The photographer building a 'normatopia' for her community
20-year-old Isabel Okoro discusses self-publishing her debut monograph, ‘Friends in Eternity'.
Photographer Isabel Okoro describes her new photo book as a look into an imagined world; a space to immortalise the people that meaningfully come into her life. A “normatopia” is the word she coined for it. “I started finding my voice in my work in 2019,” the 20-year-old explains. “I began to see these subconscious threads running through each image. That was when I started thinking about Eternity and world building.” Isabel’s world (a place she refers to as ‘Eternity’) stands in contrast to our current reality. While dehumanisation and violence are rife in our world, Isabel’s normatopia is a place where you can exist freely, authentically and peacefully as yourself. It’s a roadmap for a better reality that she’s been building for a long time.
“Growing up in Lagos, I remember wanting to go to a park and there not really being any around,” says Isabel, who was born and raised in Nigeria. In Friends in Eternity, natural spaces are a primary focus, second only to the very intentional centering of Black bodies. “There’s just something about people taking up space that I like, so when I was creating the images I made sure to take advantage of the beaches, gardens and sunsets.”
The decision to self-publish was driven by her belief in herself and the support of her community. “I was obsessed with the idea of making a book, then I won the Getty Images: Definition Future grant in 2020 and, in a way, it was the final push I needed for the idea to come to life.” On receipt of the grant, Isabel recruited her friends, none of whom had experience in book publishing, and embarked on the feat of independently producing the monograph. She fondly reflects on the highs and lows of the journey to print: “The experience wasn’t always kind but I would do this a thousand times over. It was cathartic. Working on this with my friends was particularly beautiful as well. My community came together to support me and make this dream a reality.”
As one of the first people to publish Isabel’s work back in 2018 when she was just 16 years old, I have had the privilege of watching her evolve as an artist over the last four years. We discuss how patience and intentionality have greatly impacted her practice since her emergence as a teen. “I only want to put things out when I have something to say. That’s what I am living by right now.” She is no longer concerned about the vanity metrics of social media or the pressure to constantly produce work. “I know what I want. I understand what matters to me. I have values and morals and the main development in my work has been the placement of focus on those values. I make sure that whatever I create is an extension of myself and a reflection of who I am, not who I think people want me to be.”
‘Friends in Eternity’ can be purchased from Isabel’s website
All images courtesy Isabel Okoro
Additional photography Dukkie Squires