30 August 2016

The Nigerian photographer who doesn’t care about your beauty standards

Yagazie Emezi shoots things as they are. 

[P]hotographer Yagazie Emezi is all about transparency. On her popular Youtube channel she tells it like it is, calling out ‘fuckboy consistencies’ and backwards attitudes towards domestic violence.

On her Instagram account next to a beautiful un-retouched portrait she has shot, she succinctly sums up her approach: “I’ve never cared much for other people’s definition of perfect. I’m drawn to lines and raw surfaces and bumps and coarseness and things as they are.”

As a photographer Yagazie is drawn to an individual’s take on their own body, and seeks out what beauty brands would label as ‘imperfections’. She recently took part in Invisible Borders’ Trans-Nigerian Road Trip which travelled though Lagos, Benin, Warri, Asaba, Enugu, Umuahia, Port Harcourt and Aba. On the way, a focus emerged for her which she has titled and hashtagged ‘Re-learning Bodies’. Through it she hopes to “understand the process of re-learning to recognise a body as your own after a traumatic experience and how family and community can impact that.” 

What about scars and imperfections intrigues you?

My interest in scars begins with my own. At a young age, I was run over by a car which left me permanently marked. My scar stood out and although I did get a lot of stares growing up, it made me quick to spot other ‘imperfections’ on people, maybe as an attempt to feel similar to others with marks. Like most, I’ve always been naturally curious about scars, but because of my own, I like to pry a little bit deeper to understand how people feel about theirs. I think scars are truly unique. We are birthed with a body that we grow to recognise as ours then something happens to some at some point. And that body changes, sometimes forever, and it leaves a story.

You set out with the questions: What role does culture play in a person appreciating their bodies intimately? In Nigeria, are we taught recognition and acceptance with self?  Have you come close to answering them?

Naturally, everyone has a unique relationship with their bodies, but it has been interesting coming across narratives and sentiments that are similar. Culture does play a role. A lot of the people I interviewed grew up in homes that didn’t quite nurture the practice of self-love and body-positivity. Not that it was actively ignored, it just didn’t exist. My questions come from a place of personal belief that teaching young boys and girls to love, respect and appreciate their bodies does have an additional positive impact in the development of a person. However, when coming across adults with scars, they appear to now be passing that lesson of acceptance to their children despite having had no prior introduction. They came into it on their own.

Do your subjects share their scar stories with you?

All do in varying degrees of light to heavy story-telling. Some just give me a summary of an accident while others will go on for a while recounting their memories. A particularly meaningful story was that of twin sisters. One had visible scars on her head and hands and was shying away from my questions. I showed her pictures of some of the other people I had photographed and her sister was delighted, saying, “See? I told you you’re not the only one!”. It was exceptional to see the acceptance of one from another.

These photographs are a selection made from Yagazie’s personal archive of street photography and images from her #relearningbodies focus created during Invisible Borders’ Trans-Nigerian Road Trip. 

This article was created by Casimir, an online publication rooted in Africa, igniting adventure, and looking to the future. This article is part of a guest column for Hunger TV. Follow Casimir on Instagram and Twitter for more.