Image courtesy of Stephen Tayo.

Stephen Tayo Is the Fashion Photographer Capturing the Effortless Style of Everyday Nigerians

We speak with the rising photographer about his growing portfolio, advocating for fellow Nigerian creatives and his vision for capturing fashion on the continent.

Stephen Tayo thinks Nigerians are naturally fashionable people, and we don't disagree.

After all, the 24-year-old fashion photographer would know—he's travelled throughout the country, capturing what to some, including his very subjects, might appear as unassuming everyday looks. To him, however, they're markers of ingrained taste.

To the young photographer, who got his start in fashion after earning a degree in philosophy from the University of Lagos, that's exactly what being "fashionable" is all about: genuine effortlessness. Though he didn't pursue a career in the field, he seeks to bring philosophy into his work, figuring out why exactly people dress the way that they do. We get a glimpse of that vision through his many photo series which explore high fashion with a broadening lens. With Tayo behind the camera, we get to see that places like Lagos and Accra are every bit the "fashion capitals" as Milan or Paris.

With his latest series on the eighth annual Chale Wote Street Art festival, published in Vogue earlier this month, the "it" photographer helped introduced a new audience to the sartorial prowess of the festival's young Ghanaian attendees. For Tayo, it's less about just showcasing the impeccable style that he has always known to exist on the continent to an international audience and more about giving his subjects an opportunity to relish in their style by seeing themselves represented on globally recognized platforms like Vogue.

We caught up with the photographer following the success of his recent feature in the publication and his work on Skepta and Wizkid's music video 'Energy' to discuss some of the highlights of his growing portfolio, advocating for fellow Nigerian creatives and his vision for capturing fashion on the continent.

Read on for our conversation.

Photo by Stephen Tayo.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What drew you to pursue fashion photography?

I'm trying to understand how people can look effortlessly beautiful. Because some people can just wake up and look fashionable. It's a Nigerian thing, especially in Lagos, where people actually do dress up. People know how to dress. It's not something they learn—it's not like they have a mood board that they study. It's just their style, and I figured why not document that lifestyle?

So it's all about capturing people's natural fashion sense?

Yes. Yes.

When you were starting out, who were you looking to for inspiration?

I was actually so obsessed with Hassan Hajjaj and Seydou Keita because when they were photographing, they were not under pressure. They captured what they could capture so easily and I'm taking a queue from them. Hassan is still functional and is really amazing. He's one of those people that I would really love to meet when I go to London. Those guys are really iconic and Samuel Fosso as well.

Photo by Stephen Tayo

What's your experience building a creative career in a place like Lagos? Not everyone can do that.

For me, because I'm not from a rich background, it's really hard navigating in a classist society, but I've always tried to channel and pursue good energy toward believing that I'll always survive in doing what I believe in. Sometimes as a young creative, you see all of your mates doing amazing things and you kind of want to compare yourself. As for me, I've kind of let it go and have just decided to live my life—to each his own. Lagos is really interesting. I feel so blessed to be working from Lagos. I feel like a champion, with all the leaps I've made and the opportunities that have come my way.

Recently, I read an article in GQ and that said that Dakar in Senegal was the most fashionable city in the world. They were really amazing photos, but some believe they didn't capture the true style in Dakar because it featured all Western designers. Of all the places you've shot, where would you consider to be the most stylish?

I would say that Kano was a dream for me. There are a lot of similarities with Kano and Dakar because it's very traditional. I've never been to Dakar, but there is a strong traditional element and a lot of family representation in the way people dress in Kano as well. It's the most fashionable place I've ever been to.

Photo by Stephen Tayo

Your Chale Wote pictures really took off with the feature in Vogue. In a way, you sort of introduced a new audience to that festival because I don't think all of Vogue's readers knew about it and how fashionable it was before seeing those images.

When I got the assignment to go to Ghana, I was like "oh yes, definitely." Ghana is close to Nigeria and the fact that I was able to capture people the way I captured them was amazing. It was really stressful for me though, trying not to get in between the crowd.

I was glad that Vogue recognized that there is so much happening in West Africa that needs to be spotlighted. But, the happiness comes from the fact that Ghanaians were happy, which is the most important thing. I'm always thinking about how I represent people's country especially if I'm not from there. It seems that so many appreciated my effort, and that means so much to me.

Photo by Stephen Tayo

I also saw on your Instagram that you did some work for Skepta and Wizkid's "Energy" music video, which was beautiful. How was it working on that?

That was brought about by Grace Ladoja and Meji Alabi who was the main director, and the idea of the video was to capture youth culture. I was part of the young creatives that co-directed and co-created the video. It was a fun, feel-good time working with Skepta and Wizkid. It was quite a tasking time as well and a very experimental project, which I am very grateful to have been a part of. All of us on the team had one thing in common: we just want to make sure we advocate for love and unity. Together we push. Together we're in this hustle, and we'll figure out how to get to the next stage together.

That's cool and is it different working on set versus like being on the street capturing style?

For me it was the same feel, because it was the same type of energy I incorporate in my photography.

Photo by Stephen Tayo.

Who would be your dream collaborator. Is there a dream project you would want to work on?

I love and cherish what Virgil Abloh is doing, it'll definitely be a dream to work with him. At the moment I'm working with Patta—an Amsterdam based street wear brand—and that's definitely a dream for me. I believe that if I can work with Patta, sooner or later, I should be able to create beautiful work with Virgil Abloh.

Is there a photo series of yours that you had an exceptionally interesting time working on? What's been your best experience shooting so far?

The one that's really close to my heart was my first Vogue feature about "New Year, New Me?" focused on the kids in Lagos. It's really close to my heart because the kids might not know how relevant it it is to be in Vogue and I think in the next few years, they'll understand that they were in Vogue just being childishly effortless and that might be a motivation for them that they can be as stylish and as fabulous as they want to be in the future. That's really close to my heart. That was shot where my parents live. That's where I actually grew up.

Photo by Stephen Tayo.

What's next for you? Is there any other creative pursuit you would like to take on?

I'm looking forward to publishing a photobook soon. I'm taking my time to decide and to read and understand the best way to get it out. Also, I'm collaborating with some streetwear designers at the moment including Motherland, SevereNature, Shekudo, Orange Culture and Vivendi. Also, during fashion week in Lagos, I'll be working with a few designers as well. So, I mean, there's work, work, work, for a freelance artist like me. There's so much to do.

Photo by Stephen Tayo.

Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

Photo (c) John Liebenberg


"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.


Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.

The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:

mage courtesy of TIFF

Senegalese Filmmaker Mati Diop Tells a Haunted Story of Migration

We caught up with the celebrated director at the Toronto International Film Festival to talk about her new film, Atlantics

It's been a good year for French-Senegalese director Mati Diop and her film Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story.

The movie got its North American premier at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this month after wowing critics and audiences at Cannes, where it won the prestigious Grand Prix. Diop was the first Black woman to successfully submit a film in the Cannes competition, and naturally the first to win any award at the iconic festival.

In Toronto, the Paris-born director was also honored with the inaugural Mary Pickford Award for Outstanding Female Talent, presented at the TIFF Tribute Gala on September 9. The award is named after Mary Pickford, a Toronto native who went on to conquer Hollywood in the early days of the industry as an actor and producer. Co-founder of United Artists, she was the highest paid woman in Hollywood in her day.

Mati Diop, actor and director, was born in Paris into a prominent Senegalese family, the daughter of noted musician Wasis Diop, and niece of well known filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty. As a director, she has several short films under her belt, including Atlantiques in 2009. Her short films Big in Vietnam and A Thousand Suns screened at TIFF in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story is Diop's first feature, which she directed as well as co-writing the screenplay with Olivier Demangel.

It's in the story of the first Atlantiques – the short – that the new film came to be. "The two films are both connected and not connected," Diop tells OkayAfrica. The short Atlantiques was self produced, and shot on video on a shoestring budget, she explains. Diop was moved by the constant stream of reports, between 2000 and 2010, of young Senegalese taking to small wooden boats and braving the ocean waters in a bid to reach Spain and better opportunities. As she notes, the media tended to treat the phenomenon as largely an abstract issue, one that had to do with economic forces. Diop wanted to tell the story of the real people in that situation.

"I felt that my cinema should be put at the service of their voices," she says. "I wanted to understand." It's part of what motivated Diop to get into film in the first place. While the short was shot documentary-style, she worked the story as fiction. The actor featured in the short had actually made an Atlantic crossing, but was subsequently turned back by Spanish authorities. The way he spoke about the experience connected with Diop; in particular, his determination to try the perilous journey once more. "I am here, but not here," he told her. "Serigne felt it was here [in Senegal] he would lose his life," Diop says. She wanted to understand what drove so many young men to risk their lives. "He felt that his life was vulnerable in Senegal." The actor's words took on even more resonance when he died, while still in Senegal, before he could try again. Diop says he had gone to a hospital after falling ill, but the staff were on strike. After his death, it left her with mixed feelings. "I wondered if I had the right to continue."

TIFF Tribute Gala Mati Diop | TIFF 2019

Diop was left with the poignant memory, and a haunting impression. "When you leave, it means you are already dead," she says. After filming the short, she attended Serigne's funeral, and filmed his mother and sister—the women left behind who would become the focus of the feature film treatment. Diop says that the character of Ada, the protagonist of the new movie, is based in large part on the sister, who, in the short film, does not speak any lines.

In Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story, Ada is 17 years old, in love with Souleiman, but her parents have already arranged a very practical marriage with another—and much wealthier—man. On the eve of her wedding, odd things begin to happen, and Ada learn that Souleiman and his friends have left Dakar in a boat, hoping to reach Spain. Ada and her BFFs anxiously await any word from them, as the mysterious happenings keep piling up.

"The beauty of women comes through marriage," a cleric tells one mother. Ada's story embodies the life of a young West African woman—torn between traditional forces in both her family and society, and the friends who wear Western dress and don't bother with the old ways. The wealthy family she has married into owns a large construction company, the one that didn't pay its workers for months, leading the young workers to try their luck in Spain. She loves Souleiman, but she also needs to find her own path.

Mama Sané plays Ada, the solid heart of the film, as a tangle of emotions and repressed desires. She veers from defiant when dealing with the police detective sent to investigate the strange occurrences, to a wordless expression of longing with the kind of intensity only a teenager can muster.

Diop's directorial vision turns Dakar into a place of both surreal magic and harsh reality. The film immerses the audience in the city's sounds, from the goats bleating outside a window while Ada and her friends talk, to voices in the next room, with the eternal heaving of waves against the shore as a recurring refrain. The original music by Fatima Al Qadiri adds to the effect.

Cinematographer Claire Mathon has shot the film with a poetic eye. There are many images of the shifting surface of the sea, with the open sky and sun above it, each different from the last. The streets of Dakar at night take on an otherworldly edge, framed in palm trees against the artificial lights. The building the young men have been working on is futuristic in design, all glass and steel, and the company owner's neutral modern mansion contrasts with the broken rubble on the streets, from slick sports cars to horse drawn carts. It adds to the sense of the surreal.

Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story was acquired by Netflix after Cannes, and is intended for worldwide release by the streaming service, (with the exception of China, Russia, Benelux, Switzerland, and France.) As part of its new policy, Netflix, which became an official member of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America,) earlier this year, will be giving the flick a "theater-first" release, opening in selected theaters on November 15, with streaming available from November 29 in North America.

The film also stars Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré, Nicole Sougou, Amina Kane, Mariama Gassama, Coumba Dieng, Ibrahima Mbaye, and Diankou Sembene. Dialog in the France-Senegal-Belgium co-production is in Wolof with subtitles.

(Photo by Francois LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images )

Exiled Tunisian President Ben Ali Has Died

The former president had been living in Saudi exile since 2011.

Tunisia's former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, 83, has been declared dead while in exile in Saudi Arabia. Ben Ali became interim Prime Minister in 1987. He ran unopposed and was elected Prime Minister in 1998 and served for 23 years – from 1988 to 2011. He was known for using autocratic techniques, eradicating presidential term limits and altering age caps in order to stay in power. In the beginning, Ben Ali was considered a "people's head of state" and garnered the nickname "Benavie" which loosely translates to "Ben Ali for life." By the 2000s, however, he had become deeply unpopular and prompted protests and unrest against his oppressive rule.

His reign ended when he fled Tunisia on January 14, 2011 amid protests that ultimately led to a string of revolutions dubbed the Arab Spring. He had been living in exile in Saudi Arabia ever since. As France 24 reports, in 2018 Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia by Tunisian courts to "more than 200 years in prison on charges including murder, corruption and torture."

Though there is no cause of death just yet, Ben Ali had been in intensive hospital care for lung cancer for three months. According to Al Jazeera, lawyer Mounir Ben Salha announced Ben Ali's death to news agencies via phone and the claim was confirmed by Tunisia's foreign minister.

There is footage of a Tunisian lawyer taking to the street at dawn celebrating the news of Ben Ali's death.

This past Sunday, Tunisia held free elections advancing Kas Saied and Nabil Karoui (who is currently jailed) as presidential candidates with neither receiving a majority vote. A run-off election between the two will be held September 29.

Tunisians and others are sharing their reactions to the news across social media. Here are some reactions:

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