Before I wanted to be anything in this world I wanted to be a señora….orbiting the women in my family, in the kitchen, in the living room, by the dresser. Anywhere there was power to be brokered. Anywhere the world was broken open to be understood. Anywhere there were secrets to be harvested…anywhere where I could learn anything about what it means to survive.
Jesús I. Valles
She holds a flower over her shoulder — gently cupping it in the manner that reminds me of the photographs I grew up seeing in the early 90s.
Photography by Nadine Ijewere for Vogue Italia, Ugly Editorial, 2017
Images of mothers, aunts and daughters stationed next to a blossoming tree in the yard before the image maker clicks the shutter.
The poses were always the same; a brief and staged interaction with plant life, a weird contortion of the body, a playful seriousness about the whole affair.
Ijewere’s woman took me right back to my childhood. I was eight again, pretending that my red jersey was long thick hair, cupping my own flowers in the garden, smelling them… blowing on them gently.
The wash of gold tones and abundant use of light warmed and delighted me and made me want to understand the memories of my childhood.
Photography by Nadine Ijewere for Garage, What’s Up – Las Flores, 2020
Ijewere is the first Black woman photographer to shoot a cover for American Vogue in 2021 and the first to shoot a cover for British Vogue in 2018.Her work spans across fashion, editorial and film stills.
In a video interview with C/O Berlin, Ijewere notes; “I think there’s a lot of elements to beauty and it doesn’t have to be limited to how someone or a person looks. I think it can be down to personality. I think it can be down to a location in terms of shooting. It’s about turning it on its head, celebrating differences.”
By carefully selecting locations as well as how to frame them, Ijewere is able to make us time travel back and forth to places we remember and those that we dream of. My favourite images of hers are those that foreground openness through nature.
Two women are photographed standing in front of a fenced off area, behind them is a lush landscape. The sky is blue. The women are wearing white, perhaps to or from some celebratory affair. The image is crisp and evokes memories of the glamorous older women of my childhood in their Sunday best.
Photography by Nadine Ijewere, Art of Renaissance, 2017
Photography by Nadine Ijewere featuring Rihanna for Allure, 2018
In Ijewere’s photographs women (she photographs men too) are caught gesturing, lounging, holding and touching. Sometimes looking at the lens, staring at the camera, other times not, but they are always enveloped in glamour. The mood is captured through this vibrancy of glamour.
The images embody a sense of dizzying charm, encapsulated beautifully through Jesús I. Valles’ thoughts on the women in his family; “The most powerful thing you can turn yourself into in a family is a planet. If you become large enough, if you adorn yourself with enough metals and stones and colour, eventually everything around you will spin itself dizzy around you. Eventually, you will teach others to become a planet.”
In Ijewere’s images, I see beautifully ornamented planets teaching me to become a planet so that I can teach others. This kind of decoration feels very different to the kind alluded to by John Berger, where “beauty is competitive and those who are judged beautiful are given the prize.” Instead, in these images beauty becomes elastic — it is springy, flexible, undefined.
Her photobook; “Nadine Ijewere: Our Own Selves” is available for pre-order. She described it as; “A celebration of identity and individual human beauty, this vibrant monograph is the first book dedicated to fashion photographer Nadine Ijewere—the first Black woman photographer to land a cover of Vogue in the magazine’s 125-year history.”
Photography by Nadine Ijewere for Rouge Fashion Book, 2019
Photography by Nadine Ijewere featuring Adwoa Aboah for Modern Weekly, 2019