Ima Mfon is an editorial and fine art photographer interested in exploring issues of social and cultural identity. Ima lives in Lagos, Nigeria, where he was born and raised, but also spends a lot of time in New York City, where he recently earned his Master’s in Photography at the School of Visual Arts (SVA).When he is not working he enjoys watching watching Wes Anderson movies, listening to music, and occasionally playing video games. Ima was a recipient of the 2015 Lensculture Emerging Talents Award. His latest project, Nigerian Identity – a very personal exploration of his own identity – was featured on CNN and also exhibited at several art fairs and festivals including the 2015 Lagos Photo Festival, and Miami Pulse art fair.
Nigerian Identity is a series portraits of my fellow Nigerians. All people are presented in a uniform manner: photographed on a white seamless background, looking directly into the lens, and enhanced so that their skin tones are virtually identical. The idea behind this discipline stems from my experiences living in America.
Despite its title, this project is very much a personal one. I do not aim to define “identity” in factual terms for anyone. I only intend to explore my own feelings as they relate to my identity.
In my experience, “Black” is often used as a generic descriptive label. “The angry blackguy", “The new black sitcom”. I see myself more than just black, but that is not how I am perceived in America. Regardless of my unique heritage, I am reduced to being just black. The homogenization of skin tones in my project is my commentary on the tendency to reduce people to just a color. In these images, the skin tones are rich, deep and beautiful to celebrate our beautiful skin, for which we are often oppressed and marginalized.
As African culture becomes more mainstream, the line between celebrating and exoticizing African culture is increasingly blurry. To add some clarity to the current discourse, I photograph my subjects in a regal and direct manner. This is my take on beauty and elegance. It is my hope that this will create a connection between subject and viewer. It’s also my way of challenging viewers to understand what it is like to be “the other.” Above all else, it is a reminder that the culture and identity of a people should be always be appreciated, respected and honored.