Interview: Stephen Tayo Talks Photojournalism and Africa’s Street Culture as A Source of Inspiration
Stephen Tayo is nothing short of a visionary, homegrown Nigeran talent hailing from Ekiti State, who from very early in his career has collaborated with and had his work featured in the likes of Vogue, Dazed, Nike, Hypebeast, New York Times, i-D and Patta to name a few.
He is known for visually displaying the authenticity of Africa, captivating us with beauty amidst the beast; the imperfect roads, the bustling marketplaces and incomplete infrastructures often forming his backdrops. Yet one thing is clear, an honest depiction of culture is the core of his message and you will be more informed. From the obvious to the sublayers, there is a perspective in his visuals and a message to digest. Tayo intends to educate.
We had the pleasure of sitting with Stephen to learn more about him, his inspirations, work and goals:
[Interviewing is Stephen’s friend and mentee Mikey Oshai, a legend in the making himself, also a Nigerian Photographer]
S: “Yes, lets do this!”
M: Growing up, what and who Inspired you?
S: “In life, I would say my mum – in that she always tried her best to create something out of a very sh*tty country and that’s why I have always felt the need to just keep pushing and to never give up. Now in regards to photography: I’ve always loved simple yet expressive photographers like Hassan Hajjaj and Seydou Keita, they gave me the courage to [initially] find what I do interesting”
M: What would you say has been your “big break”, describe your journey to this point?
S: “I still don’t think I have been able to account for a big break as of yet. I’m in a strange predicament where I feel one can get carried away and ironically begin to settle for less [despite all that’s going on], so I’m still waiting for my big break as it were.
In terms of my journey, I started out as an assistant then I was styling and photographing myself. I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunities I have so far if I didn’t start out as an assistant under those people that gave me a chance. Above all, something to note is that there are still great things done here [in Nigeria] and having that local knowledge is important to be able to manoeuvre [your way to the top]”
M: When preparing for a shoot what is your creative process?
S: “It depends, so if it is a documentary I like being immersed in the community. I’ll often arrive days before just to understand the landscape and draw inspiration from the space and find some balance. But if I’m shooting an individual- so a personality, musician or an actor, communication is key because it is a collaborative effort and then we decide on what we would like to do and meet halfway. We also consider logistics, so timing and security and even [factoring in] Lagos traffic”
M: What has been your favourite project to date?
S: “ The twins project, personally I still think its mind-blowing till today. I am actually developing a follow up to that series as it is always a reference point in my work. The Ibeji (meaning twins in Yoruba) phase has been instrumental to my career”
M: Why do you think African Street Culture has become such a zeitgeist in fashion and the general creative space?
S: “It [street culture] isn’t new, people are only just starting to pay attention because local Nigerians, Africans and those in diaspora have become the latest phenomenon to talk about and so it has gained more coverage over the past few years. They want to know what is providing our inspiration”
M: Who is on your vision board to work with and why?
S: “I would love to juxtapose my work of making portraits, specifically with the likes Wole Soyinka or Genevieve Nnaji. These are great people [from our culture and now globally revered] they are not so accessible you know”
M: What’s next for Stephen Tayo, any exclusives you can share?
S: “ I have a new body of work, but 2020 has been an interesting year and so I don’t know if it would be right for me to drop it now, it may come out in the next year or so. But I’m going to keep developing myself, learning and…get more into the industry (there is still more ceiling to go). I have plans for next year but as this year has shown, we’re only human and we can make plans but…you know, one step at a time”
M: Thank you so much, appreciate you!