Inspired by her mother and ancestral home of Jamaica, Ekua King’s photography is filled with opulence and joy
Talking us through her fashion-driven portraiture, the London-based photographer aims to break down the media’s negative connotations with being Black.
- Ayla Angelos
- 1 July 2020
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
While on holiday, Ekua King’s mum had gifted her first camera to take with her. Ergo she would spend her summer holidays with her cousins in North Carolina, taking pictures of them as often as she could. Soon enough her cousins became her subject, as well as her friends whom she’d photograph after school. “When I was 15,” she tells It’s Nice That, “three of my friends and I asked our teacher if we could make a yearbook and we did. I knew I wanted to be a photographer from then.”
The now London-based photographer, who comes from Jamaican heritage, decided to embark on a degree in Fashion Photography at the London College of Fashion. Not so much a detour, as afterwards she went on to intern at i-D magazine and published her first personal project on trainer collectors. “Terry loved it and put it in the magazine,” she recalls of the series that naturally led to several commissions, including shoots for Vogue, Nike and the Observer.
Ekua’s degree in fashion photography has had an impactful influence on the work she creates today, much like her Jamaican heritage – a culture that she refers to greatly. Thus, Ekua defines her work as “portraiture with elements of fashion”, which is proven by her remarkably styled and joyfully composed portfolio. Yet, beneath her aesthetically pleasing portraiture however is a desire to create more than just a beautiful image: “I want my work to be about something, a conversation,” she says. “My aim is to change the narrative surrounding Black people; breaking down the social barrier through imagery.” Doing just that, her final project and dissertation at university in 2008 was focused on the ‘Black male image’, and how Black men are represented in the media. “From what I’ve seen, Black is always associated with negative connotations,” Ekua continues. “For example, white is good, clean, angelic and pure, while black is evil, dirty, scary and bad.”
Going against the stigma, Ekua wants to break down the media’s negative associations through her imagery, aiming to present her own definition of what being Black means to her – “elegant, rich, regal and beautiful”. An example of which can be seen in her shoot for Carharrt Wip SS20. Taken in Jamaica, the series depicts a bountiful portrayal of her subject and the crisp clothing that they’re wearing. A further image from The Wind That Rushes, from a commissioned piece for Vogue Italia that’s styled by Candice Bailey, sees a male model wearing an extravagantly large, lacy yellow sun hat – one that seems more style over substance, but puts in little effort to impress. Sun-drenched and with a bare background of the sky blue, it’s an image that echoes with opulence.
Ekua continues to explain that this story for Vogue Italia, titled Sunday Best and again styled by Candice, is inspired by their culture. A decadent display, each image presents a sepia-toned depiction of fine clothing – the kind that you’d unquestionably reserve for Sunday and a special occasion. One image in particular [pictured above], sees a male laughing away from the lens, with his capped teeth on show and a pendant necklace from Alighieri, Maison Marginal shirt and Alex Mullins jacket to match. It’s finery displayed with virtue; the model is lavishing in happiness and indeed regality, with a smile that fills much of the frame. It makes you want to know this character, know their story and what they were doing at this exact moment in time.
“[The image] of Malick laughing so you can see his mouth and the bottom of his face shows so much joy, and he is wearing a beautiful suit,” says Ekua. “I now call this image ‘Joy’, and we both love it so much – it shows a joyous moment of a Black man.”
Other works do much of the same, where each shot has a certain level of pure bliss. To achieve as such, Ekua tells us how her process has remained the same since school; she likes to print out references and stick them in her sketch book, writing notes alongside them. What’s more is that everything that she creates is inherently inspired by the photographer’s mother and culture, especially that of her ancestral home of Jamaica.
Ekua King: Vogue Italia, styled by Candice Bailey