More and more each day, we’re beginning to see a surge of an African revolution of creatives from all corners of the globe. They’re delivering quality art, content, music, and not only getting accepted but also celebrated into America’s mainstream media. Born and raised in New York, 24-year-old photographer and creative director, Florence Ngala, is no exception to this uprising. She has been featured and collaborated with entities such as the New York Times, Met Gala, Nike, and more. Her photography is nothing short of amazing, having worked with artists like Teyana Taylor, Gucci Mane, and is one of Megastar Cardi B’s prominent photographers. We reached out to Flo to discover more about her rise in the industry and how her West African roots influence her.
How did you first get into photography?
I got interested in photography when I was 13 or 14 years old, but I started shooting seriously when I got into high school. My school offered electives that delved into different sectors of art such as print-making, sculpture, photography, design, and I developed my passion for photography. At the time, Tumblr was a really big thing and it sparked the creative juices in me.
Did you decide to go to college and continue your education in photography?
I applied to an art school in Georgia, but it was too expensive, and my grades coming out of high school weren’t enough to get a full scholarship. I eventually attended City College where I didn’t even major in photography, it was advertising and design. Even though I don’t broadcast it like I do my photography, I’m really into business and creative ideas. Living in New York City there are a lot of creatives here, so I was able to continue my photography on the side. One day, I was taking photos for a music video in the city and that led to an opportunity to work with Atlantic Records.
Looking through your website, you have a lot of self-portraits and a lot of photographers don’t usually get in front of the lens. What made you want to explore that?
Well before I started shooting celebrities and all that, I just had myself. I wanted to know more about myself and how to use my camera, so these self-portraits were a very personal thing. It was also a creative outlet for me to put my work out. I had all these pictures of me in my room or around my parents’ house just wearing different things and the more I did it, the more I fell in love with it. I noticed as I got older, my photography got better, and interestingly enough, the self-portraits were what people gravitated more to. A self-portrait is how a photographer sees themselves, and in some ways the way they want the world to see them. It’s personal, I think photographers should do l it more. Also for me it helped me know how to control my facial expressions and in turn, I could direct my subjects better when shooting. Overall, it made me a better artist.
What has been your favorite collaboration so far?
Working with Cardi has been so cool. Obviously, she’s a huge celebrity but me getting that platform by her label to create with her has been such a blessing for me. Given their resources, they allow me to create stuff that I otherwise would not be able to do by myself. To me it’s not really a collaboration with her, she’s not always posing for the photos, she’s just doing her, and it allows me to shoot freely as she lives her life. Sometimes I’m asked to create moments with her, but I really do enjoy doing the behind these scenes stuff. The first time I shot her was 2017 and I could see the changes between then and when I shoot her now. Some of the shots recently are more intimate and comfortable so for me, that is a testament to the power of relationship.
Cardi B & Gucci Mane captured by Flo Ngala
Do you prefer working with music artists or more personal editorial style shoots?
I would say street photography would be more my favorite. Shooting the African American Day Parade was one of my favorite projects ever, along with the Miami Carnival. I love events where I could just be a fly on the wall and capture what I see. I think street photographers have it the hardest because it’s not easy to create moments with strangers, it’s a different muscle at work. Editorial and portraiture are dope, but in street photography, you can’t always control the elements…you have to go with the flow. You may get something beautiful that you didn’t even plan.
Being half Nigerian and Cameroonian, did you have that usual African kid struggle to follow your dreams?
I’m blessed to come from parents who weren’t like that and I know that a lot of people have passions that they can’t follow because parents put this unfair pressure on them to do what will make them financially stable or make a living. Unfortunately, my dad passed away in 2008 but he was a designer of sorts, so I believe I’ve always had that creative gene in me. He never got to see any of the things I do now, but I kind of think my mom is more chill about it because she married someone that was into the arts. He came to the U.S. in 1992 to pursue a Ph.D. in Communications at NYU and he was really into creating, I think it’s cool that my siblings and I are all into design or some form of creative expression. But my parents wanted us to work hard and get good grades, there was never any career pressure.
Have you been back to Nigeria or Cameroon?
Unfortunately, I have not. I went to Dakar, Senegal for an amazing job opportunity I got but haven’t been able to make my way to Nigeria or Cameroon yet.
Being “African” is the in thing right now. Did you experience that switch from being called different names a child to now being popular right now?
I definitely got the “pretty for a dark skin girl” and the “African booty scratcher” comments. I struggled with my identity because, in this country, everyone likes to put a label on things but for me, it was difficult for me to feel my African identity. Being born and raised here, I didn’t have the same experiences as a lot of my peers. I’ve never been to an African wedding, I don’t speak the dialect, I don’t know the lingo. Sometimes I joke around like I’m actually American because it doesn’t feel like I’m the same type of “African” that everyone else is. Now that it’s very trendy to be African, more specifically Nigerian, it’s kind of painful that people will categorize me as just Nigerian and ignore the Cameroonian side from my Dad, which I’m actually closer to. I just try to stay authentic and true to myself. Other people really want to be down with the wave right now, but I see the corniness of it too.
Which African artist would you like to shoot for?
Burna Boy! I need Burna to call me ASAP, in case he reads this, ha. I try to stay in the loop when it comes to music, but I’m really pulled in by the visuals. I’ve begun to feel a calling to video production. When I hear African music, I always think about the video and the way people would move because I love to dance and watch African visuals. I grew up listening to a lot of Makossa, Coupé Decalé, just a lot of Cameroonian and Ivory Coast music before afrobeats was trendy. So, I would love to create videos for people like Burna and Wiz, especially because you see what happens when these African artists get the right budgets!!!
What does photography mean to you?
It’s life as it is, as it was, as it could be. It’s literally one of the most amazing, perfect, creations ever. I always say that people wouldn’t know how our parents looked before they had us, or what the world looks underwater, or from space, without photographs. To be able to capture a moment and share it with other people, it’s like a second vision. It’s life and energy. I believe photos speak to you and you can feel, the same way you cry or are moved to emotion when you listen to music. Even if I wasn’t shooting the cool things I’m shooting now, I’d still be a photographer.
Follow Flo on Instagram and check out her website
Shot + Interviewed by ThatTribeGuy