“I’m always on the verge of creating something”: Lakin Ogunbanwo on his vibrant and prop-heavy photography

Through explicitly stark and performative image-making, the Nigerian artist strives to document his hometown of Lagos.

15 October 2021

In Lakin Ogunbanwo’s imagery, the subject’s face is often hidden from view. Whether it’s a palm positioned in front of the body, a plastic balloon hanging from the hairline, or wire entangled across the entire décolletage, each prop has been placed with purpose as it masks the subject’s identity. It’s a technique that’s become signature to Lakin, a Nigerian photographer and filmmaker who’s heavily inspired by shadow, foliage and the vibrant compositions found in African studio photography from the 60s and 70s.

The photography of this time saw prominent artists like Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé and Samuel Fosso reach acclaim for their portraiture which reflected the politics and culture of the country plus a shift in using colour and more experimental set ups. The studio was utilised in creating lavish backdrops, many of which were adorned in colourful, patterned prints, hanging drapes and positioned in a way that pulls focus to the subject. Those in front of the lens would often stand outright, staring and posing into the camera in considered and well-thought-out postures. It was an exciting time for photography, with the incorporation of props becoming increasingly popular – either adding to the personality of the subject or the narrative of the image. In Lakin’s work, these influences become obvious. But what’s most interesting, and perhaps served up as the antithesis of classical portraiture, is the decision to conceal the subject’s face.


Lakin Ogunbanwo (Copyright © Lakin Ogunbanwo, 2021)

Lakin was born in Lagos, Nigeria in the late 80s. His exposure to the art of picture-taking arose in his younger years, when he started taking “random portraits” of his siblings at home, “then my friends,” he tells It’s Nice That. “And here we are.” But surprisingly, he hadn’t planned to become a photographer, and instead worked to become a lawyer before realising his love of the medium. “But the universe had other plans.” Now, Lakin’s work has been featured widely in the pages of The New Yorker, the New York Times, Vogue Italia, I-D (online), British GQ, and Riposte Magazine among others. Additionally, he’s had works shown in solo exhibitions such as e wá wo mi in 2019, We must Not Be Looking in 2017 and Are We Good Enough in 2015 at Whatiftheworld, Cape Town. This year, he was awarded a three-month residency in Amsterdam by the Thami Mnyele Foundation, and he’s also had works placed into the public collection in the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia and the Wedge Collection in Toronto.

The undercurrent throughout Lakin’s portfolio is a quest to document the culture of his hometown, Lagos. By merging portraiture and fashion, Lakin is able to paint a thorough picture by using traditional clothing, props and symbology to tell stories. When it comes to the process behind it all, he tells us how it’s all “actually quite simple.” For one, it’s an extremely intuitive ride from start to finish. “My creative process is me feeling and thinking a lot, and when it peaks, I run and go shoot,” he says. Secondly, he thinks constantly, and the process allows him to transfer his ideas into a visual and physical image. “I’m usually in my head a lot and I think I’m always on the verge of creating something.”

Continue to meander through Lakin’s portfolio and you’ll be blown away by the level of precision, achieved through technical lighting and a strong set-up in the studio. Not to mention a clear artistic direction that allows him to freely explore photography within his own set of parameters – such as masking the face. Intentionally stark and performative, Lakin’s photography is like opening up a can full of ideas, that of which has been peppered with history and narrative. So how does Lakin hope you’ll respond? “I think art is subjective,” he adds, “and I never try to curate anyone’s reaction. I’m OK as long as it makes the observer feel something (anything). That said, there’s a strong sense of desire to expand the contemporary African visual archive and portray personal African narratives, by way of Nigeria.”

GalleryLakin Ogunbanwo (Copyright © Lakin Ogunbanwo, 2021)

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Lakin Ogunbanwo (Copyright © Lakin Ogunbanwo, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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