Danielle Mbonu is one of those people that makes you feel old and wonder how you’ve wasted so many years. At just 21 years old, she’s already an accomplished photographer with clients including Nike, Off White and Wonderland for whom she’s shot the likes of Skepta and Flohio and her portfolio shows no signs of slowing down. Born and raised in Lagos, she’s currently studying in the UK and so splits her time between the two locations.
Danielle first stumbled upon the photographic medium in 2012 – the “Tumblr era” – when professional cameras were all the rave. “I somehow convinced my dad to get me one,” she recalls, “and I just started photographing my friends – everything, to be honest. A lot of people told me I was good so I kept at it ever since.” More than simply a hobby she’s pursued because she’s good at it, however, Danielle is enamoured by the ability to “hold on to a moment forever,” which compels her to keep photographing. “It’s like freezing time through your own eyes exactly how you want to remember it,” she continues. “There are so many things and experiences you probably would never remember if you didn’t have pictures from them.”
While it was photography that first piqued her creative interest, more broadly, Danielle describes herself as a multidisciplinary artist as she doesn’t like to limit herself to one particular thing. “Today I’m shooting editorial, tomorrow it could be lifestyle or documentary, you know?” Headstrong in her vision for her career, she also adds, “but it’s always what I want to shoot, I don’t shoot anything I’m not interested in and I’m blessed to mostly work with friends and people I admire so it’s fun most of the time, not really a process.”
It’s this sense of fun, of treating shoots like an avocation as opposed to a job which needs to be done, that fills Danielle’s work with a certain spontaneity. Take, for example, her shoot with Flohio for Wonderland, in which the fashion mag wanted to the musician “in her element, just being her” but also wanted to capture the Lagos scenery. “I thought the most ideal place to shoot at was the beach (my favourite place), and we just had fun and played around with different locations,” Danielle says, “she’s a free spirit.” Her photographs of Flohio in the water are therefore her favourite, as they perfectly achieve the purpose of the project.
Another image which Danielle calls out among her favourites, and which ranks up there as one of ours as well, depicts sisters Tobi and Temi as part of the Nike homecoming jersey campaign. True to form, the shot was completely unplanned, with Danielle explaining “I wasn’t the photographer meant to shoot it – my shoot was kind of a backup shoot in case they didn’t like the original.” Having wanted to shoot Tobi and Temi for a long time – “[they] are literally the most gorgeous sisters” – it proved the perfect opportunity and the shoot took place in the Nigerian national stadium. The pair are pictured standing side by side, “just representing a certain level of feminine strength, and sisterly bond, which I feel is so important to portray in my work (I have a little sister as well),” Danielle remarks, adding, “it was a super fun shoot and they looked really badass!”
Not content with her achievements to date, Danielle is currently extending her talents to the world of directing. “It’s something I’m really interested in, just the whole idea of bringing visuals to life, I love it,” she says. “Also we don’t have enough female directors in Nigeria.” Clearly, on a mission to change that, Danielle recently directed the music video for Naira Marley’s Aye, an impressive debut which makes us excited for what’s to come next!
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.