InterviewsNavigating Life and Duality as a Photographer with Keleenna Onyeaka

Navigating Life and Duality as a Photographer with Keleenna Onyeaka

© Keleenna Onyeaka
A late departure from the house could land you in the middle of a band of resounding horns. Those going to work on the twos and fours, okada and keke drivers on the ones and threes. Street hawkers are carrying (or balancing) a variety of market products, there is bumper to bumper traffic, and the occasional scuffle between conductor and passenger over correct change. All of this before 9am. Someone unfamiliar with these daily rituals would find this condition a little overwhelming, but not Keleenna. That intense, chaotic description exemplifies a part of Lagos captured by portrait and street photographer, Keleenna Onyeaka, for his photobook, A Glimpse of Lagos. The book is purposed to give the viewer an “un-fixed” glimpse of Lagos life and the unique stories Lagosians have to share.
“I grew up across England and Nigeria going to school in England; however, I was sent to Nigeria almost every Christmas and summer in a bid to ensure I didn’t forget where I came from.”
A Glimpse of Lagos (2019)  © Keleenna Onyeaka
When and how did you start taking photos?
“I first dabbled into photography in 2017, taking candid images of everyday life (street photography) on my iPhone. It wasn’t until 2018 that I bought my first DSLR [camera].”
What are your inspirations?
“Everyday life, particularly in Africa. I’m inspired by how people navigate life and the visual details in our surroundings that can be framed to create stories. I feel like the world is the paint while the camera is the canvas. My more artistic portraiture work is influenced by identity, the concept of duality, and African history.”

This is a part of Seven Foto Questions, a series of interviews with photographers answering the same questions about how they each came into their craft.

What is your favorite photo, and the story behind it?
“It’s my favourite because it was the picture that really highlighted the ability for photography to story-tell. It’s a picture I took on my iPhone in 2017 outside of a taxi window. In the frame are three females of varying ages, the eldest sitting with her hand on her chin pondering, the middle-aged lady standing in a milder deep thought, and the youngest also standing with a big smile on her face. It spoke to me as there are so many elements that can be explored in this picture. The relationship of the three women, the stages of life, life in Lagos, just to name a few.”
What do you want to convey with your photographs?
“I like to story tell or highlight the intricacies of things around us in my street/documentary-style photographs. Whereas through portraiture, I like to raise questions about topics I feel passionate about, namely identity, duality, and African history.”
What do you consider a “good” photo?
“For me a photo with purpose. Given we live in an age where anyone and everyone can take a nice picture. For me, the key distinguishing factor is the purpose behind the picture and its contribution to a thought-provoking conversation. This can be done via a good piece of art or thoughtful documentation of a significant event (more so if its something I hadn’t considered significant before seeing the picture).”
© Keleenna Onyeaka
Can you use one theme to describe your work?
If there is one thing you want your audience to know about you, what would it be?
“I’m always looking to engage in conversations about my work. I think it helps me grow as an artist and photographer. I love hearing alternate perspectives, so I encourage people to comment or DM me and challenge my work, respectfully, if possible [laughs].”

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