Capturing things and people just as they are, photographer Jolade Olusanya takes a “fly on the wall” approach

The London-based creative tells us about his multidisciplinary practice which overlaps writing, poetry and of course, photography.

2 September 2021


It was that pesky thing called Instagram that first got Jolade Olusanya into photography. During its early days, when users would post sepia-infused, out-of-focus shots of any run-of-the-mill meal thinking it was a Michelin star delicacy (remember those days?), Jolade first started taking photographs seriously. While most people were posting these food or brutalist building images (the London-based photographer included) Jolade also came across a bunch of people using the platform for beautiful artistry that he “felt like copying”. Back then, Jolade had just graduated from university having studied film and TV production. Photography was still a hobby and he spent his uni days carrying around his DSLR Canon 600D most of the time.

He tells us: “I taught myself how to use it by memorising the auto settings that flashed up on the screen when you half-press the shutter and quickly dialling them in on the manual mode before I forgot.” The more he shot, he learnt, and operating the camera became a kind of muscle memory that was soon second nature. Over the years, he’s experimented with different kinds of photography, from analogue to digital, portraiture to landscapes and a sprinkle of street photography here and there. It’s a medium that’s seen him work with the likes of Kodak, Red Bull Music and even Samuel L Jackson. With the latter, Jolade was commissioned by director Ric Bienstock to document him and his team while filming a documentary on slavery in Gabon, titled Enslaved.

An invitation he initially thought to be a scam, the photographer was entrusted to “do his thing” entirely on the behind-the-scenes project. Artfully blending into the production, befriending Samuel and the team while capturing delicately candid shots, Jolade tried to make everyone as comfortable as possible during the shoot. Born in east London, Jolade later spent seven years in Nigeria where he developed a passion for writing. “I wrote stories mostly,” he recalls, turning more to literature, poetry and journalism when he returned to London. Since then, he’s consistently dabbled in the written form of storytelling which in turn, has informed his approach as a photographer and the narratives he presents to the viewer.


Jolade Olusanya (Copyright © Jolade Olusanya, 2021)

He describes his creative approach as a “fly on the wall thing”. By this, he means he “just wants to capture things and people as they are.” Unless he’s directing a video or film, Jolade admits that he’s not great at giving directions to people in front of the camera. Instead, he opts for a more natural style of photography, taking cues from some of the medium’s greats as well as other creatives including Dawoud Bey, Roy DeCarava, Malachi Kirby, Ofem Ubi, Holly-Marie Cato and Ejatu Shaw; just to name a few. Using his camera as a vehicle of discovery, Jolade draws inspiration from travel, but “not on a wanderlust vibe, more so a discovery thing.” He goes on: “Every community I go to, I leave with a new awareness that changes how I live and work. And that’s thanks to the people. So I guess I’m inspired by people all they come with.”

In a recent project, preliminarily titled The Illusion of Belonging, Jolade captures the atmosphere of London during the 2021 Euro final. Though he’s not a fan of football, the photographer wanted to find out why it drives people mad. More importantly, he was intrigued by the social context of the game: “as a Black man, I was aware of the racial controversy of the sport and of this country.” Dusting off his camera after almost two years of non-serious use, Jolade directed his lens onto the unfolding situation before his eyes. Fighting his way into the depths of the crown in central London, he climbed up a traffic lamp post and secured himself a vantage point where he stayed for two hours.

In rain, wind and discomfort, Jolade clung to the pole to document the night’s events. He saw friends meet and the police make their interventions and to his surprise, he even got passionate about the match, “purely because I knew what would happen if England didn’t win,” he says. Deciding to edit the series in black and white as he “didn’t want colour to distract from the moment in the photos,” the contemplative series ultimately invites people “who are so proud of screaming ‘IN-GER-LAND’ to actually think about what that means when they see what they look like.”

As for the future, Jolade is working on his first monograph which encapsulates poetry, photography and writing. Reflecting on his work over the past decade or so, he’s found common themes which unite his vast bodies of work and is currently in the process of pulling these together. The photographer also hopes to put on new exhibitions and create his debut short. Other than that, photography-wise, he’s planning a project based on his childhood in Nigeria and has hopes to grow a production company, Rxnin Co. And if that weren’t enough, he also hopes to work with more young people, to make their careers more easily navigable in comparison to his. He finally goes on to say: “I’d like to help in changing that narrative for others.”

GalleryJolade Olusanya (Copyright © Jolade Olusanya, 2021)

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Jolade Olusanya (Copyright © Jolade Olusanya, 2021)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.

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