Are Your Eyes Listening?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so for those of us whose parents have photo albums full of pictures of not only our childhood, but also their adolescence, imagine the stories that reside inside of those albums. I’m sure you could create family libraries that would make Wole Soyinka jealous. For a majority of our African cultures, tradition was passed down via storytelling. But time elapses, creative mediums evolve, and now we are blessed with the gift of photography as a vehicle to carry our cultures worldwide.


My mom getting groovy back in the 80’s in London

For a lot of us millennials, sitting around the campfire and listening to our parents tell us a story about “the good ol days” is a waste of everybody’s time. Our attention spans are in shambles, and much of that is due to technology. Because of this, a lot of people overlook how important visual stimulation has become for our generation. Think about it, would you rather sit in the living room and listen to Uncle Kunle tell you stories about how he was a “bad guy” back in the day? Pretty hard to believe seeing as he’s a deacon in the church now and holds 5 am bible study every time you sleep over your cousin’s house. But when he pulls the cobwebs off that large photo album in storage and shows you and your cousins a few photos with him chugging a bottle of stout while his cigarette burns in his off hand, you can’t help but look at him like “wawu”. As a first-generation Nigerian here in the US, I find a lot of the stories that my family shares to be the link to a culture that we are distant from simply due to geographic location. The gift of photography made that link even stronger.


“A Look” ft. My Aunt

In the diaspora, the most important method of us perpetuating our culture is through our art. Whether it’s written, visual, or fine art, our culture lives on worldwide. Pictures not only carry the torch, they also keep it burning bright. They allow us to reawaken the indelible sense of fashion from our parents’ youth and incorporate it into ours and create something this world has never seen before.  Pictures serve as a reminder as to how far we’ve come as a people and give validity to some of our parents “back in my day” claims. Most importantly, they help us to stay connected to our one true home no matter how far we go.

We all know a picture is worth a thousand words. Next time you have a chance, sit down with your elders and look through one of those photo albums. You’d be surprised at the novel that’s hiding inside.

Now let’s take a look at some of the talented photographers that are creating some stories of their own with their pictures:

Dusty (@Africanist_)

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They call me dusty cause my feet have been through a lot
The wisdom of my survival that’s just due to Allah” – K’naan (The Dusty Foot Philosopher)

If you’re like me, you’ve been wondering how someone whose photos are so clean would even go by the name Dusty. Let the man tell it himself, and you’ll never question it again.

“You know how photographers come to Africa and they sometimes take pictures of children’s dusty feet? The way they project it is ‘oh they don’t have shoes and they’re suffering’, but to me I wasn’t suffering. I’d go play football with my friends and we’d use our shoes as the goal posts. But running with no shoes on, I felt free. So they use the pictures of the dusty feet to portray suffering, but to me, dusty is a type of freedom.”

And that freedom shows in his work. Originally from Delta State, Nigeria, Dusty first picked up a camera a few years ago with the intentions of documenting his younger brother’s early years. Eventually he began taking the camera with him whenever he would hang out with his friends. It wasn’t until about 2015/16 that he began to shoot professionally.

“I like to shoot based on my environment. If I’m home in DC, I like to shoot concerts, events and people. When I’m in places like Seattle (his current location), I like to shoot landscapes. Right now, I prefer to shoot events. I like to capture something that can’t be recreated. I like to capture the emotion. Someone performing doesn’t have time to pose. A person dancing in the crowd doesn’t have time to pose. Sometimes they don’t even know the camera is on them. Click. Click. Click. And you have a shot that can’t be recreated.”

Israell (@artsofisraell)

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, its that you never question other people’s passion. Now of course no one is perfect so there will be some questions here or there, but not when it comes to Israell who got his start behind the lens thanks to a pair of Air Jordan’s that were older than he is.

“I first picked up a camera in high school after failing my photography class my junior year. I had a pair of 1990 Metallic 5’s and I traded them for a camera. I realized once I started that my passion for shoes and stuff went away. It all just shifted to photography.”

Trading in an extremely rare pair of shoes that could be resold for at least a thousand dollars for a camera is a strong declaration of your intentions. It also goes to show the lengths that one is willing to go to ensure that a hobby goes from a past time to a passion.

“In high school, I took photography and failed the class. Not because I couldn’t do it I just didn’t try hard enough. My teacher and I used to bump heads and he left the school after my junior year. I knew I could do better and I wanted to prove myself to him. So I told myself that one day he would see my work. Even if I never see him.

Ever since then, Israell has been working. His work has already been featured in six different publications since he got behind the lens. The formula is pretty simple: the more places his work is published, the more chances Mr. Washington (high school photography teacher) has of seeing his “star pupil’s” work. In order to be featured in these publications, he had to figure out what made him different from the rest.

At first, my work looked like everyone else’s. I started to take a liking to high fashion, cinematic type shoots. So I thought “What if I started to incorporate that kinda touch into every picture I take?” I was already into film making so the transition was pretty simple. As I started to do that more frequently, I started to realize that I was finding my style.

The young high school kid has grown and settled into his own as a talented photographer. Israell’s work has started to come full circle for him as his photos have now become his calling card.

My mom showed me a picture of my great grandmother that spoke to me. It was one of those black and white, real grainy type photos. And it pushed me to realize that alot of photographers I see, can’t really feel anything in their work. If you notice, theres a look to my photos. Its like you can tell that an African shot this. I don’t really know how to explain it, I just let the photo speak for itself.

Raat Fashion (@visualsbyraat_)

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Creativity in the arts can be expressed in many forms; drawing, singing, designing, photography. A lot of people struggle with not only developing, but keeping their creative juices flowing . For a creative individual like Roland, also known as Raat Fashion, creating just comes second nature.

“I picked up a camera when I was 16. I’ve always been creative. I know how to draw, I know how to sing. My grandfather, who I’ve never met because he passed, was a photographer in Nigeria. I kinda just picked it up and discovered a natural talent.”

Even though he’d never get a chance to meet his grandfather before, Roland definitely credits him as one of his greatest influences. His grandfather was a lifestyle photographer in the 1960’s who captured the everyday life activities of his fellow Nigerians. In those day to day activities, Roland claims his grandfather was able to find the beauty and he looks to do the same with his work today.

“As human beings, we tend to see the mundane things in life as boring, but he made them beautiful. I try to do the same thing in every picture I take. I could be looking at a run down building, but when I capture it I try to turn it into something beautiful because that’s just the way I see things. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

The beholder behind the lens is trying to tell us something. Are your eyes listening?


  • Faith Adebule

    Great article Demi, your article has definitely provoked my curiosity about some of my old family albums that I ignored. I wonder what messages my eyes have been missing.

  • Lola Johnson

    Great read Demi!

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