Rubee Samuel’s photobook Omo Nigeria explores the Londoner’s emotional ties to West Africa

After years of wanting to travel to Nigeria alone, Rubee self-funded a trip to Lagos where she spent time at two schools leading workshops with students, and taking portraits.

Date
8 July 2022

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Whilst Rubee Samuel grew up in West London, she has – “and always will be” – emotionally tied to West Africa. For as long as she can remember, she had always wanted to visit Nigeria by herself, and with her two aunties owning schools in Surulere, Lagos, it seemed to make sense for her to use this as an opportunity to both visit and shoot. This thinking was the beginning of the Omo Nigeria photobook, a joyful, mixed-form project that uses staged workshop photos, as shot by their classmates, and a series of portraits of schoolchildren, as taken by Rubee. “It wasn’t until I was actually in the schools, working with the children and talking to the teachers about my job that I deeped how important me being there was,” Rubee reflects, “not only on a personal level, but for everyone involved.”

A photographer who predominantly shoots in analogue, Rubee’s work researches “the relationship between culture and identity, specifically of Nigerian descent.” Through exploring prominent personal experiences of ethnicity, sexuality and religion in different communities, Rubee aims to “start conversations, find correlations between cultures and tell stories.” Her practice and creativity is also rooted in her family’s connection to photography and visual media; she explains that growing up her dad always had a VCR camera on his person. “Whenever we had a visitor, an hour was always dedicated to going through family photo albums”, Rubee says, “I assume this is what subconsciously caught my interest.” But, Rubee also pays homage to gaining a more active interest in visual media after “religiously” watching America’s Next Top Model with her mum. Following on from this, Rubee studied photography at sixth form, while often assisting photographers and forcing her friends to model for her.

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Rubee Samuel: Omo Nigeria (Copyright © Rubee Samuel, 2022)

The project first began with Rubee building a workshop for the children – teaching them how to use cameras, some rules of composition whilst introducing them to some pioneering photographers. Showing the children fabricating scenes, fashioning handmade props and showing off some serious styling skills, the series beautifully demonstrates the boundless potential of children’s imaginations and their utterly carefree approach to selfhood. Looking at the photos now, Rubee tells us that she’s still so amazed “that they concepted them, styled them and photographed them all by themselves.” Highlighting one particularly impressive example, Rubee cites the photo of two boys in “snow white” pyjamas and sunglasses. “It’s my favourite look,” she adds, “it’s the way they mismatched the co-ord with the sunglasses, I would never have thought of that.”

Originally, the portrait aspect of the project was never going to be a feature, until a teacher at the school insisted that Rubee photograph some of the children too young to participate in the workshops. Showing the younger children with a clean, close up lens, the portraits emulate a traditional school photo style, a purposeful avenue for Rubee, as a means to represent the personal side of the project: “These are the school portraits that were never taken of me; these are classmates that I never had.”

The book is published under the publishing company that Rubee co-founded last year – Twentyfour Thirtysix. Focusing on platforming the work of visual artists from the subtropics and tropics, the publisher focuses heavily on working closely with the artists to create their book. Currently, the house is working on its second book, working with artists across many mediums, a project which Rubee says has both “pleasantly stretched her” and forced her out of her comfort zone. Alongside this venture, Rubee has recently restarted a unified, pre-pandemic series entitled Ile away from Uno, which aims to curate a “digital family tree”.

GalleryRubee Samuel: Omo Nigeria (Copyright © Rubee Samuel, 2022)

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Rubee Samuel: Omo Nigeria (Copyright © Rubee Samuel, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in illustration, photography, ceramic design and platforming creativity from the north of England.

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