Interview with Chicago Photographer Mayowa Koleosho

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Mayowa Koleosho is a photographer most heavily involved with portraiture and based in the Chicago area. His black and white style is highly dramatic while retaining that air of cool and calm, a balance that allows his work to shine whether he’s photographing Chitown, San Francisco, or New Orleans. Through the power of Clubhouse, a member of our team met Mayowa and the rest of us instantly fell in love with his work. Editorial manager Joseph Ozment, also based in Chicago, sat down with Mayowa to ask him all about his photography and process.

How did you get your start as a photographer? What attracted you to photography? 

My sister was the one who inspired me to get into photography. At the time, she was dedicated and I was mesmerized by what she achieved with a camera. For a few years I primarily shot with a phone. Photography was an avenue for me to express myself non-verbally, sharing with the world what I saw. I cringe looking back at some of those pictures, but now I consider them to be the building blocks of my career.

You shoot a lot of black and white, specifically portraiture. What appeals to you about b&w? 

There is a timeless quality to black and white photography. Photography to me is a record of time and events, and specifically a reminder of what phase of life I am experiencing. With black and white photography, I’m creating a photographic time capsule, in which the surroundings or the attire of the model(s) function as a timestamp.

What’s the most important thing to know about shooting portraits, in your opinion? 

Building a relationship with the collaborators in real time is integral to my practice. I use the word “collaborator” instead of “model”, because I strive for a co-creating relationship with the subjects of my work. It fosters more space for spontaneity.

It looks like you’ve practiced photography all over, from Seattle to New Orleans and in Lagos, Nigeria. What relationship does travel or the idea of “place” have to your work? 

Travel reveals the world to me. I am constantly hunting for beautiful locations, but the rich connections I make on my travels are invaluable. My camera and my work act as the perfect icebreaker for meeting new people. 

Speaking of place, you’re based in Chicago which I think might be America’s most beautiful city. How does Chicago inspire your photography? 

I agree, Chicago is America’s most beautiful city. Obviously I am partial, but aesthetically, I am not sure many cities compare. As to why I love it, I must use this opportunity to plug our transit system. I can get pretty much anywhere in the city using public transport. The city is accessible in ways many others are not. I also love Chicago’s distinct neighborhoods, gaudy downtown skyscrapers, and all that lies beyond the steel titans.

There’s a picture on your feed of a young boy in Lagos wearing a Messi jersey, which you say is your favorite photo you’ve ever taken. Is that still your favorite, and can you tell me more about that? 

The young boy with the Messi jersey in the canoe is still my favorite picture.

He seemed so at ease in his canoe, and the Messi jersey reminded me how interconnected we all are. The impact of an Argentine, playing in Spain, transcending language and ethnic barriers to impact a child in a riverine community in Lagos, is not lost on me.Having been born in Lagos, Nigeria, I saw myself in this boy too. 

Prior to this moment, we had navigated through the waterways, marveling at how unique the structures of this community are. Sometimes as a photographer, you enter a setting, and nothing stands out. Other times, everything does. On this trip, there were so many memorable shots. 

What kinds of stories do you want your images to tell? 

This is a great question and I have often thought about what I want my pictures to tell. I want them to evoke an emotion in the viewer. I think too often on social media, particularly on an app like Instagram, users get caught up in mindless scrolling. If my picture can make someone pause and perhaps mull over the picture past a quick glance, then I think I have made an impact.

Is there a style of photography you’ve always wanted to try, or maybe that you practice a lot but don’t share? 

I want to pursue more high-concept styled shoots. I am interested in the collaborative efforts required of such projects. That level of collaboration will be  key to my growth as a photographer.

What’s next for you? 

The next step for me is more travel and hopefully meeting new people in the process. I want to create as much as I can, and hopefully contribute poignant work that reflects the times we’re living in.

You can follow along with Mayowa’s photography on Instagram at his portrait account @el9th and his general photography account @mfroml.

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