An “immigrant reflecting on his identity”, photographer Henry Kamara celebrates the history of his ancestors
The British-born Sierra Leonean photographer discusses his practice and intentions behind his photographs – one that’s filled with narrative and his experience of diaspora.
- Ayla Angelos
- 29 June 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Henry Kamara’s typical day tends to begin with a tea and spliff, while he gives thanks and prays that the day ahead is “full of love and blessings,” he tells It’s Nice That. And, as of late, the British born Sierra Leonean photographer has been spending much of lockdown sorting through edits and sharing his work with editors or on social media, taking a break from shooting and perhaps getting his nose stuck in a book – world history, consciousness, race and culture or poetry as his subjects of choice. Or he’s in the kitchen making sushi, a new “staple” that he’s recently learnt the ropes of, before heading to his day’s meetings to tell the story about his work. “Before I go to sleep,” he adds, “I will write my thoughts, how my day has gone and how I have felt at various points. I will give thanks and perhaps jot down some of the tasks I need to do the following day. Then we go again.”
Throughout his work, Henry addresses the complexities of identity and “how race and class impact the movement of people and culture” – a topic that’s inspired by the movement of his family. Having graduated from the University of Leicester with a BA in English and Creative Writing, the budding writer decided to embark on a more visual journey, incorporating a “visual prowess” to his narratives. He soon ventured to Amsterdam and started his photographic journey working at Nike’s European HQ. His fondness for the medium flourished, as did his skill and technical ability, which meant that he went on to work in fashion and sports marketing, followed by pursuits telling stories on the streets of Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin and London.
Commercially, Henry has a jam-packed portfolio filled with editorial work for Nike, Adidas, Puma, Complex and i-D among others. “I believe my creative output is an extension of my being,” he continues to explain of his practice. “I enjoy challenging my ability to tell stories through different mediums like film and music.” As such, the photographer traverses through still image through to directing documentaries, film and music videos, particularly that which focuses on ethnographic research on community groups and youth. Despite his multifarious practice, it’s portrait photography that he hones in on the most – enjoyed for the intimacy and communication reached between the subject and photographer. As such, the last two years have seen him work on an ongoing series titled the Humans of Catford as an art director and photographer, documenting the stories of people and communities who often go overlooked, “particularly in the process of regenerating an area”.
Various travels, commissions and personal projects later, it’s plain to see how attentive and thought-provoking Henry’s photography work really is. But it was once he’d formed a more solid understanding of his heritage and movement of culture that he’d come to solidify his practice. “My father was born in Sierra Leone, Mende tribe,” he says. “His mother was of the Mende tribe and lived in Manjaba, Bo in the Southern province of Sierra Leone. His father was a Lebanese man, story unknown. My mother is also Mende tribe and was born in the Eastern province of Blama. As a young child after the death of her mother and father, she moved to Tikonki, Bo.”
“In an attempt to become more familiar with the agents responsible for shaping my life, I left for Salone,” Henry continues. “Growing up in London left me with an insatiable sense of displacement. How did I come to be born in the ‘mother country’ of the British commonwealth? What were the social and historical forces that dictated my family’s movement? How has this impacted my understanding of class and race? How different would my life have been had I been born in Sierra Leone? I offer my story as a vehicle for conversation, an example of an immigrant reflecting on his identity and celebrating the history of his ancestors”.
As a result, Henry travellde to Sierra Leone in April 2018 and began documenting the culture and people of the country. Must of his work, to this extent, draws from his own personal life experiences and quest to understand his identity. Curiosity is ingrained in the human condition, so when Henry speaks of learning and telling stories through symbols, pictures, graphics, photos and films, and using photography as a way of freezing his “perspective” in order to understand these moments, his creative intentions become clear. “My experience of diaspora as a Sierra Leonean born in London has me exposed to the imbalance between the wealthy and the poor, and the differences and similarities between the two,” he says. “Photography is the medium I use to express my intention to help bring about balance.”