With just five years of experience under her belt, Nicole Osula displays an artistry beyond her years
The winner of the Portrait of Humanity 2020 shares her unexpected route into photography, which led to a career in creative direction and styling too.
- Jyni Ong
- 25 January 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Nicole Osula began her journey in photography back in 2015, but you wouldn’t think her enigmatic outputs are the result of a mere five years in the industry. Self taught, the British Nigerian-Sierra Leonean photographer first became interested in the medium by asking friends to stand against brightly coloured walls. She would take out her iPhone and snap a bold take on the portrait and, over time, the occurrence became more and more frequent. From there, Nicole’s fascination with photography grew. While she was once most interested in taking pictures of pretty clouds or sprawling groups of trees, she started to look for other, more challenging subjects. More namely people, and the way identity is communicated through creative direction and styling – two other disciplines she quickly developed a passion for.
A year after Nicole began taking photography seriously she was gifted a Canon 700D for her 21st birthday (this was the summer of 2016). “I cried haha,” she recalls on the momentous day. With this camera by her side, Nicole was able to develop her craft into the striking practice that it is today. Awarded the Portrait of Humanity last year, Nicole has now exhibited worldwide (from Malaysia, America, France and even in space) and been featured in the likes of Yellow Magazine, Guap Magazine and Marie Clare Hungary. Though her practice has improved in leaps and bounds since those first iPhone snaps, for Nicole this experience remains imperative to what kind of artist she is. Colour being a key focal point when it comes to composing an image.
As well as colour, texture and randomness are two other important elements to Nicole’s signature aesthetic. “’With every concept I deliberately work with models who can bring these ideas to life,” she adds. “I think it’s important to highlight features and complexions that look like my own and make it a point to create art with Black people centre stage.” Bridging genres, Nicole’s work possesses the conceptual vigour of portrait photography while encompassing the imagination and flair of a fashion shoot. She draws inspiration from “a lot of random things” – nothing is too small or insignificant – and from there, concepts begin are pieced together. Ideas roll around her head, imagining what (and how) a subject could wear a garment to express her concept in mind.
No detail goes unnoticed when it comes to painting a full picture in Nicole’s photography. For instance, she likes to think about the styling of the subject’s hair, make up and scenery, and in turn, how these are portrayed in an image. “From time to time I also like to make my outfits,” she adds, noting a dress created using tissue a few years ago. “Prayer is a big part of my process too,” says the photographer. “I find it helpful asking God to enhance my creativity and help me to execute the vision.”
There are two notable projects of Nicole’s where this process is exemplified. The first Sherbert, took Nicole to Kent coastline on a beach called Botany Bay. The shoot, featuring Deji Tiwo and Favour Jonathan, marked a wonderful day for the production party. “Upon arrival,” remembers Nicole, “we kicked off our trainers and sat in the sun, ripping apart rolls of tissue for me to fashion their outfits.” On the downside, the weather that day was especially windy and the scene Nicole pictured in her mind’s eye wasn’t quite what she expected. That being said, they made it work and the results are just as unique.
In another, Camaraderie, Nicole photographed Chris Chuky, Femi Coker and Sylvester Akin while they were waiting behind the scenes while recording singer-songwriter Azekel’s short film Our Father. Unlike the majority of her shoots where Nicole plans the shoot as much as she can in her head, this image was impromptu. While waiting for individual filming slots, Nicole asked the three if she could photograph them. They had only met that day but got on well and were happy to work together. The name Camaraderie was chosen by Nicole due to the sense of community and unity that was clearly conveyed in the three men that had met earlier that day. “In the series,” she goes on to say, “there are three men who stand no longer as former strangers, but as brothers.”
As well as continuing to pursue photography in the future, Nicole is also working on a jewellery line titled B E L L Y. Born out of a lockdown hobby, she hopes to release the debut collection later this year.
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.