nuanced and depending on what you are shooting, there can be a lot of elements that go into shooting a scene—the process is a lot slower.
Another example, if I am doing documentary photography, such as photographing an event like a protest, my process is shorter. I have to ensure that my images are submitted to my agency an hour after the event. Within that time, I have to narrow down a set of images to send to my agency (they call this culling), then check my chosen images again to ensure that the white balance and cropping looks correct.
You are not allowed to edit your images, so you always have to make sure you get it right ‘in camera’. Lastly, I would add metadata to my images to make it easier for prospective clients to find them.
How much time do you spend editing photos vs taking them?
I tend to spend more time taking them than editing them. I always like to get it right in camera first, but it also depends on what genre I am editing.
When editing product, still life or e-comm products I will spend a sufficient amount of time tweaking things like shadows and highlights or masking and straightening lines.
On portraits and fashion, I tend to spend a bit more time editing because of the skin—making sure it looks flawless yet natural and that the make-up pops. I also clean up flyaway hairs and any bits of dust or small creases on the clothes.
For live performances, London Fashion Week, events and photojournalism, I am not allowed to edit or manipulate the photos in any way.
How did you discover Affinity Photo, and what inspired you to start using it?
I discovered Affinity photo pre-covid. I was looking for photo editing software that I could use on my iPad. A friend recommended Affinity Photo. He had it on his iPad, so I played around with it, and it just seemed to work smoothly, even with other apps open.
I am not a tech buff, but I find other photo editing software takes up a lot of the computer or iPad’s processing memory and can slow the processing down. Affinity is a lot ‘lighter’ in that sense.
Ivan Weiss, a photographer whose work I admire, did a tutorial on editing his portraits using Affinity Photo. After watching his, I decided to purchase Affinity Photo for my iPad and computer.
I knew then that Affinity photo and I were going to have a beautiful relationship!
Do you have any favourite features?
There are a few features that come to mind. I am a small business, and I try to be frugal. Affinity is a stand-alone application (and it is affordable) without having to buy a subscription!
The second feature is the Selection Brush Tool. It is precise and quick to respond but not too sensitive.
I also like the Frequency Separation feature. I used to make frequency separation layers from scratch—sometimes they would work, and sometimes they wouldn’t. Now that it is a feature in Affinity, it saves me having to do it manually, plus it works every time!
“I used to make frequency separation layers from scratch—sometimes they would work, and sometimes they wouldn’t. Now that it is a feature in Affinity, it saves me having to do it manually, plus it works every time!”
You’ve captured many top performers on stage and attended some pretty high-profile events including London Fashion Week. What would you say has been your career highlight so far?
Yes, I have, when you put it like that! I have a few highlights of my career, firstly photographing the top performers on stage! Many of them, I grew up listening to: Mary J Blige, All Saints, NAS, Common, Maya, Mel C, Erykah Badu, Ludacris, Craig David. To photograph them seems so surreal!
Secondly, an image that I took of NAS (the rapper), Rolling Stones published in one of their articles, which is the cherry on top when it comes to the highlights of my career.
The last highlight is when I worked as a photography consultant with Channel 4 on their trilogy series called ‘I am Danielle’. The protagonist of the story, Letitia White (the actress from Black Pantha), plays a photographer and works in a photography studio. My job was to make the scene look like an actual photoshoot. In the end, they also asked me if I wanted to act as the photographer’s assistant in the episode, to which I said yes!
It’s nice to know that your skills are recognised, and I finally put my acting degree to use!
What’s next for you? Are there any dream projects you would like to work on?
I am working on a photo series called 50 Black Millennial Women (a working title). This project happened through a discussion around the lack of black female representation across the different industries. Black women make up 67% of the workforce, however, this narrative has not been adequately explored.
Through a series of questions, you get an insight into the journey of how these women have built careers for themselves as barristers, bankers, lawyers, engineers, doctors etc.
The book is also a celebration of black millennial women and their accomplishments, a reminder of the incredible spirit of black people and their resilience in the face of adversity. I hope that this project will inspire the next generation of black girls to build excellent lives for themselves, no matter the obstacles. We also intend to sell the book and contribute some proceeds to a charity.
There is a quote that I have paraphrased by black playwright August Wilson, “Always tell the story of your people. Talk about the injustices, celebrate the incredible spirit of Black People,” this quote is the essence of our project.
This book is for them. This book is for us. This is our story. This is our time.
If you would like to find out more about the UKBFTOG community, visit ukbftog.com.