Photographers typically don’t get as much spotlight as their pictures do. While most are content with that, inquiring minds still wonder about the stories behind the pictures. Today, we’re shifting the spotlight onto 24-year-old photographer, Tayo Kuku Jr. Tayo was born in Lagos, Nigeria and is currently killing it in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia). He’s the eldest of four boys, who often make an appearance in his pictures; he also graduated with a Civil Engineering degree but is sticking to his guns as a shooter. He has captured some of the eye-catching images that you’ve seen on not only Instagram, but publications like: Bella Naija, Teen Vogue, and of course, Onetribemag. His art isn’t something to be taken lightly. He can do it all, from portraits, to weddings, to editorial shoots–you name it. We reached out to Tayo to find out more about his artistry, check out our interview below.
What does photography mean to you?
It is a form of expression. It’s an art form, and outlet. It’s a way for me to de-stress, to release, to break free from all the pressures and anxieties of my regular job, the world, and life. It’s a way for me to find my Zen. It’s complete bliss, it’s corny but when it’s me and my camera, I’m at peace.
Was it something you were always interested in?
I got my first camera when I was 11 years old, it was a Polaroid camera my Grandfather got for me. I was always intrigued by it and later on when I got my first Iphone and Instagram was starting to boom, I would do a lot of #Iphonephotography cityscapes, landscapes–just a bunch of cool things I saw. It just carried on since then.
Do you plan on taking it on full-time, if you aren’t already?
That’s the goal. It’s my passion. I want to do this for the rest of my life.
What has been your favorite shoot thus far?
That would have to be my shoot, “Obakan”. A collaborative effort with me, Emmanuel Ibitola (model) and Olaide Odutola (Photographer). That was really dope. I just loved how exciting it was from conceiving the idea to actually making the visual diary. But I’ve enjoyed every shoot I’ve done, I love what I do. I was also fortunate to have another piece of mine go viral–a collab with model, Gloria Nnaji. People were so amazed how long her legs looked and it was basically just because of the angle of how I took the shot and the lens I used. It landed on Yahoo Beauty, Teen Vogue, and other sites that I didn’t even know about. People were just sending me screenshots and photos and links to the sites, I didn’t expect it at all.
Have you had any bad experiences dealing with a model or a shoot in general?
I’ve had many bad experiences with shoots. I’m so hard on myself when it comes to certain things. I get frustrated at times when the idea I have isn’t actually matching what I’m doing in real life. Its the plight of a photographer. You’re gonna have your on and off days, things you can’t control, weather, lighting, but that’s also whats fun about it. Striving to get that one shot…sometimes after I get that shot, I just call the shoot right there because I’ve got what I’ve needed.
Being Nigerian, does your background have any influence on your work at all?
It’s a huge influence. I try to bring my culture and my life experiences into everything I do and show it in my work, one way or another. I’m influenced by everything in my life. Places I’ve been. Things I’ve seen. People I’ve met. Relationships I’ve had. Experiences I’ve gone through–those things have shaped who I am, and have shaped my work. My background is what drives me to do meaningful work.
Describe your creative process.
It always starts with an idea first. Sometimes I know a model that would fit in that idea but it always starts with the concept that I’m trying to bring out. That leads into what I want people to feel when they see my work.
What do you want people to say or feel when they see your work?
I want them to have an experience. I don’t want them to look at my work and be apathetic. I don’t want people to look at my work and say “oh okay,” I want them to go “whoa.” I want them to feel happy, sad, uncomfortable–make them think about what they’re doing and feeling. I want my art to make an impact on other people’s lives, that’s the goal.
More and more people are becoming “photographers” these days and it may be hard to distinguish the authentic from people who may do it for clout. How do you distinguish yourself from he rest?
Some people do come into photography with different goals and objectives but some are deeper than others. But I don’t concern myself with that, I don’t compare myself. I focus on my own art, I don’t let others influence me. I pride myself in having my own style and I don’t think anyone can dispute that I don’t have a distinct style. I focus on what I’m doing and trying to create and run my own race. To each his own.
Advice for up and coming photographers?
Biggest advice is just to do it. Sounds corny and ambiguous but that’s how I started. I’m self-taught, I’ve learned through just seeking information on my own. Whether it’s through YouTube or Google, but mainly practicing. Get out there and practice, shooting different people, different settings, and aiming to come out with different results in each shoot. Photography is not something you’re gonna pick up and just master right away. Sometimes you may have a knack for it, I believe I just see things differently and that’s helped me develop quickly. A lot of photographers like to be stingy with whatever information they have, or whatever their equipment is, personally I’m not that way. I wouldn’t have learned anything if everyone was that way and I feel like it’s very silly. I’m confident in my work where I can tell you what equipment I use and settings, and can still guarantee you wouldn’t be able to recreate my work with the same setting, lighting, or same person. That’s what photography is, it’s an individual experience. Most of all, collaboration is key. Reach out to different models and creatives. Also, a lot of stuff was free of charge first. A lot of stuff isn’t going to be paid at first, but with consistency it will come.