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March 26, 2020


Photography by Ibi Gowon
Interview by Melanie Meggs

Ibi Gowon is a visionary – a photographer of African/British heritage with an unquenchable passion for capturing the essence of current events. With an unwavering dedication to his craft, Ibi takes to the streets daily in search of captivating subjects and moments that tell a story. His unique style of street photography, which focuses on portraiture, is a beautiful fusion of his London upbringing and his African interactions.

Ibi’s works are a testament to his creativity and his commitment to excellence. His eye is sharp when it comes to detail and composition, and he is never afraid to push conventional boundaries in order to capture the perfect shot. From political gatherings to social movements to moments of everyday life, Ibi has seen it all through his lens – and he has a remarkable way of capturing these moments in time like no other. He often takes a step back from taking photos and instead observes the scenes before him, allowing him to gain a deeper understanding of the people and places he visits.

Ibi’s photographs are inspiring and thought-provoking and they invite viewers to explore different perspectives on our world. What sets Ibi apart is his ability to skillfully capture the raw emotions, mischief, and soul of his subjects, producing powerful and emotive photographs that leave a lasting impression. In this interview, we take a closer look at Ibi’s journey into photography and explore just what makes this brilliant photographer so unique.

“I studied art at school and photography was an element of it. However it wasn’t until I went overseas for work that my photography really took off. I was mesmerised by the colours around me, colours that were so different to those of London. For me photography allows you to capture a specific moment and it also allows you to tell a story.”


THE PICTORIAL LIST: Hello Ibi, let's begin by telling our readers something about yourself.

IBI GOWON: I’m an International development consultant, and that’s how my “Colours /(Colors) of Abuja” series started. I grew up in North London, Golders Green, and then Hadley Wood, thus my following of Arsenal Football Club…! I have one daughter who although young is a very good artist and photographer. She kept taking my kit but it was too heavy, so I got her a secondhand Fuji X Series. She is my locations and lighting director..! I have now embarked on documentary filmmaking, charting the course of Nigeria’s ancient and lesser known civilisations.

TPL: Could you tell us what growing up in London has inspired in your work and the way you portray your community?

IG: London is real mix of everybody from all over the world. You can walk along the Holloway Road, Green Lanes or Seven Sister’s Road and hear 25 different languages being spoken! It’s this eclectic mix of the city I always try to capture. Being part of the community allows one to get closer to the subjects that you photograph, particularly in more private moments such as the pubs!

TPL: What first attracts you in the moment, movement, light, colour, texture? Or do people and their personalities play an important role in how you portray them?

IG: Light, colour and moment play an important role, but for me it’s more of the human interaction that you can portray, and how much of the subject’s personality you can show.

TPL: Does having a spontaneous approach to your photography allow for the serendipity in the moment to dictate the frame?

IG: Yes it does. I try not to have something solid set in mind when I shoot. That way if you don’t pull it off you are not disappointed. I like to let the moment happen. Even when shooting a specific subject, I will always allow for spontaneity, as quite often that is when you take your best image.

TPL: Talk to us about your work in Nigeria. How much does documentary photography in particular play a role in your overall photography experience? What key themes do you want to show through your documentary photography?

IG: Every work situation is a photo opportunity and a chance to document real life issues that concern everyday people’s lives. Documentary photography plays a huge role. It helps to dispel myths or misconceptions about the country, both internally and from abroad. I hope that my photography helps to create a means of changing the stereotypical narrative to one that showcases the best of what the country has to offer. There are many other Nigerian photographers doing this and I’m happy to be helping them achieve this goal.

I hope that my photography helps to create a means of changing the stereotypical narrative to one that showcases the best of what the country has to offer.

TPL: What was one of your favourite moments photographing? Where was it? And why? What are some of the challenges that you have faced out photographing on the street?

IG: My favourite moments were photographing the Hyena Men of Nigeria. I never knew how big and powerful hyenas were until then! I got to within 1.5 metres of a hyena! It was interesting to understand the lives of this group of people. It was only after the shoot that I was informed that the hyena was the African Spotted hyena, the largest and most dangerous of the hyena family! The other moments were the pre “Sallah” ram sale, marking the end of Ramadan, where rams are bought and sold; and the other was builders working on a site in Abuja where there were so many vintage 1950s/1960s Mercedes trucks, still in use! Both tof hese were chance shoots! The biggest challenge I had was assuming that shooting on the streets of Abuja would be the same as in London..! It is not..! People, there are far more wary of the camera. They either feel you are spying on them or you are a part of the state security apparatus. Always have an escape route planned and get ready to run, as things can turn pretty spicy in seconds. Of course, this happens too in London. I will happily night shoot in Soho, but I won't do so on Green Lanes or Seven Sisters Road!

TPL: Do you have favourite locations you like to point and shoot, or do you prefer the challenge, or the inspiration of new locations?

IG: I have favourite locations that I always return to, as they are great for photography. You can always shoot a new scene there and use the location as a backdrop. Each new place I go to offers up new and interesting challenges: the best location, the light, etc, so I will always have a wonder around to draw some inspiration.

TPL: Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?

IG: Gordon Parks. His work on covering the poor America, the African American Experience, his work in the Civil Rights and his filmography. Vivian Maier. A prolific photographer that was so ahead of her time, whom we may well have never heard of had it not been for the chance finding of her negatives after her death. My favourite artist is Georges Seurat. I love the impressionist era, but Seurat and his pointillism style is my favourite. I went on a school art trip to Paris aged 16, and fell in love with his “Un dimanche après-midi à l’ile de la Grande Jatte” and “Bathers at Asnières”. I can remember sitting in the gallery and sketching them! That was the beginning of a lifelong love of pointillism.

TPL: What was the first camera you ever held in your hand, brought to eye, and released a shutter on? What is the camera you use now and your preferred focal length? Is there anything on your wishlist?

IG: It was one of the type you look down from above. I was about 4 years old, and it was my father’s photographer who let me try it out! Today I use a Sony A7iii, a Fuji X100f and a Fuji X-T20. My preferred focal length is 35mm. I have lots of things on the wish list, but the pockets are not deep enough! Maybe the new Sony A7R V, and new Fuji X-T5 and new lenses.

TPL: Are there any special projects that you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about? What are some of your photography goals for the next 3-5 years?

IG: I am currently working on a series of mini documentaries showcasing Nigeria’s ancient cultures and civilisations. The first one is on YouTube (view link at end of interview). The team is hoping to get all the other 12 done in the next year.

My photography goals are to have an exhibition of the Nigeria work in the UK and the UK work in Nigeria; to publish the Nigeria work and to continue documenting the different tribes and groups of people in Nigeria.

TPL: “When I am not out photographing, I (like to)...

IG: I always have a camera with me…! There’s always a moment to capture! If I'm not shooting, I’m at galleries, walking the streets trying to find new locations, at food markets, and trying to keep fit..!”

Ibi is an artist at heart, who is fascinated by the complexity of human interactions and the way they interact with their surroundings. Through his captivating and thought-provoking images, he brings to life a world full of depth and a touch of playfulness. We feel privileged to have Ibi on board as a valuable member of the Pictorial team. Connect with Ibi using the links won't want to miss the opportunity to experience the unique perspective that Ibi brings to the art world.

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