To many upcoming Black Creatives, there is nothing more important than commanding the attention of onlookers with their art. Coming across the work of 22-year-old Nigerian-American photographer Damola Akintunde was an indescribable feeling for me. An artist who utilizes visuals as a form of expression of the self, she’s reforming the ways in which black women are portrayed in images. Holding a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Medical Anthropology is didn’t take Akintunde a lifetime to discover that her heart was not in the medical field, but in pursuing her creative passions.
In a few short words, please tell our readers a little about you. Where are you from? What’s your occupation? Please feel free to include any other fun facts about yourself.
My name is Damola Akintunde and I’m a 22-year-old Nigerian-American photographer based in North Carolina. I’m also part of the one percent of Nigerians who are Vegetarian and slightly obsessed with all things Beyoncé (but who isn’t?).
At what age were you first introduced to photography?
My first interactions with a camera was probably when I was 12. I joined my school’s yearbook committee and was one of their photographers. I definitely had no idea what I was doing and barely understood what the technicalities were when it came to take a photo, but I loved being able to capture the everyday life of the people I saw every day.
I read that you hold a Bachelor's degree in Psychology with a minor in Medical Anthropology, very different from the creative work that you do. How did photography become an interest of yours?
For the majority of my life I actually wanted to be a doctor, which is why I decided to pursue psychology while I was in undergrad. But it wasn’t until my junior year that I realized that going to medical school was not a part of my life path. Afterwards I had a bit of a rough patch where I felt lost and didn’t know what my next steps were. It wasn’t until I bought my first camera and started to take photos of family and friends that I able to see concepts of psychology presenting themselves in my work. Being able to see everything I was passionate about intersect gave me the push to explore photography as an art form.
What two films, if any have inspired your creative art?
I’m not much of a film buff, but I actually really enjoy watching music videos for inspiration. Recently, Beyoncé’s Lemonade really created a fire in my belly when in came to creating my work. A lot of my work centers around black women and our different experiences so seeing Lemonade really inspired me to go above and beyond to be a tool for others to present themselves as who they really are.
Who are some of your biggest creative influences?
One of my inspirations has to be Yagazie Emezi. I’m pretty sure she was my first major exposure to photography after I came across her YouTube channel when I was around 17 or so. Seeing her work changed my life, especially as a fellow Nigerian woman because it let me know that I could do the same thing. The way she tells stories of so many people across the globe made me what to do that as well, so I don’t think I would be so passionate about my work if it wasn’t for her.
Do you often feel misunderstood or overlooked as an artist?
Luckily, I’ve had an immense amount of support from friends and family when it came to pursuing a more creative career. But like any other artist, I think when you’re first starting out, it’s really easy to feel like you’re at a standstill when it comes to getting support and recognition.
If you had the means to travel anywhere and pursue photography, where would you go?
I would definitely go back to Cape Town, South Africa and stay for an extended period of time to pursue photography. The creative spaces are so unique and I would love to have the chance to work with the people there again.
Your work has been featured in Vogue Italia and Elle South Africa. How did these two features shift your creative process? Did it make you want to work harder?
Both of these features occurred during really pivotal times of my life and were extremely affirming in some ways. Obviously at the end of the day, I am doing photography for myself but having such major publications see my work was definitely a sign from God and the universe that I’m doing something right. I know I have so much more to learn and improve upon so I’ve been working hard to reach even higher sights.
What’s your dream photoshoot?
My dream photoshoot has to be in collaboration with Solange. She is so talented and if I was given the chance to work on a concept with her, I would take it in a heartbeat.
What inspires you most?
One thing that inspires me is knowing that my parents came to this country with the intention of allowing my siblings and I to have opportunity to be as successful as possible. Their struggle is the reason why I’m able to pursue my passion wholeheartedly and that keeps me going.
Do have any favorite songs that inspire you to be your best creatively?
Music is a huge part of my creative process and with new releases happening constantly, I always have a new favorite song. Right now, Kelela’s newest album, Take Me Apart, has been on repeat for months since it dropped.
Do you ever feel defeated creatively? If so, how do motivate yourself to keep going?
It is definitely hard to be a minority in the photography field, especially since it’s becoming so saturated. It’s never a bad thing when people are starting to explore new avenues to express themselves, but there still is a lack of diversity when it comes to who get recognized. I definitely find myself going through waves of doubt and wanting to quit but then I remind myself this is my purpose in life.
What is it that you hope to achieve most through your photography?
I hope I can contribute to a positive narrative regarding people of color. I want to create the representation that I was craving when I was a child and also help encourage young black girls who feel small to take up space and let their creativity shine.
Are there any special creative projects that you’re currently working on?
Currently I am but I’m really into surprises and dropping projects randomly so stay tuned!
What is the message that you want people to know most about you and your work?
I think the major message I want people to know is that I hope that everyone can see the intention behind the work. I try to never put anything out that doesn’t align with what I feel and believe in, so I want that to be recognized.
To learn more about Damola visit: damolaakintunde.com