Oye Diran on Beauty, Regality and African Women
New York-based, Nigerian self-taught photographer Oye Diran began his career in 2010 covering events, under his first company, FE Photography. He taught himself the basics by reading books on photography, watching how-to videos and through experience over time. During his stint as an event photographer, Diran gained the ability to capture raw emotion in his images. In 2012, he established another company, Arista Imagery. The company has published editorial, wedding, and lifestyle images in various magazines around the world including Peppermint, AFROELLE, New African Women Magazine and Zen Magazine. Through Arista Imagery, Diran continues to create signature images that combine bright pops of colour with detailed motifs. Another technique that sets Diran apart is his ability to create photographs that exude both elegance and luxury in any location. In this interview with Omenka, he discusses his work and fascination with the African woman.
When did you decide to become a photographer and who were some of your influences?
I decided to become a photographer during my early years of college. I started out covering events and later transitioned to commercial and fine art photography. Prior to that, and since my childhood, I drew from cartoon characters to conceptual work. I’d say my mother is one of the major influences in my life, being that she is a creative and an artist as well. As a young child, I recall watching her as she drew and created inspiring works of art in her studio back in Lagos. I have also been influenced by J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Tim Walker, Annie Leibovitz and a few others.
What is the underlying philosophy of your work, is there any particular story you are interested in telling?
Primarily, my work deals with the beauty of the African woman—the beauty and regality that has been misconstrued in society for a long time. Through my photographs, I aim to convey this allure by the use of fine art and conceptual themes. Each of my projects shares this similar message but with the use of different elements derived from different cultures around the world, as well as royalty and the symbolical meanings of colour. Secondarily, I aim to convey life lessons and experiences that inspire the audience.
Can you kindly take us through your creative process?
The process begins with an idea I wish to convey, which is then followed by brainstorming, research and inspiration from everywhere. This initial process ranges from a few days to months. Once I feel I have created a sufficient inspiration board, I use it as a reference to refine the idea or topic I wish to communicate. The refining process dictates the direction of elements such as the type of location, model, colour scheme, styling and lighting.
In your series ‘Black Monarch’ you captured the beauty, strength and resilience of the African woman. What is the inspiration for this body of work?
I feel the beauty and regality of the African woman has been misconstrued globally for a long time. Even though we see a better level of appreciation of African beauty today, there’s still more work to be done such as breaking old, false narratives and shedding light on what’s true. Styling and directing were inspired by royal fashion around the world, from the Aztec Empire to Ancient Egypt. The dominant use of gold in the images is to represent wealth and royalty.
What role does photography play in contemporary African culture?
Photography plays a big role and I believe it’s now bigger than ever. It aids in channelling contemporary African culture to the rest of the world. Due to the power of social media along with other forms of communication, images showcasing our rich culture are now more accessible to millions of people around the world.
What can you say about the increasing global attention on African photography, how sustainable is it and what does the future portend for it?
I’d say it’s about time and a great thing because it ultimately promotes the rich creativity we have. Now, we have a voice more than ever in the creative/ photography world. Today, we see many African influences globally. This is a growing era and one that I believe is sustainable and timeless.
What is next for you, are you currently working on any project?
I am currently working on an ongoing project called the ‘Gele Series’. In this series, I aim to convey the royalty of the African woman through the symbolical meaning and conceptual styling of the gele, which is traditional Nigerian head tie. I plan to shoot various women throughout the year and showcase the series next year, God willing.
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