stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance
THROUGH THE LENS: STEPHEN TAYO
By

Through The Lens spotlights emerging and established photographers from around the world. The ongoing series is dedicated to offering unique insights in varying areas of photographic expertise including portrait, landscape, fine art, fashion, documentary and more.

When I call up photographer Stephen Tayo for an interview, he tells me he couldn’t find my Instagram. I demur that I’m not active on the platform because my photographic skills are not fit to be seen by the world. But that’s not the point, Tayo counters, whose own Instagram shows his recent work gracing London billboards and self-portraits of his life in Lagos. It’s a place to connect, he says, to share interesting things and ideas.

Tayo’s work captures that same desire for connection. The young photographer began by capturing street style in his native Lagos — “Street style in the organic way, not like the street style during fashion week,” he says of his approach. “I would see like a shoe or something that you can only see in Lagos. I think stressing that, spotlighting that, is my story — is our story.”

Tayo’s work showcasing Lagos’ street style began to catch an international eye in 2018, landing him profiles in Vogue and a spot on the Dazed 100 list in 2019. His work has since taken him throughout Africa, Europe and the Americas — from documenting the Sapeurs of Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo and shooting Skepta for a Havana Club campaign in Cuba, to seeing his work in exhibitions in Amsterdam and Paris

That sort of freedom of travel may be on hold for Tayo and many other creatives due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. But Tayo isn’t so concerned about the lack of travel opportunities; when asked about the pandemic’s impact on his work, he’s anxious not to get away, but to get closer.

“I miss those moments where I can touch people, hug people, and talk to people closely and go into people’s houses without invitation,” he says. “I’m also looking forward to being able to do that again, because it’s a big part of my work to be able to see some sort of connection.”

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

Tayo’s skills at portraiture, his ability to connect with his subjects, are entirely self-taught; growing up, he dreamed of being a basketball player like Kobe Bryant and later studied philosophy in university. But a lack of exposure to photography in his childhood has in part led him to the medium.

“I didn’t have images of me when I was maybe five or two years old, because my mom was moving,” he says. “The main inspiration is, how can I capture kids in such a unique way. That really was the first photographic sensibility that I had. Because it’s a thing I actually never had.”

“When I see people who actively are doing something that tends to be unusual, I find this responsibility for myself to spotlight it in my own little way.”

Sprinkled throughout Tayo’s portfolio are many captivating portraits of children, from a series on kids in twinning fashion to one of his most recent commissions, the young students of Lagos’ Leap of Dance Academy. His photographs of the dance school for Vogue and the New York Times show the dancers in perfect port de bras and fifth position, highlighting an art form not often associated with Nigeria.

“When I see people who actively are doing something that tends to be unusual, I find this responsibility for myself to spotlight it in my own little way and see what can actually possibly come out of it. Really focusing on the underdog story.”

The Leap of Dance Academy drew international fame when a video of one of its students, 11-year-old Anthony Madu, went viral. The reaction to Madu’s talent was such that he received a scholarship from American Ballet Theater in New York City. For Tayo, the chance to photograph the school brought memories of his own childhood passion, basketball, which like ballet, lacks a certain infrastructure in Nigeria.

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

“What was missing when I was growing up was me not being able to follow my dream of basketball,” he says. “That point of view I really always want to channel into telling stories that people would normally overlook.”

While Lagos and its inhabitants are at the core of Tayo’s inspiration, he’s critical of attempts to let his location define him first and foremost. “What I would really love to change, for example in the way people approach me, people should see me as a photographer first, before they attach Nigeria or Lagos to me. I shouldn’t necessarily be a Lagos-based photographer. I should be a photographer based in Lagos.”

Though the fashion industry has a newfound desire to highlight photographers outside of the white, male-dominated lens, Tayo finds that labeling photographers by their identity first does little to actually empower them. “I think that mentality always reduces the power that person actually has, or the story the person is actually trying to create, and also discredits them.”

“Everybody should be in charge of telling their own story. Because there is power and dignity in that.”

While Lagos and its inhabitants are at the core of Tayo’s inspiration, he’s critical of attempts to let his location define him first and foremost. “What I would really love to change, for example in the way people approach me, people should see me as a photographer first, before they attach Nigeria or Lagos to me. I shouldn’t necessarily be a Lagos-based photographer. I should be a photographer based in Lagos.”

“Because I think when people see an African photographer, it kind of conditions you to be perceived a certain way. And not give you freedom to sometimes express your feelings beyond your location,” he adds. “I think it would be very beautiful for people to start approaching photographers from everywhere in the world as photographers”

Certainly so much of the industry has made a quick about-face to highlight more Black creatives in response to the wave of Black Lives Matter protests that emerged across the United States and around the world this summer. But simply commissioning more Black photographers, or stylists or writers or makeup artists, doesn’t address why Black creatives have been sidelined in the industry for so long. “I think it is more of an institutional correction, more Black editors, Black people making decisions. Because at the end of the day, photographers don’t commission themselves,” Tayo says.

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

“Everybody should be in charge of telling their own story. Because there is power and dignity in that,” he adds.

This moment in time may have forced many to slow down. Certainly Tayo’s keeping busy, as his photos and name are still appearing in my feed whether I look for them or not — some recent items include a lookbook for a Reigning Champ x Jide Osifeso collaboration, a portrait of Tiwa Savage for the New York Times — but he’s using this particular moment to be more reflective.

“My priorities have changed into more meaningful conversation than before.”

“My priorities have changed into more meaningful conversation than before,” he says, noting that the things we thought were important aren’t necessarily at the forefront anymore. “I’m more intentional with things I put my name on.”

Tayo is looking forward to new challenges, he hints at a new project that’s still under wraps. But his first inspiration, street life and street style, will always influence his work. It’s only natural then that he says he dreams of bringing his perspective to this very publication, which was a reference point for him growing up and looking to basketball as an influence. “Because HYPEBEAST also can be kind of predictable, if you get what I mean, with the Nikes and the adidas,” he says (I certainly do). “I think it really would be a dream come true, to have a cover with HYPEBEAST.”

And why not? As Tayo says, “It’s a special time that we are living now, that everything seems to be possible.”

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance

stephen tayo photographer lagos nigeria fashion street style music skepta burna boy ballet leap school of dance


Credits
Photographer
Stephen Tayo
Tags
Share
 
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Gain access to exclusive interviews with industry creatives, think pieces, trend forecasts, guides and more.

By subscribing, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Help us serve you better

We appreciate your support in allowing HYPEBEAST ads, where we can share contents from the latest fashion, to those culturally relevant. By adding HYPEBEAST to your ad blocker's whitelist, ads on our sites will show while you continue to browse.