Rachel Seidu uses symbolism to imbue her photographs with narrative and meaning
Showing an innate eye for captivating portraiture, the Lagos-based photographer has hit the ground running with her career telling intimate stories through her imagery.
It’s hard to believe Rachel Seidu has only been a professional photographer for a year when you look through her beguiling portfolio. Heartwarming, deeply personal portraits are composed and lit like old masters paintings, and similarly often feature symbolic details that tell the multi-layered story behind the image.
Though still only starting out, Rachel’s maturity has come from a few years of being a hobbyist photographer, which she spent discovering the subject matters which mean most to her, and developing a highly tuned gut instinct for image-making. Now, she says, the vast majority of her works are unplanned, decided upon and executed in a spontaneous manner. “If I don’t do it immediately then I just forget about it and move on.”
“I like how you can photograph only a part of the body and still tell a story through it.”Rachel Seidu
In some ways this approach sees Rachel create imagery in the same quick manner a social media viewer might consume it, going on impulse and impact; perhaps that’s explains, in part, her exponential success since only buying a camera of her own not too long ago. Moreover it demonstrates the photographer’s impressive self-confidence in her own creative vision and, importantly, how to make those ideas come to life through the lens.
Conversely to this process, her images are packed with symbolism, something she uses to tell a story more complex than it seems on the surface. Embedded in many of her beautiful portraits are details that signify cultural meaning. In fact she says three factors, location, outfit and pose, are “instrumental to storytelling” through photography, and tells us in more detail how she’s used these to imbue her recent projects with narrative. What started out, as she describes, as a simple fascination with humans and their stories, is already flourishing into an exciting career for Rachel and we can’t wait to see how this raw photographic voice and in-built aptitude for image creation is refined and evolved. In the meantime, Rachel tells us a bit more about her background, interests and favourite projects.
“I believe location, outfit and pose are instrumental to storytelling.”Rachel Seidu
It’s Nice That: Tell us about yourself: where are you from? Where did you grow up? Where are you based now? How did you find your way to a creative career?
Rachel Seidu: I’m Ghanaian-Nigerian – my mum is Nigerian while my dad is Ghanaian. I grew up in Lagos Nigeria, and I’m currently shuffling between Benin City, Edo state and Lagos state. Honestly, it wasn’t meant to be a career at first, it was a hobby. It dawned on me one day that I’d love to do this for the rest of my life and here we are.
INT: How did you find your medium and style, and who and what influenced you along the way?
RS: From being a hobby, once I decided to take photography seriously I was taking images almost everyday. I found my style last year after I was finally able to buy a camera. I attended this bootcamp (Rele Arts Foundation Young Contemporaries Bootcamp) and it changed my whole perspective on art. It helped me find my ground.
Lots of other artists influenced me; I wanted to be able to create like them. A few of them are Adeolu Osibodu, Yagazie Emezi, Adaeze Okaro, Etinosa Yvonne, Mr Shua and lots of other people.
INT: What subjects are you most fascinated with? Where do you look for ideas and inspiration?
RS: Humans. I enjoy photographing humans, I like how you can photograph only a part of the body and still tell a story through it. Sometimes I’m scrolling through my Instagram and an idea pops in my head, I immediately write it down and work on developing it. But I’m also really spontaneous so 80 per cent of my work is unplanned. I have an idea, I find a muse immediately and photograph them. If I don’t do it immediately then I just forget about it and move on.
INT: What creative / visual techniques do you use to tell stories through your images? Can you give some examples, and how your creative approach told that story best.
RS: I believe location, outfit and pose are instrumental to storytelling. In one of my old works Existing II, every single thing in the image was significant, from the candles to the white clothes the models wore, to the grassy background.
Existing II was basically about questioning social constructs of gender and sexuality, and why intimacy among men is usually questioned. The significance of the candles was how many times people who feel different about themselves have prayed and asked God to make them normal, when in fact nothing is wrong with them. The white outfit was to show holiness, to play with ideas of what some people understand as wrong and unclean. In films we hardly ever see the bad person in white, even in images of God he’s always clad in white. Since white is the colour of holiness and cleanliness, I decided to clothe my model in that. Meanwhile the natural environment was to show that being different is also natural.
INT: If you had to pick a favourite project, which one are you most proud of and why?
RS: I don’t think I have a favourite project, but the Amina and Habiba project holds a special spot in my heart. Amina used to be my roommate in the school hostel in 2019, and her friend Habiba used to visit a lot. Their friendship inspired that shoot, and I wanted them to be the subject. Existing I and II as well are favourites.
INT: What have you learned so far starting out in the creative industry, and how would you like to evolve and adapt your work going forward?
RS: I’ve learnt that there are a lots of ups and down, but that’s what makes it exciting, there’ll be a lot of rejection but not giving up is the important thing. I delved into film this past month and I’ll be doing that a lot more. I do not want to restrict myself to one storytelling medium. Let’s see how that goes.
Rachel Seidu: Rainbows and Wishes (Copyright © Rachel Seidu, 2021)