“Photography chose me”: Christina Nwabugo confronts identity, representation and the environment

The British-Igbo photographer from London talks us through her empowering practice to date.

Date
31 August 2021
Reading Time
4 minute read

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The role of photography will vary from person to person, but oftentimes it’s used as a means of documentation. Christina Nwabugo first picked up her own device when she was young, and she used it to snap life and friendships around her – fuelling what would later become a life-long passion and a flourishing career. “Community was a starting point for me,” she tells us. Fast forward a few years, and she landed a role at Getty Images, appointed the newest art director “to turn the tables and create global awareness for Black and Brown photographers and filmmakers to take up necessary space in the cis-het all-white licensing industry.” It was a steep learning period for Christina, particularly in terms of work-life balance, but she was thankful to be given the opportunity to collaborate with countless artists across the world.

Nowadays, Christina works as a director and photographer, angling her lens onto stories about representation and inclusivity. Alongside her personal endeavours, she also creates music videos, documentary photography, lifestyle among others, and has participated in various exhibitions like her most recent, a grow show at Home by Ronan Mckenzie, wherein she contributed a powerful self-portrait. She’s also worked with an array of clients such as Tiffany & Co, i-D, Virgin EMI, The Nue co, and Hunger to name a few.

When asked what steered her towards photography in the first place, she responds by saying: “I love this question because the answer always reminds me of my ancestors and my lineage.” Her great grandfather, “believe it or not,” was a large medium format photographer in Nigeria. “He documented his own self-portraits and many lovely images of my family throughout the Biafra era, the family that I know now have photographs showing their Nigerian essence before it was intellectualised by what I know to be a British Nigerian.” Her grandmother and mother, too, were also highly inspirational in her development as an artist, for they both encouraged her to pick up a paintbrush or camera and get creative. “They always showed me my great grandfather’s archives and my grandma just loved the fact that I too, would become a photographer who knew how to navigate this world through my lens.”

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Christina Nwabugo: Abdu, Senegal (Copyright © Christina Nwabugo, 2021)

Christina, in this sense, views her medium as more than just a tool for documentation – proving the initial statement of this article to be somewhat obsolete, or something much more meaningful. It’s a method for making sense of the world and a means of creating and telling necessary stories to those who observe her imagery. “Photography chose me,” she adds. “My camera became a tool which allowed me to exchange art for conversation and knowledge, which was used in a way that enhanced other creative outlets. All mediums are connected.”

As a freelancer, Christina has travelled to all corners and has met an abundance of people living a different life from her own, something she’s found utter pleasure in sharing. So instead of referring to the people in her imagery as “subjects”, she likes to go much deeper; “this term makes the interaction seem beneath me,” she adds. “It is both a pleasure and a privilege to converse and learn from one another, which transcends into beautiful images which complement their story.” This can be seen in one of her photos taken in Mauritius, which depicts rich, earthy tones and two local farmers posing with their harvest. The succulent plants are illuminated against the sun, peaking through its leafy canopy, and paired with an artificial backdrop – framing the manmade with the natural in an almost cinematic composition.

The image was taken for the Vision Le Morne group in the south of Mauritius, an NGO that preserves the culture of indigenous lives in the area. “Prior to Covid-19, the group hosted a yearly festival which allowed the people of Mauritius to connect through Sega music, eco-art and Mauritian vegan and vegetarian food,” says Christina. “The picture was taken in Agathe’s boutique village where local farmers, part of the financial funnel, told us about their aspirations of teaching young Mauritians about the importance of harvesting their own crops. It was lush, green and the air was so fresh.”

Other works touch on equally vital and personal topics, like the one of Abdu, a friend she met on the beach in Sala – the people here “love water so much, I just wish their environment was kinder to them.” Another depicts musician Jords on set for his video for Almost An Adult, where Christina photographed him plus several talented Jamaican men; “nature mixed with masculinity was a universal language here.” Her pictures speak words and tales, and there are many conversations to be had around them. With plans to continue working more with people involved in activism, environmentalism and intersectionality, it seems there are more good things to come from Christina.

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Christina Nwabugo: Boutique Garden Mauritius (Copyright © Christina Nwabugo, 2021)

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Christina Nwabugo: Jords, Jamaica (Copyright © Christina Nwabugo, 2021)

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Christina Nwabugo: Mauritius (Copyright © Christina Nwabugo, 2021)

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Christina Nwabugo: AAA Film, Jamaica (Copyright © Christina Nwabugo, 2021)

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Christina Nwabugo: AAA Film, Jamaica (Copyright © Christina Nwabugo, 2021)

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Christina Nwabugo: AAA Film, Jamaica (Copyright © Christina Nwabugo, 2021)

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Christina Nwabugo: Ejatu, Senegal (Copyright © Christina Nwabugo, 2021)

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Christina Nwabugo: Emela, Mauritius (Copyright © Christina Nwabugo, 2021)

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Christina Nwabugo: Hands, Mauritius (Copyright © Christina Nwabugo, 2021)

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Christina Nwabugo: Mystic Revolution, Mauritius (Copyright © Christina Nwabugo, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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