Ejatu Shaw’s emotive and relatable photography tells stories of Black love, family and joy
The London-based visual artist talks us through her work, her process and her commission from the Adobe Stock Artist Development Fund, where representation, authenticity and relatability take centre stage.
- It's Nice That
- 1 February 2022
Ejatu Shaw has been interested in photography since she was introduced to the medium in the darkroom at her secondary school. “My teacher taught me how to create photograms of random objects, which I would then develop, paint over or use in collages and sculptures,” she tells us. While learning how to create these photograms — pictures made by placing objects on photosensitive paper and exposing it to light — she discovered her love for portraiture. She would often draw celebrities and peers in her free time and post the drawings on social media to see if anyone recognised the subjects. “When I began using photography as a way of creating reference images for my paintings, I realised just how powerful the camera could be when capturing this essence and honesty,” she says. “I’ve been taking photos of people ever since.”
Working across both analogue and digital photography, Ejatu uses her practice to tell stories of identity and her own lived experiences. Personal, emotive and empowering, Ejatu’s work employs a mix of mediums to deliver these narratives and, more importantly, to represent the Fulani and Muslim communities she belongs to. As such, her intimate and often candid photography conveys a deep sense of honesty. She’s had work exhibited at Home by Ronan McKenzie and Sonder as well as the Sierra Leone Arts Festival, and she’s also built a reputable client list that includes Etsy, Sunday Times, Dazed, Bumble, WeTransfer, Almeida Theatre, Puma, Hypebeast, Adidas and Vogue, among others.
More recently, Ejatu received a commission from the Adobe Stock Artist Development Fund to create a project inspired by Black love, family and joy. The fund, part of the Adobe Stock Advocates program, aims to address a lack of inclusivity in the media by driving representation and championing artists who come from underrepresented communities.
In Ejatu’s commissioned work, you’ll see Black children and families enjoying their time together — playing basketball, roller skating, laughing, hugging. Not only is the work celebratory and relatable, it’s also helping to address the lack of representation in media. “It’s so important to myself and many other Black visual artists that we continue to represent ourselves in a way that is relatable, ethical and inspirational,” she explains. “We want to positively contribute to visual history and bypass traditional modes of representation that were often voyeuristic or fetishising.”
When approaching her commission, Ejatu found guidance in Adobe Stock Advocates creative briefs — including Identity and Gender, Celebration of Self and Beliefs and Rituals — all of which were crafted to support artists like her, help them become more culturally aware and help them portray individuals and communities accurately. She says the briefs also helped her push her practice into the realms of lifestyle and documentary photography. “I’ve really enjoyed photographing people in their homes, artists in their studies and in general capturing the pride that individuals have in their spaces.”
Authenticity, representation and activism are big factors in Ejatu’s work. “It’s so important to keep contributing visually in this way because it goes beyond photography,” she says. For instance, she says that when moodboarding or prepping at the beginning of a project, having a diverse pool of talent — plus “beautiful, everyday imagery” — can make a huge impact on the media we all consume and reference as inspiration.
To ensure authenticity in her images, she says, “It’s important that I see myself in some sort of way.” She makes this happen either by incorporating pieces of self-portraiture that relate to her subject’s emotions or by capturing a moment she can refer back to, “recollecting their story as well as mine at the time”. She adds: “Photography is so intimate in this sense, as we’re both pouring into this image and this history.”
Ejatu says she’s grateful for the Artist Development Fund and how it’s designed to help shape the industry. “I really appreciate the consideration Adobe Stock has for various categories and identities that may often be overlooked or be an afterthought when it comes to visual media,” she says. “I knew the commission would be a great way to show just how rich an individual’s identity can be.”
“I really wanted to photograph people from my community in their traditional wear, as well as in their Islamic attire, as I noticed that Black Muslims are quite visually underrepresented,” she continues. “As a Black Muslim myself, seeing such imagery growing up would have certainly helped me with having a better understanding of my identity.”
If you’re interested in applying for an Artist Development Fund commission, visit the Advocates page for details.
GalleryCopyright © Ejatu Shaw, 2022
Copyright © Ejatu Shaw, 2022