There is a new class of Black photographers, a new vanguard, changing the scope of photography and demanding the inclusion of Black image making/makers into the cannon. And photographer Tayo Kuku is among that cohort, dedicating his lens to highlighting Black people and culture. The Nigerian native, DMV-based (that’s D.C, Maryland, Virginia, BTW) image maker beautifully crafts photo essays and images that capture the beauty and nuances of Blackness. As a self-taught visual storyteller, Kuku is carving out his own unique path, one inspired by his architectural background. His images are incredibly striking, with careful attention to color theory, symmetry, and lighting—all going back to his concentration of engineering.
We caught up with the civil engineer turned photographer ahead of his big move to the West Coast and dished all about his inspirations, artistic practice, and the incredibly beautiful way in which he lights and captures Black figures.
GRAZIA: How did you home in on your photographic aesthetic?
Tayo: When I was starting out, there weren’t many visual references I could use of Black models or models of color that I could really reference and draw inspiration for my work. And that’s where the original push came for me to create the work that I like to see. Honestly, that took years of practice, with first finding myself within photography, what I wanted my imagery to look like, and how I wanted to approach storytelling. After finding that is when I started to carve out my own unique stylistic aesthetic.
What’s inspiring your eyes these days?
These days, I’m trying to train my eye more by getting more into film and getting more into the history of Black film. I’m really interested in drawing more feeling and more inspiration from motion. Whether it’s via films directed by Spike [Lee], Jordan Peele, Ava DuVernay or the documentary work of the great Gordon Parks. I think all those culminate into the pool of inspiration I draw from, but also—more importantly—just the people around me. You know, stories I’ve heard, stories I’ve lived through, all of that informs my work, especially my fine artwork. When it comes to my editorial work, the focus is really just capturing our beautiful deep Black textures and skin tones and highlighting us in the best way possible.
What are your earliest memories of photography?
I don’t think it was ever one specific image, but rather just all the beautiful imagery via Tumblr at my disposal.
Your background is in engineering—has it in any way informed your practice?
You know, subconsciously, it really has. Architecture was one of my earliest interests, hence my exploration into civil engineering. So, through architecture and civil architectural engineering, I think I started to really see things as it pertained to symmetry, which has transformed into my work. I’ve found that symmetry really informs and guides the way I shoot. That’s how I try to frame my subjects, how I try to pick my locations, find guidelines and account for negative space.
What do you want to do next within your artistic practice?
I don’t like to limit God, but I just want to continue growing. I think that’s what’s key for me—growing in whatever and in every way I can!