Photography a Medium for Empowerment | Arteh Odjidja

Arteh_ Odjidja
Courtesy of Arteh Odjidja

This week, I was privileged to interview Arteh Odjidja for the “Creatives in Focus” project series. Arteh Odjidja is a London based fashion and fine art photographer. Arteh has worked with respected menswear fashion and luxury brands including Leica camera, Paul Smith, Ozwald Boateng and Mont Blanc. He has exhibited his work at the British Museum and has featured in publications such as Black+White magazine, The British Journal of Photography and The Photoworks annual. In 2018, he presented his portrait series ‘The Stranger Series’ to Her Majesty the Queen.

During this interview, we spoke about Arteh’s creative journey and his passion to inspire and equip young individuals through storytelling and photography. Grab a cup of tea and let us get stuck in!

Please give me an overview of your professional/creative journey.

I am a fine art, portraiture, and fashion photographer based in London. I am also an ambassador for Leica camera, UK. My work has given me the opportunity to work with young people, inspire and enable them to tell inspiring stories through photography. My creative journey started with graphic design, I studied at London College of Communication University of the Arts.

I took photography seriously in 2009. Early in my career, I pursued opportunities to work with fashion brands and met the designer, Ozwald Boateng. I worked closely with him and his team for about four years. During this period, I developed as a photographer, travelled, and worked with other incredible and inspiring brands. I have been fortunate to exhibit work at the British museum and speak at the Tate Modern and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago IL. Amongst other amazing institutions.

You describe yourself as a “fashion, portraiture and fine art photographer”, which photography genre do you prefer?  

Fashion photography allows me to interact with lots of people. The fashion industry can be spontaneous, and no day is the same. Portraiture is where the real meat is. Capturing people and their stories is a skill I developed while working with Ozwald Boateng.

Ozwald Boateng | Copyright © Arteh Odjidja

Ozwald Boateng |
Copyright © Arteh Odjidja
Please give me a brief rundown of a typical working day.

I spend a lot of time learning and not shooting. A typical working day for me would include reading because in this industry the more you know the better. Some days are for networking in person or via social media. I also spend my time sharing ideas and planning future projects.

Are they any habits you have cultivated?

I have tried to cultivate good habits like journaling. I also try to surround myself with people I can share my ideas with.

Please tell me about the inspiration behind “The Stranger Series” Project?

In 2012, I met a young man in Russia named Habdulay Vilhette and his story, “Stranger in Moscow” was the inspiration behind the now 7-year project called the “Stranger Series”. The Stranger series Project has given me the opportunity to travel across Europe, to photograph and interview young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. It has given me the opportunity to celebrate their individual stories to change the public’s perception of who these young people are and their significance in society. I also have been blessed and privileged to present the “Stranger Series” project to Her Majesty the Queen in 2018.

The “Stranger Series” project has taught me to be a giver and to become more resourceful. I have learnt how to be a mentor and facilitate the growth of others. The journey of the “Stranger Series” has been a rewarding experience.

Copyright © Arteh Odjidja
Abdulay, Moscow
Copyright © Arteh Odjidja
Her Majesty the Queen
There is an incredible photograph from your international assignment in Freetown, Sierra Leone, titled “Open doors”. What was the inspiration behind this assignment?

I went on an international assignment to Sierra Leone with a political agency. During this assignment, I spoke to young people, listened to their opinions and the happenings in this developing part of the world. My time in Freetown Sierra Leone made me question a lot. As Africans, who should we look to solve our problems and improve our lives? Should we empower governments? Look for support from humanitarian nations? Or look within ourselves for solutions and self-reliance. It ultimately should be ourselves.

My international assignments in Sierra Leone and Nigeria have given me the opportunity to travel to extraordinary places and tell incredible stories through photography.

Opening_ Doors
Copyright © Arteh Odjidja
Opening Doors
Copyright © Arteh Odjidja
What are your thoughts on photographers in different spheres capturing the African diaspora?

Capturing the African diaspora to portray a specific narrative of Africa has always been problematic. I would encourage people to travel and see everything from affluence to the other side of life in African nations. Poverty exists, but there are also stories of entrepreneurship, youth empowerment and great governance. Travel across Africa, partner and collaborate with great minds.

Are there any photographers that inspire you?

One of my favourite photographers includes Ansel Adams. I love his photography and the way people interact with his work. I am also inspired by Peter Lindbergh, he is an incredible fashion photographer. Malick Sidibé, the legendary Malian photographer is a great inspiration. I love how his work portrayed the culture and elegance of Mali in his lifetime.

Do you believe creatives need mentorship to succeed?

Everyone needs a mentor, it can save you time and having a good mentor allows you to reach deeper and achieve greater. Ozwald Boateng was a great mentor, he had high standards and working with him made me achieve things I did not believe I could. This is not a one-way relationship. You also offer your mentor something, be willing to help in your own way.

Do you believe a photographer requires natural talent or can anyone become a photographer with training/practice?

It depends on where your interest lies. There is the saying “Cream rises to the top.” You will get noticed if you are hardworking, constantly learning and applying the knowledge. Today, a lot of people can become photographers because technology has democratised photography.

Open_ Doors_Sierra_Leone
Copyright © Arteh Odjidja
Freetown, Sierra_Leone
Copyright © Arteh Odjidja
Do you have any tips for photographers trying to improve the visibility of their work?

Networking is a powerful tool; It is essential for visibility. A fundamental tip is to be trustworthy and be a person with integrity. Make sure you cover your basics, develop your website, and be active on the key social media outlets. Be proactive and willing to collaborate with others.

What financial advice do you have for creatives?

Finance is an important topic, especially for freelance or self-employed creatives. Save money because jobs may not come regularly. Plan your time because this industry is spontaneous. You must learn to say no to things that are not worth your time or are financially draining.

What do you do to ensure a good work-life balance?

I am working all the time. I love my work, but I also love my family. I believe in work-life integration, if work fits into your life mission, it influences everything. I enjoy reading in my spare time because it helps me to be a better contributor, a more rounded human being.

What general advice do you have for creatives or a young freelance photographer?

Give yourself time to grow, be patient with the process. The 10,000-hour rule states that it takes 10,000 hours to master your craft, so aim high and trust the process. Everything you do compounds if you are consistent.  Set your values and your guiding principles. What does this mean? Consider the work that you will be proud to say you created and not cringe at. Set high standards for yourself and surround yourself with people who have equal if not higher standards. Be willing to work in different photography genres. Experiment with shooting fashion, interior, travel, still life or portraiture. Find where your interest lies and then narrow your focus.

Self_ Portrait 
Copyright © Arteh Odjidja
Self Portrait
Copyright © Arteh Odjidja

Connect with Arteh


Instagram: @Arteh_odjidja_photographer

Twitter: @ArtehCreative


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