Rachel Seidu’s first introduction to photography happened at her local church when she was about 16 years old. They wanted volunteers to take pictures, but the training was minimal. “We were trained to click the shutter, just that, we weren’t taught to understand the camera or anything,” she says. “But since then I started telling all my friends I was a photographer.”
When Seidu got to university in 2018 she progressed onto using her phone to take pictures and she began learning more about composition and lighting. This did the job until she was able to afford her first camera last summer and now Seidu creates images that require more than a simple shutter click.
Based in Lagos, Nigeria, Seidu has been steadily building her portfolio, photographing people she knows, people she meets and working on several bodies of work as well as commissions. “I’d describe my style of photography as visual storytelling, for me it’s always about sharing what I see around me,” she says.
“I enjoy reading stories, and because I suck at writing now, I’m glad photography is a medium I can tell stories with. My work is inspired by my environment, by the people around me, by my own story, and a whole lot of emotions.”
People are her favourite subject, and she flits between close crops of faces and full body shots. “I really enjoy taking pictures of people doing what they love doing, people being people,” she says. “Very simple portraits of regular people doing regular things, playing, dancing, talking with friends, happy, sad, everything.”
Seidu often plays with light and shadow in a way that gives her images an elegance and power. She also experiments with colour though sometimes avoids it completely as she feels it can influence the feel of an image too much, and instead opts for black and white. “I feel like black and white is the best technique ever because there’s nothing influencing how you feel about the image,” she explains. “It’s all about the emotions present. It’s raw, it’s powerful.”
Earlier this year Seidu’s work was selected for the Young Contemporaries 2021 exhibition, as part of the Rele Arts Foundation, held at Rele Gallery in Lagos. The space was founded to act as a “critical interface between the African and international art worlds”, and the Young Contemporaries platform aims to work with each artist selected and provide them with resources and mentorship to help them progress.
Seidu showcased her series Existing II, which questions “social constructs of gender and sexuality beyond homogenous representations of being”. The images feature intimate, golden-lit portraits that subvert masculinity and explore gender expression in a society that, according to Siedu, is increasingly religious and oppressive.
This was Seidu’s first time exhibiting her work for an audience, and for now she’s simply relishing each experience as it comes. “I am still an amateur photographer so I’m still growing in the industry,” she says. “Whatever challenges I’m going through right now I believe it’s a part of the process that will eventually lead me to greater things. I’m just enjoying the process.”
Speaking of process, Seidu says the way she approaches her work day to day tends to be very spontaneous and she’ll follow ideas as they come to her. “If I feel like creating something, I just hit up a friend or use one of my little siblings as my model,” she says. “Sometimes I carry my camera and just walk around.”
When she’s working on a specific series though, Seidu is much more methodical and often writes down the concept and the shots that could help tell the story, while also noting down the outfits, colours and props needed. “After this, I spend days thinking a lot about it, then I write out the emotions I hope will be present in the image, plus how I feel at the moment as well because I believe my emotions also influence my work,” she explains.
“Then I think of the location, I always lean towards locations with a lot of green because I believe it adds to the naturalness of my work. While photographing, if I don’t feel like the things I wrote down are being fulfilled, I don’t go through with the shoot, and I reschedule for another time.”
It’s clear for Seidu taking pictures is an emotional experience, and she’s motivated by her genuine love for photography. While she’s still just starting out, she’s excited to see how her work will develop over the next few years.
“I hope my images make people feel, this is very important for me,” she says. “I don’t want to just make ordinary lifeless images, I want to create timeless images.”