When we first came across the work of photographer Latoya Okuneye, we were blown away by her ability to centre, uplift and celebrate every subject in the frame. Most common in her portfolio is a steadfast commitment to the elevation of Black women, something that runs deep for Latoya herself. “Photography grants me the space and freedom to present my story and the stories of people like me by having full control over my own narrative,” Latoya explains to It’s Nice That. “I am able to collaborate with other Black women and learn more about womanhood.” Latoya herself regularly studies about the various things which shape Black womanhood, using the knowledge gained to inform her work. “Visual storytelling gives me the space to think outside of the box and find exciting and unique ways to educate and inform an audience,” she says.
Two projects stand out to us as perfect examples of Latoya’s mode of educating through art. A Mother’s Tale is a project that was originally commissioned by creative director Elsie Cullen at GUAP magazine, and quickly took on a life of its own under Latoya’s helm. “At the time I was looking for an opportunity where I could document Black mothers because as I felt I had already created quite a few projects around Black girlhood and young Black women,” Latoya says. “Also, in the art world there isn't a lot of documentation of the generation that came before us.” Thus, the project serves as a “commemoration to the sacrifices of mothers who left their home to make something of themselves here”, displaying each portrait in brilliant light and warmly saturated colours to really hone in on the tribute.
In contrast, Fourteen is a project by Latoya we love for its opposite end on the spectrum. It’s a visual exploration of the reality of Black girlhood in the United Kingdom, specifically the “adultification of working class girls in London, their ability to hold on to their youths and navigate the ever changing and inconstant pressures of the world around them,” explains Latoya. In some ways, Fourteen stands out for its twofold purpose: one where it exists as a memory-like visual diary that pays homage to the innocent days of teenage years, and another where it exists as a detailing of the specific contemporary moment for Black girls. “It’s about enjoying the softness of friendships, connection, self expression and beauty in mundanity,” Latoya says. “And it was also inspired by my own personal desires to connect with my inner child as I discovered that growing up in a working-class family had isolated and aged me.”
Still, Latoya sees her work as far from being over. “My ultimate goal as an artist is to make people that share similar human experience feel seen, validated, loved and worthy,” Latoya summarises on the legacy of her work. “I want to create work that investigates, exposes and visually discusses challenges in society today, but still brings hope and light as I re-imagine what can be possible.” Through her incredible eye and talent for the camera, Latoya is proving herself to be one of the most promising young talents in the country’s photography scene today – and all for good reason. “Ultimately, I hope that when people see my work they are inspired to create healthier spaces for themselves and their own little communities,” she says. “To heal and find true joy.”
GalleryCopyright © Latoya Okuneye, 2023
Latoya Okuneye (Copyright © Latoya Okuneye, 2023)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.