nadine ijewere shoots beautiful portraits of london's mixed-heritage sisters
The 24-year-old photographer shares a preview of her year-long portrait project Same/Difference.
Zena and Ama
Growing up part Jamaican (on her mother's side) and part Nigerian (on her father's side) in London was difficult for Nadine Ijewere. She didn't entirely identify with the culture of either heritage, partly because, like her, both her parents were born and raised in the UK. She remembers being jealous of friends who were more connected to their traditions.
"A strong part of one's identity is their cultural background," she says. "So, as I got older, I went on a journey to really find and connect with my own." This journey inspired Ijewere to further explore and express that theme through her photography. "I'm interested in how other people identify and celebrate who they are and where they're from," she explains.
At London College of Fashion, where she studied fashion photography, Ijewere began to explore ideas of beauty and how they vary in different cultures. Her dissertation, titled The Misrepresentation of Representation, centred on Orientalism and western stereotypes of ethnic cultures.
Now, Ijewere is working on a year-long project documenting women of mixed race and heritages in and around London. It's a series that she says is both very personal for her but also very important for a generation of young women who are increasingly of interracial or multi-heritage backgrounds with little to no representation in fashion or art. "My work aims to celebrate multi-culturalism," she says, "and give a different take on beauty and its ideals."
What was your starting point for the Same/Difference series?
I'm fascinated by genetics, and siblings who have the same parents but look completely different or very, very similar. The women I photograph are mainly of mixed-race heritages and non-Caucasian ethnicities. I really want to give a platform and space for other cultures, to celebrate how diverse and different we are.
You only photographed women for this project. Why is that?
I'm very interested in how women see themselves. Women, more than men, are constantly changing themselves in order to fit a false perception of beauty. I want to document sisters and showcase that they are all beautiful — with all their similarities and differences.
Who are the siblings you've featured in the series so far?
I've known Chi and Ebele (who are part British, part Nigerian), since university. I remember seeing them in the library and saying to myself, "One day I'll photograph these two." They are so bubbly and full of life. Their outfits are always on point, too. You can't help but giggle when you're around them — they have this aura that makes you feel at ease.
Erin, Beth, and Rebecca made me laugh so much! The sisters have completely different personalities but are all strong women, and I could tell they have a very strong bond. I positioned them the way I did because I wanted to portray that bond. They're also based in London and Grenadian-Trinidadian.
Zena is a mechanic in an airport, which I think is super cool and inspiring, particularly because it's a male dominated environment. Both sisters — who are half-Ghanian, half Greek-Cypriot — had a tomboyish attitude, and they argued a little, as siblings do. Zena directed her sister a lot, so I wanted to have them holding each other close with Ama leaning into her sister to portray the sense that she looks up to her sister as an inspiration.
Anin, 10, and Mina, 14, who are part German, part Nigerian, are the youngest siblings I've shot but they're very mature in the way they present themselves. I wanted to show the bond between them and so I used their hair, which has similar tones, as a way of linking them. I also love the innocence in their eyes.
Jess and Katie (who have Chinese heritage), were great to work with, though they admitted they're not the hugging kind — that's why I posed them in this position. I wanted to show the natural bond between them without forcing the image too much.
Do you have siblings?
I have two half-sisters, aged 8 and 13, on my dad's side — but to me they've always been just my sisters.
What have you learned from the siblings you featured in Same/Difference?
Being a sister and having sisters is special. Sisters share strong bonds. And that bond stretches further too, between women, uniting them and helping them recognise the beauty within one another.
Where do you find your subjects?
I do quite a bit of street casting. I also find amazing people on Instagram and occasionally, I use model agencies.
Which photographers or artists inspire your work?
Vivianne Sassen. Her use of colour and abstract imagery is mesmerising. I also love old-school photographers like Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.
What do you hope people take away from your work?
I want women to know it's ok to show their heritage, that their skin colour, how they look and wear their hair — it's all beautiful despite whatever ideals the rest of the world tries to set for them. I want my work to represent how strong women are and encourage them to embrace themselves.
Text Genel Ambrose
Photography Nadine Ijewere