Nadia Rasheed

Letitia Kamayi’s Journey to the Past

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I was almost immediately captivated by the work of 24-year-old photographer Letitia Kamayi. Currently a Kingston resident, she’s really doing something special. The stark and brazen honesty of her project ‘demi nues: beauty shades’ where she ‘explores the many aspects of beauty in the female body’ spoke to me. An artist who manages to incorporate the aesthetic with meaningful questioning of established thought; it was awesome speaking to her about how her interest developed as well as her grand plans for the future.

When did you first become interested in photography?
As soon as I had my first darkroom experience during my first year in college. I originally chose to study fashion but as the course was full, my interviewer suggested photography so I went with it. I’m ever so grateful for having been introduced to analogue photography before digital as developing my first photograph was what enticed me the most. It was like magic and I love it!

Who do you consider to be your major influences?
Frida Kahlo was my first major influencer and love in art. Her vibrant self-portraits and surrealist paintings sparked questions that I wanted to explore. Kahlo’s expressive paintings cleverly enabled the artist to express herself. In terms of photography, there’s a pole of people I have looked towards such as W.E.B. Dubois, Carrie Mae Weems, Keith Piper and Ayana V Jackson. I greatly admire the work that they have produced addressing the subject of identity, migration, representation and a large pool of topics concerning not only the Black and African Diaspora but also those who find themselves feeling lost and/ or unheard.

What are the things you have to do before you take a picture? What is your thought process?
Most of my work is shot on analogue still as I really enjoy just being in the darkroom, but before taking any photo I decide on how I’d create it to resemble what I envisioned, sometime’s dreamed of. Another important element to me is what film I’d shoot on, studio or location and the time of day. I still produce sketchbooks; I think that plays a part of my thought process, as my brain doesn’t stop.

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How does the medium of photography help you to effectively explore issues of identity?
To be honest with you, I’m not sure how it helps me to effectively explore identity; I think the issues of identity help me to explore photography better, as I have been introduced to and experimented so much more of what the medium can do when pushed and altered which form as part of my research, waiting to be used for the right project.

I see you’re currently in the middle of a project entitled ‘A Family Apart’ – tell us about it
‘A Family Apart’ is an on-going narrative project, which is close to my heart about migration and identity. It explains the “why, when, who, when and where” to my questions about my family’s separate journeys to the UK. For the most part of people who migrate, the reason is usually seeking a better life. Although this was part of the case for us, many things were left unexplained and I needed to understand my past to move forward into finding or forming my own identity.

The project will be produced as book formats consisting of four photo books. Researching through my history has actually made me realize just how many other people have gone through similar journeys as a child are potentially out there feeling insecure to open up. ‘A Family Apart’ brings me closer to my family, acts as a therapeutic means to discuss the past and hear stories of a world I missed out on living in.

I love your project ‘demi nues: beauty shades’ – what was the most important lesson you took from it?
Never be afraid to ask strangers for their assistance. Half of the women I photographed for this, I never even knew. But after explaining my topic, concept and reason why I needed them and why it was so important to me, people see your point of view and are happy to take part.

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Your work has been exhibited not only in London and Surrey but in India too! How did that come about?
Whilst on my BA course, one of our modules was to curate an exhibition from start to finish in a group. The following year, I took part in an international collective project. We again worked together to curate a small exhibition of each collaborative group work in the countries of each member; mine was with Chinar Shah from the National Institute of Design University in India. For my professional practice assignment, I decided I was to curate my own exhibition and what better place to do it in than London. Although the process of it all was new, scary and stressful; I knew as soon as my co-curator Sophie Carter and I had opened the doors to the public, we weren’t going to let that be our last exhibition together. We’re both still actively looking for photographers and artists to approach for future pans.

So you’re also interested in curating – how would you explain the act of being a curator and why do you enjoy it?
Researching about other artists work has always fascinated me. Understanding their thought process and the journey they took allows you to understand the project better. But I didn’t want to just research their work and put it away in a book, I wanted the world to know also and curating does that in such versatile ways that can never be forgotten. It’s a pleasure and an honour getting to work with artists whose work I have seen and been taken aback by. Forming an amazing relationship and getting to know all the tiny details of their thought process not only for the project to be exhibited but also for their entire practice and work ethics. I enjoy curating because it allows the viewer to become enticed by the art piece in all its glory and online curating (the gallery and museum’s modern child) circulates art to those further afield, letting them see and be inspired too.

How do you stay creatively motivated?
It’s a very difficult thing to do but I try doing a little here and there. I have an archive of negatives I try scan and edit, whilst getting in touch with other photographers and artists to bounce ideas off of. My brain is never ending and I know that what I do creatively could change someone’s opinion of the topic I explore – be it identity, migration or documentary style imagery of my motherland, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photography became my passion in college and I have tried other genres and paths but it always led me back.

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What advice would you give to young, aspiring photographers?
Don’t stop and don’t be afraid. It’s easier said than done and I am still battling with it but you will get there. Also don’t be put off by contacting photographers and artists. If you have those questions, email it to them. In 2011, I was blessed enough to go to Paris Photo festival and meet Richard Mosse. We spoke about his project Infra 2011 very briefly so I made sure I asked him the questions I had for some time even though they were a tad aggressive. Later on I emailed him all my thoughts and my response was overwhelmingly great. I’ve contacted many photographers in the same way, with genuine interest and desire to know more and they do respond. Maybe a little late but it’s better than nothing. After all, they’re all working.

Where do you hope to be in the future and how will you get there?
I believe there is always something to be learnt, so I’ll soon be studying for my masters in photography to become a better documentary and portrait photographer plus I’ll be reunited with a darkroom again, which is bliss! I plan to teach photography in the Congo. There’s a beauty within this country that is very slowly creeping through the cracks in photography. In 2011, we saw more African photographers talked about, amongst them Sammy Baloji and Baudoin Mouanda (Congolese) were largely promoted, each producing great images presenting the world that Congo has more to offer than just suffering and chaos. I’ve already made a few steps towards this by volunteering with Save the Congo as their events assistant, aliasing within Congolese communities not only in London and Brussels, but also in Congo as well. Alongside my ‘A Family Apart’ project, I am also in the research stage of a project celebrating the work of forward leading Congolese epitomes; do keep an eye out for updates.

Check out more of Letitia’s work on her website and her blog. Be sure to follow her on twitter too!

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