Brad Ogbonna makes colourful and considerate depictions of the people of Dakar
What started as an exploration of his heritage in Nigeria has spanned into explorations of the West African region and the Caribbean. Here, we stop at Senegal’s capital.
- Yaya Azariah Clarke
- 30 January 2024
The personal works of Brad Ogbonna are at once universal, and culturally distinct. The photographer has spent years illuminating the vibrancy and flair throughout West Africa and the Caribbean; from Île-à-Vache in Haiti to Lome, Togo, Stone Town, Zanzibar, and Cuba, where he captures the performance, mundanity and the human relationship to land. His series – which are always titled after the city or state they’re based in – don’t typically read as sentimental, but there’s always a feeling that the photographer is being guided by the subjects, to a different way of life.
Brad was born and raised in Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul), Minnesota, in a tight-knit community of Nigerians and West Africans who emigrated from the 80s to early aughts. Immersed in the diaspora, he would spend a lot of weekends visiting family and attending cultural events around town. “My dad and uncle were an integral part of the community,” he tells us. “And they’d always carry cameras with them everywhere we’d go,” he adds. Also, noticing photo albums throughout people’s homes, the photographer developed a sense of the importance of documenting from an early age, “and once I got to junior high school, picking up a camera and taking pictures felt like a natural progression from there”.
When it comes to Brad’s work, it is hard to deny the fact that it is synonymous with locales throughout Africa and the Caribbean. It all started in 2011, after the death of his father in Nigeria, where he decided to stay behind for a few months. After some time, he began documenting the people and surroundings, before casting his net wider throughout the region. Travelling to Dakar some years later, his eponymous series gives us a sense of the interior and exterior attributes of the neighbourhoods, with an almost destined captured connectivity between people and their surroundings through colour. The red of the kids’ beloved Jordan jersey and the distant balconies’ base; the blue of a toddler’s shirt and white of his shorts complementing the surrounding tiles; and the shirts of three figures in the distance somehow matching the window frames in a building even farther away. “One of the defining characteristics of the regions is the amount of colour on display. From the home exteriors and interior decor to the clothing people wear,” Brad says. “That’s what I’m looking for when I’m creating imagery. The love of colour and warmth that I don’t often find stateside.”
At first, when Brad arrives in Dakar, he goes straight to the ocean. “There are so many beautiful areas there, but I usually frequent a few bars and beaches in Yoff Virage and Almadies to reacquaint myself with the flow of things.” Having visited a few times now, the photographer is often picking up where he left off with people from previous trips; both in conversation and documentation. “The flow of life there just feels different from the West – there’s a general sense of comfort and mutual curiosity,” Brad shares. The photographer has learned that all it takes to represent these people so boldly is some “kindness and respect” and introducing himself to people he comes across, “most people at least meet me halfway and that relationship and rapport has only grown the more I visit,” he adds.
For Brad, the only challenges are in finding more time to dedicate to his personal works. “It’s hard to commit weeks let alone months to immerse myself in Senegal, Nigeria, or all the other places I create imagery.” But, he is firmly claiming 2024 as his year of “releasing things” in the form of publications culminating his travels, “I am saying it now and publicly so I hold myself to that”. And after seeing the works throughout Dakar, it’s clear that what he does is more than travel and document; he carefully considers the way of life, in every city, every interior, exterior, stretch of land and every pair of eyes.
GalleryBrad Ogbonna: Dakar (Copyright © Brad Ogbonna, 2024)
Brad Ogbonna: Dakar (Copyright © Brad Ogbonna)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.