William Ukoh, also known as Willyverse, is a Toronto-based photographer whose style spans genres. From still lifes to fashion shoots, categorising William as a specific type of photographer would be reductive. Instead, he uses his skills as a means of self-exploration and communication. “My sincere interest in photography developed about nine years ago. I was introduced to the DSLR, decided to acquire one for myself, and began exploring all the possibilities it allowed for self-expression,” the photographer tells It’s Nice That. William is undeniably a visual thinker, his photographs seeped in mesmerising colours and satisfying textures. His series Okobo is no different and sees William look back to his Nigerian grandparents and their culture as a source of inspiration.
“Okobo can be considered a tribute to my grandparents as it draws on the traditional clothes of their ancestry. However, it’s also a fashion story that explores a marriage that is relative to the culture of the people. It reflects on the highs, lows and uncertainties, as well as the image we choose to present to the outside world,” he says. Okobo features a couple draped in multi-coloured silks against a pastel backdrop. William tenderly captures the couple’s subtle dynamics, their intricacies and nuances by combining intimate portraits with overview shots. The series’ strength lies in its simplicity. Through his soft colour palette and unassuming honesty, William is able to distill the couple’s vulnerability in a way that renders it instantly relatable. “I had mapped out the different scenarios I wanted to capture before the shoot. My goal was to keep each shot soft, while still maintaining a bold presence.”
Okobo is one of Nigeria’s 774 local government areas and is located in the south east of the country. “It’s where my grandfather is from. There are similarities in the traditional clothing across the southern part of Nigeria, which is characterised by wrappers for the men and big dresses for the women. The styling in the Okobo story could be considered a loose interpretation of the actual traditional garments,” William explains. Okobo is in this way a sensitive and impeccably stylish celebration of William’s family’s heritage. The impressive, beautifully adorned clothes are at times as central to the series as the couple itself. Yet, William is hesitant to delineate Okobo’s overarching message, encouraging viewers to imagine it for themselves. “I believe there is beauty in allowing people to come to their own conclusions on how they feel about an image. It’s different from person to person, and that allows the image to live longer.”
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