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Empowering Self Portraits

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Empowering Self Portraits with Idara Ekpoh

Idara Ekpoh, Kenna Klosterman

Empowering Self Portraits

Idara Ekpoh, Kenna Klosterman

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1. Empowering Self Portraits with Idara Ekpoh


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Empowering Self Portraits with Idara Ekpoh

Mhm. Mhm. Mm. Mhm. Yeah. Yeah. Hello, everyone. And welcome to Creativelive. Welcome back to Creative Live If you are joining us for the very first time. Welcome. Uh, my name is Kenneth Klosterman, and I am your host. We are streaming to you live on creative live TV as well as critic lives, social channels. So if you know us, we love to do the shout outs. If you are on creativelive dot com slash t v, you can click on the chat icon and that will allow you during this conversation to be chatting with each other or fellow community. Or if you're watching on socials, type in where you're tuning in from type in how you're doing today. We love to again interact with you as well as give you those shout outs with people tuning in from all over the world. Uh, so I am thrilled today, um, to bring a very special guest. Haidara Expo onto court of live TV. Uh, this is an episode of our series celebrating the month of Black History Month, and we have partnered with black women photographers, which i...

s an online community and database started by polyurethane goo. Um to truly celebrate black photographers, black women and non binary photographers shed light on the incredible talent and, uh, give people a place to come and find women to hire. Uh, they are black women photographers is working to really disrupt the notion that it is difficult to find and commission black photographers. And so we have teamed up with Paulie for four weeks every Wednesday, 10. Am here on credible live. And it is part of our We are photographers podcast as well. Um, so I'm just looking over to see the shout out. So far, we've got David, who is joining us all the way from Uganda, which is awesome. So keep those coming in and, uh, let's get started. So today's guest is Haidara Ekpo, and Haidara is a portrait photographer, A visual storyteller. If you follow her work, we're going to talk about her series of self portrait Sunday series that she has been creating beautifully. Um, all year long. She is known for her cinematic and dreamlike portraits, and she educates as well. She works for clients. Um, and her focus really is on creating visual experiences. Um, as well as using her medium not only tell her own story but empowering and bringing visibility to the voices stories within her community. So please give it up and give a shout out to eat. Dara Ekpo Dara. Thank you for joining us today. Hi, Ken. How are you? Thank you for having me. Well, we're very excited, um, to to again bring you on. And, um, just this this what we do with this podcast is truly just about, uh, connecting community connecting Whether it's photographers, filmmakers, um, talking about our stories. I believe everybody has a story to share. Um, and letting us know that we're not alone in our in our creative struggles and winds and ups and downs. So I want to start by talking about your self portrait Sunday series. We're recording this now. It is February of 2021. And so we are still in the midst of a pandemic, which is why we're coming to each other from our homes. Uh, and and so talk to me about this series and what it's meant to you, Uh, and how you started it while you started all of it. Yeah. So it's actually it's quite funny because I started self portrait Sunday back in April of last year. Um, and so, you know, obviously the pandemic happened. All of us are stuck in our homes. If I'm being honest, I am sleeping in bed, working in my pajamas, not really getting up and getting ready every single day. Um and so I just kind of felt like a little bit of a funk. You know, I'm not going out, and I can't shoot with other people because we're in a pandemic, right? And then I can't physically get myself ready like I usually do. Um, and so I love to, you know, do my hair, my makeup, et cetera. And so it's a part of who I am. So not doing that and not having anywhere to go was really, um a lot for me to go through. And so I remember it being Easter Sunday and Easter Sunday is huge for me, right? It does not matter where I am. It does not matter what what the situation is. I'm going to church on Easter Sunday. Um, and so obviously, things look different this year. Um, church was gonna be virtual and so what I decided to do was like, I'm still going to get up. Still going to pull my Sunday best going to have my makeup, my hair, everything done. Um, and I'm just gonna take a picture of it, you know, because it's gonna make me feel good. So I took, um, a portrait of myself, and I was like, Oh, I look good upload on instagram Didn't think anything of it because it was just, you know, every now and then I would Sprinkle images of myself on my instagram with the rest of my work. Um, then the next Sunday came and I was like, I want to take a picture like I want to just take a self portrait. No reason. Let me just take it. And so I uploaded it. Not really thinking that self portrait Sunday would be a thing, but I uploaded it. And then the caption I called it Self Portrait Sunday. Um, and then I said, like, you know, I I want my future kids to see how fly their mom looked even in the middle of a pandemic. So that's what you know. Started it. It was just more so just trying to document myself and So from that moment on every single Sunday, I would take a new portrait because it just made me feel good. And then I would share my audience. And I found that, like, people were reacting to it a lot. Um, my fault, like just the amount of people that were following the series and continue to follow the series, blows my mind. Um, and so every single Sunday, I would just start taking portraits of myself. So what started off as a oh, I feel good. I want to capture myself, turned into an opportunity for me to, you know, explore my creativity as a photographer, right? To be able to, you know, try different ideas or concepts, or look for ways that I can still be inspired within my home. And I think that's the biggest message that I have with it was you can be inspired to create, even if it's just you, yourself and I. And so I take on the role of not only you know, I'm a photographer, but now I'm amused. I'm the model in the situation. I'm the creative director. I'm the set designer. I'm like all of these different things. All of these different hats. I'm the hairstylist, even though I can't really do my hair shout out to YouTube because YouTube is the only thing that helps me. Um, but that's how that's the series really started. So it just kind of became a space where I can explore my creativity, um, and document myself. I think self portraiture is really, really powerful because as a photographer, I spent majority of my time, if not all of my time, always capturing others, telling other people's stories. And so now this is giving me the opportunity to turn that camera inward until my own and allow me to be vulnerable and to challenge myself. And, you know, there's some weeks where I feel really, really great. There's some weeks where I feel kind of like, Oh, I don't really like how my nose look. I don't really like how, like this thing with, you know, certain insecurity start to come out, and I have to navigate through that, you know? And so I think this has been a definitely a growing experience for me. Um, creatively, like the concepts that I do every week blow my mind and so you know I I've loved it. I enjoyed it. But that's just kind of like the backstory of how it started. I love it. I love it. What it makes me think of is that, you know, the pandemic started and none of us, you know, we we of course, we couldn't have imagined that it would be, um, this long, But it was this There was a point where people were like Okay, well, what can I do? How can I stay creative? And, you know, some of us started to do that. But you did it. Yeah. You went all in. What did you have, like, over weeks of, you know? Plus, uh, and and so what? I really appreciate about what you just described, um was, you know, it's one thing to start something with them to stay committed to it, and then to see that it's allowing you to to what it's actually the impact is having on yourself and others that you may not have been able to predict. Like you said, it was Easter Sunday and you just want to get dressed up, you know, and and so you mentioned being being a vulnerable thing and I would love to dive a little bit further into that. As you said, a lot of us who are photographers don't like to be on the other side of the camera. Uh, what did you learn about yourself? And as you went through this as you as you started to be more vulnerable. Um, you know, I I found I already. I thought I was confident. I thought that I was kind of secure. And I and I am I think the confidence for me, um, has been something that I've always worked on. I think that there's a lot of, um, insecurities and kind of like trauma from, like, high school college things that I dealt, dealt with, have struggled with maybe fully didn't like observer, recognize that I kind of maybe kept hidden that started to come out during this. You know this project because I'm capturing myself every single week. Um, so I went from never really seeing myself on especially, you know, you never You never really saw me on my instagram before. It was kind of sprinkled. And now it's just like episode point my whole face, I had people saying like, hey, do you take portrait of other people? Yeah, I do like So you know, it was putting myself out there a lot more, and I had to be a lot more comfortable with who I am. Um, how I look especially physically. You know, there's certain insecurities that I've had growing up, whether it was the color of my skin or the size of my nose, my lips, my how small my ears on people comment on it. But texture of my hair, all of these different things that are insecurities, that I'm now trying to, um, find power in and find beauty and my portraits. Right. You know, I have a self portrait where I have my hair in the Afro. You will never on my whole page, I have never, ever, ever, ever, ever put an image where I haven't had my Afro. I have it right, because it's not something that I usually do. I usually put my hair in a bun or wear it like this, etcetera. Um but that was something that I wanted to challenge myself to do. And I did it and I felt beautiful, and people enjoyed it, too. But ultimately I felt beautiful, and I think that's the underlying thing with this entire project. It's challenged me to find beauty and the things that I didn't see as being beautiful. Um, and then it's allowed me to grow. And I have that self love. So it's more so. Supporters Sunday has always been something that's for me. I told myself that if this project became overwhelming, um, if I found myself doing it for other people, that I would stop, um, and then come back whenever I was ready. So I took a little break over the holiday season. I was like, I'm gonna enjoy myself. I'm going to eat well and I'll be back when I'm ready. And so we came back last week, and, um, I'm really excited to keep it going and see where else I can go with it. Well, thank I mean again. Thank you for touching on what? You know what doing self portraits can do for people. I mean, you mentioned trauma. You mentioned, you know, things that start to come up, which is this emotional process and potentially, you know, integration and healing. Uh, and did you find Did you Did you hear from other people that they started to do the same thing, or or, you know, did people kind of start following along for them? Are, you know, creating for themselves? Yes, yes, I think that's probably one of the most exciting things from the project is when people reach out and they say, like, um, you know, some people will be like, Oh, I wish I could take self portraits to and I'm like You can't like even if no one else sees them, take them for yourself. It's important to document you know who you are, what you look like, you know, at one point hopefully like, I'll have my own kids and they'll be able to see day Mama was looking fly like That's the whole, you know, like I've been able to document myself in a way that is unique to who I am. Um and so I've been able to encourage other people to do so. So when people tag me on Instagram and they're like, Hey, I took a self portrait, um, you know, inspired by Oh yes, I d or, um, I've also had the opportunity to educate and teach and do some different sessions around self portraiture. And so I always challenge my students and say, like, Hey, you know, I'm challenge you to either do is take a self portrait of yourself or find something in your home that you want to capture in a way that's unique. Um, so just really trying to push in the final way to be creative in the midst of your own home because there is beauty in our house is right. If it's not ourselves, it's our families. It could be the milieu that you're cooking. It could be the hair products in your bathroom. There is beauty and the things that you know you don't usually find beauty and the things that you kind of ignore on a regular basis. Um, And so when I see other people creating at home, um, doing the self portraiture and and growing and growing and having that self love through that process, it makes me really happy. So that's definitely something that's been a huge plus, um, from the series so far. Okay, so you're totally motivating me. I do that. Why don't I set up the tripod and you know, and because you should you should because I'm telling you, I always say Like, uh when I take a picture, and I'm like, Okay, you cannot talk to me anyhow. This is This is me. This is what I look like. Like you cannot speak to me in any tone. You cannot look at me anyway because I am feeling myself. So that's what that does for me. I love that. Excuse me. As you see, right? Like, you cannot talk to me like, come on. Look like it. Um, it it has it. Has it been able to, um, having that recognizing some self love and and recognizing your own beauty has that, um, kind of transferred to as you're photographing other people? I mean, obviously, let's talk a little bit about your your work and your focus on women. Black women celebrating the beauty, Um, the joy, the all of it, uh, has that shifted your take on your own work of, you know, photographing other people from the work you're doing for yourself? You know what's funny? I think that the work that I do for other people is what really allowed me to do the self portrait project. So I think it's almost opposite Because the one thing the one thing about when I shoot other people is I am really in general. I am anyone's biggest hype woman, right? So I always love to make sure people feel themselves if you are. If you're insecure about something or you're like, I don't really know, he don't. Oh, no, don't take my picture. I will make sure that you feel good by the end of that session, right? I'm always trying to bring out the best out of my clients. Bring out the best of whoever I can capture because ultimately, like I'm capturing not just only what they look like, I want to capture their essence, their energy, right? And so I want to be able to try to bring that out. Um, I really feed off of interactions with people. I'm an extrovert in that sense. So I love to connect with people I love being able to love on people, share and experience, etcetera. And so that's what actually got me into photography in the first place and has kept me in There is that relationship aspect and being able to capture people for who they are capture their essence in their beauty and let that show through in a photograph. So they're now saying that I can do that with other people. I was like, I should be able to hide myself up. I should be able to take, you know, bring my same essence and beauty out of my own images. So I think it was more so opposite the work that I do with other people is what inspired this, you know, to me to do the same in the portrait series. Um, I think now the only difference is that there are certain things creatively that I want to do more of my work right, Whether it's playing around with colors, you know, I I usually oftentimes a lot of my portraits are very vibrant and colors compared to a lot of my regular work or just doing different concepts. You know, I did a self portrait this past Sunday that was, um, that was inspired by the show of Bridget in, you know, so something. Seeing something on TV and inspiring me and creating a concept and creating an outfit or look based off of that or certain things that I would want to do my work more often with other people. So I think that's probably what I've gotten the portrait project so far. For that I think that's really cool that it it is sort of the reverse when you see, because your portraits are so beautiful. And so you have the ability to be like Oh, yeah, wait, I can do that for other people. Wait, let me do that for myself. Uh, talk to me about your style and this Sort of like I said, send the cinematic dream like, um, is it the tones? Is it is it how much of it is sort of what you're creating in camera and then the post processing, um, tell me how you approach. Are you thinking of what the tones will be after the fact when you're approaching an image, talk to me about your process? Yeah. And so really? So there's I guess there's two components of the when it comes to actually shooting. Um, I'm just more so focusing on just interacting with my subject and making sure that they feel comfortable and capturing them in whatever way naturally comes up. I don't ever put pressure around my shoot a lot of my images unless there are, you know, planned out to a T for a client or whatever the case. A lot of the creative work that I do for fun. Um, it's just, you know, based off of interactions and how we're feeling. We'll have certain ideas, like, Okay, these are the outfit you're gonna wear, or this is the location. Certain things like that that are pre planned. But once we get there, we're just going based off of how things are feeling and just energy. And so I'm just capturing whatever I can at that moment. I try to get as many photos. Different poses. Looks, um I'm really big on portraits and people's faces. So I'm always a lot of my work as well. You can see, is a lot of up close photos because I just feel like people's faces tell stories. So I always make sure I get those, Um, but then when it comes to the other side, a lot of my work is also in the editing process, right? I really am big on editing, especially when it comes to skin. Um, I think the one thing for me when it comes to photography and why I specialize and focus on capturing black women. People that look like me is because often times that is the struggle that, um, a lot of us have is finding a photographer that can understand our skin tone or undertones and captures correctly instead of making us look orange to grain to this or that. Um, and so when people tell me, Oh, you know how to capture black people black skin. I take part in that because I literally make sure that I can, you know, capture them well. So a part of that is just the skin editing and and just more so the tones and making sure that I'm representing that that individual wealth and then other parts of it is just kind of like I don't go in with an idea of what this image will come out. Find the product. I just allow each image to, or each shoot to inspire me when I sit down in front of my computer and so I don't have people will ask me about, like, presets and stuff. I do have presets that I use for, like, client stuff every now and then that's pretty repetitive. But a lot of my work on my website. It's not a preset. It's just I sat down and I played around until I got tones and colors that I like that spoke to me. I really like to go. When I look for that dream like and cinematic feel. I'm trying to bring my photos to life. I want them to feel like the images or whoever that person is jumping out at you like I want them to be bold. I want them to be sharp. I want them to be like Look at me like you are looking into my soul Almost so like I really that's what I take pride in. And so it's not really more so. Me going in with an idea. It's just, Hey, let me sit down with no restrictions and allow myself to creep. Really? Um, and that's how I go, how I approach every single shoot, and then the results that come out is what you see on my website and on my instagram and whatnot. Thank you for explaining your process because I think we all have sort of different ways that that we approach things. And so I love the fact that a lot of times when you see somebody's work that like yours, where it's where it is, whether they're the self portraits or otherwise, where the final outcome is, you know, so beautiful and spot on. And you know all that where where it is, like, did Dara have to have all of that in your mind in advance? Because I'm more of, uh, I love street photography and travel, photography and things where I'm waiting till I see something versus, like, I'm And I guess I shouldn't You should never say I don't or I can't. But you know, the coming up with concepts and such, you know, like you're Bridget in Self Portrait, um, is you know, it's this. It seems like it's this combination of both for your setting up a space for yourself, too. Be able to play and be creative. And so I think it's an important message that you don't always have to know exactly with. You know how it's going to end up. But allowing yourself to do that Yeah, and I think that it's important to like, you know, obviously plan things out so like, Yeah, I plan on the location what the idea concept is, but you have to leave room for creativity to take its place. You have to leave room for just and have grace, like sometimes your plan for something. And it won't go to whether you thought it was going to go or your plan for it. And I'll go. The complete opposite is better than what you thought. So I like to create space for that. I don't want to put pressure on whoever I'm shooting with it. Just more so, like, let's put some music on that vibe and see whatever comes out of it. Then I'll sit on my computer. I'll see what I have and what can I do from here and just allow myself to be free with it? Can you tell me a little bit more about when you you know, I said when I when I, um, opened this podcast that I believe everyone has a story to tell And you said, I believe people's faces tell stories. Mhm. What do you Can you can you tell us about an image and sort of what? That what? The story that you're able to kind of, uh, come up with out of just somebody's face. You know, it's so that's a good question, because I've never really, like, send it out loud. I just feel like every person's face is unique to like who they are, right? And so, whether that is like the arch of the eyebrow, or like the color of their skin, or, you know, like maybe like wrinkles in their face, whatever the case might be. There's something unique in somebody's face, um, and so that's connected to who they are. I think when it comes to when I think of a portrait that comes to mind, I think of when I went back home to Nigeria and I took. I've gone back home for the first time, as as an adult back in 2018. I've been back a couple of times since that point, but that time that I went back, I wanted to make sure that I captured images of my family, my grandmother, specifically that I hadn't seen one of my dad's mom. Actually, um, that was my first time seeing her since she came to the States back in you know, And so I've only met her once before that time that I went back, um, and so being able to capture her, I felt like the portrait that I took of her. I could see the strength in her face. I can see the strength of a woman who has all of these kids and and has has worked her butt off to create a life for them to see, even in the wrinkles that her face and the you know, sometimes even her outfits you wear like her, Um, the headscarf is called a gala, so she'll wear her gallon her outfit. You can just see the the beauty and the wisdom that she carries right? And so that's ultimately her essence, right? And so when I capture people I try to see it's not really what I can do it just how can I create a moment where that just kind of naturally shines out and you can feel that person's energy? And I just try to see if I can capture that in a photograph, Um, and so that when people look at it, they hopefully feel at least half of what I felt in that session, I love that you talk about it as a feeling because I also especially with portrait photography you can in your images, you can feel that connection. And it is that the energy is the energy that you're putting out clearly And making that that that that energy is what then come through and reflect. It's a reflection. It's a connection. Um, not just the person, but you know both. You absolutely right. Talk to me about growing up about your first generation Nigerian American. Um, what did it mean for you to be first generation? Um, what was your what were you creative as a child? Like, what would talk to me about your childhood? You know, I actually was not creative at all as a child. Um, I I was more athletic, like I played basketball and I did sports like that. I I think that's quite funny that when I reflect because nothing in my past equates to where I'm at at all. I didn't use to draw. I didn't, like, take pictures of the kid. I didn't even like photography. Really? Um and so growing up like I was born here in Phoenix, Arizona, both my parents were born lived in acquiring state Nigeria. Um, I say I'm first generation Nigerian American because my, you know, heritage of who I am. Being Nigerian is a huge part of who I am. Is a huge part of my work is just a huge part of my being right. Um and so growing up here, you know there is, you know, just the cultural aspect. You know, being able to like family is a huge thing for me, um, our food or cultural music, et cetera. And so growing up, I felt like I was always experiencing one thing in the house. And then I would go to school and experience another thing, right? And so I live in this household where it's like all you know, my parents, my Nigerian culture, I If anything, I'm interacting with my cousins, who are also Nigerian as well and African, And then I'm going to school a school that's predominantly white. And I'm feeling like I almost have to switch who I am. You know, I have to not, you know, you know, I wouldn't eat the foods that my mom would probably make me for lunch. Like the cultural foods or you want to address the specific kind of way because I wanted to be present in a different kind of aspect. Um, and I feel like I struggled with identity a lot. Um, in that sense, right, Because you're at home, everything is one way, and then you go to school and you're like, the only black girl, and I'm on top of that. You're African, right? And so, um, there was a lot of identity struggles that I have dealt with in that sense, um, that I think that I didn't really start to focus on until I went to college. And so I went to the University of Arizona. Um, and that's when I started to I actually joined, like the like, the Black Student Union, as well as the African, the African Student Union, Um, African Student Association. Excuse me? Where I felt like I was able to explore my blackness, both being, you know, black American, being African, being Nigerian and really coming into full of who I am. Um, And when it came to the creativity, you know, when I went to college, my parents and they would always say this with Nigerians are just really immigrants being Children of immigrants. First generation specifically, there is this pressure to perform well, right? There's this pressure to be a doctor lawyer get good grades, etcetera. Because my mom always would tell me I did not come to this country. I did not struggle for you to come and struggle. Um, and so there's this burden that you carry on the first and the oldest of my for, um and so going to college, I was always expected. You know, I was told you're going to be a doctor, were nurses, And you can't be a nurse because you have to be better than us. So you have to go. And your plan was to go to med school, right? So I had a pre med major. I did physiology all throughout college, and I finished well, but I struggled. It wasn't my strong point. It wasn't until senior year that I realized I actually took the M cat. And I said, You know what? This is not not for me. So we had to actually evaluate, which I'm glad that I did. Um, and it was my senior where I actually started to be more creative, and I started to do photography. Um, and I remember asking my mom to buy me a camera, and she was like, What do you want this camera for her? I don't understand. And I told her I was like, you know, a lot of kids on campus, they have cameras and they're taking grab photos and they're making money. And so she heard money and she said, Okay, I'll get you a camera. That means more money in your pocket from somewhere else is less money out of her pocket. And so that's how I actually got started. But for them, it was just a way for me to make money. Um, And then as it continued to grow and it became more serious, I think my parents had to realize, like, Wow, like there is something that you have here. There's a gift that you have there. So they had they had to be a little more supportive than they were in the beginning, you know, Um, but yeah, like nothing in my childhood created space for creativity. I didn't really do anything I used to sing or I sing. And so that's probably the only thing, but I just kind of stumbled into photography because, you know, I wanted to try it out. I wanted to make some money at the time, Um, and just start with grad photos. And my parents were, like, cool. And then now I'm in a space where it's grown to more of a passion. It's what I love to do it. What's what connects me to people. It almost feels like, essentially my purpose. I feel like I'm here to connect in Highland, tell people's stories throughout this through the specific medium. Um, and and that's just how everything kind of came along. So, yeah, I think it's so interesting because there's so many people that start as this is my passion, how can I make money with it? Where is it you started in the reverse and that. But it makes sense in terms of your you know, your story and the, you know, being first generation and the, you know, the pressure of, um, dark, You know, doctor, lawyer, all of that, Uh, and so to allow your I'm sorry. I feel a lot of first generation people just have the same story like I fresh creative Yes. Yes, Doctor. Lawyer, blah blah, blah. And then I fell into whatever creative feel they do now. Absolutely. I have heard. You know, I It's, um uh the fact that you allowed yourself to be able to make that switch allowed yourself to try, like, okay, it took the m cat. And then, like, yeah, it doesn't because you can't know right until you're doing something, whether it's gonna be a fit for you. Uh, and and so, yeah, allowing yourself to grow into it and to to for it to become a passion. Um, it's a really good lesson, I think, for people who you know who who are, you know, just are in the same, you know, shoes. Um, let's talk about some of your professional work. Uh, there's, you know, the personal projects, which we often say personal projects are what people get recognized for and then hired for, um or, you know, that that look, that feel that you put in the work. Um, I was looking, uh, at your instagram and I saw one that was recently shooting for skincare brands. Um, so it talked to me about getting client work and how that started and sort of what? What? The scenario is today. Yeah, no, of course. And so I do. I offer a number of different services, so I'm always constantly shooting out here in the Phoenix area. Whether it's like, you know, doing a portrait or a brand session or whatever the case might be. I um So I've always kept myself open to that. And that's just when, where, like a lot of the financial component has been from photography, is more so being able to, you know, do headshots or or specific different things like that that will really bring in that revenue. Um, just recently, I have been, like, really, really obsessed with, like, skin brand specifically, um, and so I had the opportunity to shoot a skin brand called First Love Skin. Um and, um, it just really I think it really aligned with the kind of work that I already kind of love to do, because when you look a thing of skin brands, you think of skin products. You think of natural beauty. You think of people's faces, their skin, and that's that's right up right up my alley. When it comes to my work um And so I did that shoot, and it was actually for a friend who she has started her own business. And so I loved it as well, because I was supporting another black woman who were not good friends as well. Um, and we actually did that shoot that you're talking about in my garage like we just had the products and we I had, like, the backdrops we wanted to keep it really, really minimal. We had three models that we were working on, so it's more so focusing on, you know, how do we want to show? Like their their faces and their beauty And so focusing, obviously on the face how we're going to, you know, the different poses, how we're going to place their heads, et cetera, Um, and in ways that we can show the product as well. Um, and so we came together. We put together like, you know, obviously the mood board picked a date, came together and shot, but it was really the same as everything else. Even my you know, the things that I get paid for I don't necessarily approach them any differently than I would have creative project I'm still ultimately there to capture somebody their their essence in that person's energy, for whatever the reason might be. But that underlining purpose remains the same. Um, and so when it comes to stuff like that, I I really just allow myself to create space to obviously get to the goal of capturing, you know, whatever products or whatever pictures, but making sure I'm capturing the models or whoever I'm shooting within the best way that I can. And so I like. I love love shooting with skin brands because it's right up my alley. And so I usually just keep myself open to opportunities like that. That is something that I want to do more. And so I'm starting to reach out to different brands to see if there's an opportunity to go in that space a little bit more. But right now I'm just more so open to any opportunities that come my way. Um, if someone sends me email and I'm free and available and it's looking right and we can make it work, I will do it, Um, and just kind of giving myself that experience to expand a little bit more. What in your in your sort of in your dreams. Um What what would be the continuing to be the, you know, the ideal, um, jobs for you. And like, what? What What do you want to continue to grow into? I think that I want to get to a space where I'm working with different brands and companies to do that storytelling. I think there's two different components of it, whether it's the more so documenting. And so like, for example, when I went back to Nigeria capturing the culture, the people, um, in in the specific portraits, um, doing more work, that specific, like that is what I would love to do. Um And then also, the second part of that is just more so just telling stories in a creative way. And so I started this, um, kind of second platform on my instagram called open Room, and I do it with another friend of mine, my friend Michaela who? She is a cinematographer. Um, and we just think of different projects a different, you know, stories. We want to tell the people we want to connect with, and we tell them through, you know, different visual medium. So being photography and then also cinematography. Um, and so I've had the opportunity to step into, like, more so a director role with directing how I want, you know, specific things to look how you know, especially when it comes to more of, like, film and capturing things in that specific way. Um and so when I think of down the line, that's the kind of work that I want to do with brands. I want to be able to tell stories, specifically black stories that are going to impact our people, our community, and have that representation. Um, and so right now it's just me creating that work. And then, hopefully one day everything falls in line, and I can start to do that same type of work, whether it's for a clothing brand or whether it's for whatever the product or whatever it could be. It doesn't really matter as long as the purpose is, and the people that I'm, you know, bringing forth and highlighting is capturing are you know, people from my community. I mean, it's a it's, uh, going back to the self Portrait series like that. You can see how you know brands would look at that work and say we want that, you know, And so putting again, this message of, you know, putting the work out there that you love to create, you know, consistently And then that, you know, is is what people see, uh, and, you know, and therefore desire. I mean, everything that you just talked about is the path that you know that that that you are on. I love to ask. In fact, though, about um combining the the still imagery with motion and cinematography. What do you think is different in terms of like what you can the stories you can tell with stills versus motion? Yeah. You know, it's quite funny because I think some photography is a skill that I want to, you know, bring on myself right now. I'm really, really grateful for my friend Michaela. Um, because she is. That's what she does, right? So she tells stories on the other side. Whereas I'm just capturing and trying to tell a story through a portrait she's capturing through motion. Um, and so it's really challenged me in a way to like, look at I usually find myself looking for moments and specific things whereas the film, you can, like, capture a bunch of moments in a clip or whatever the case might be and then have room to play around with it with your final product. And so it's really challenged me to kind of just look more so at a larger picture instead of looking for specific details that I'm going to capture and then like like, this is all I need. I just need this one portrait of its face or a full body. Whatever the case might be, um, but allowing myself to look things at a larger perspective, um, and being able to just capture as much as I can, and then when you The great thing about cinematography and film is that you can have all of these different clips, this B roll, whatever the case might be, and then you can create your masterpiece. At the end, you're really just kind of picking and choosing and piecing together everything that helps you tell that story. And I think that is so, so, so, so beautiful. Um, and so that's why it's really important for me to, um, pair images with motion now because I think it's just I think they can tell a similar story, but they just tell them in their in their own unique ways, and and it's just impactful to pair them together. And so it's definitely something I want to explore more. Uh, we'll have upcoming projects that would go on that page and just different passion work like that. But just like you said, I think passion project is what creates space for, um, you know, paid opportunities. There was stuff that happened last year that I wouldn't have gotten honestly if it wasn't for the Self Portrait Project. Tell us, Tell us some examples. You know, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Apple. They were releasing um, one of their newest, um, Mac desktops. And so they were looking for creatives that would create from home to really help them show like how this product helps them. So something like that, like I use apple products every single day, Right that they found me because of myself for two series, Really? They found they found my name and then went to my instagram and saw that I had this ongoing series. Um and they love that. I was basically making lemons or lemonade out of lemons, right? And so basically just creating at home. And so that led into a long term partnership where I'm still being able to work with them today or having the opportunity to work and educate education has been a huge thing for me as well. Um, wanting to be able to teach more and so opportunities to teach with companies like Unraveled Academy or being able to teach, Um, I had an opportunity recently to partner with, um, a platform called a company called Medaglia. They kind of sell these abstract pieces, and so they oftentimes will do these educational sessions where, um, you're kind of like, um, courses where you can, like, highlight different photographers. So they have reached out to me for a partnership, um, to be able to create my first course. And so that was my first online online course, where I talked about portraiture and then talked about you know, how you can edit and create those cinematic and dreamlike portraits. And so stuff like that came literally from, you know, the self portrait projects. But I got, you know, essentially given the opportunity to just do what I want to do and be able to create in the way that I want to create. So I definitely do think your passion project is what's going to make room for everything else later on deadline, as long as you remain consistent with it. Were there moments where you are? Well, I mean, you said earlier you gave yourself a break, but were there moments when you're like, I don't want to do this anymore with so portrait Sundays and then you're like, Oh, wait, bigger goal in mind? Not yet, Not yet. Okay, So, like, the break was more so. Like, I have all of these ideas, but I don't have the energy to do it. And so I took a break, and it was also like it was Thanksgiving Christmas, like everyone should be have we should all rest and watch Netflix on the day and just eat like that's what I did. But, um, I think that the one thing that is so big about the support, your project and why it keeps me going is because it is that form of self care. For me, it is essentially my form of therapy. And so it's just something that I do for myself that I allow other people to have access to. And that's the only reason why I continue to do it, because there is that. What? There's something that I'm receiving from it. Still to this day, maybe when I'm not getting as much from it, maybe I'll slow down. But right now it's just bringing me so much joy and peace to be able to be in my own space. And I do everything literally in this bedroom so I don't I lock my door. I put on music. I just in my own head space for a couple of hours while I shoot and edit. And then it's just like I feel good. I feel rejuvenated, and I just choose to share this with the world. And then at that point, everyone just gets to react how they want to react. But I've already had the benefit and the purpose of what this project stands for. So, um, if there comes a day when I'm like I can't do it anymore, we'll see. But it hasn't come yet so well, and I think you just nailed it as to why? Because you know a lot of times with social media or putting out there putting work out there like if we feel like we have to do it solely for other people, that's a very different than it becomes more a chore or something you feel you have to do. Whereas you just explained how it's your therapy. It's your you time, it's your rejuvenation. And so you know, it's if I just think that's an important distinction and that comes out in the work in that, you know, because it is for you. And I think that's how people connect to it, right. People can tell when something feels. I know everyone uses the word authentic, but people can sell when things feel authentic and real right and people can tell when you're forcing things. And so I don't think I don't believe in creating just because I have to listen unless I'm being paid for it, obviously. But if it's a passion project, give yourself time to fulfill that passion project in the way that you want to do whatever vision you have. Whatever you gain from that, that is the like, the top priority. Everything else is going to fall in line. You know, the self portrait project was the priority was just self care. I'm gonna get dressed every week, so I look good. I'm gonna captured these images of myself, and hopefully I'm gonna make I would even plan to make a little collection book, you know, make a coffee book of them for myself. And, um, I do that because I need it. I want it, and I just choose to share with everybody else. And then everything else falls into place from that point. And so people can. I think that's what keeps people going with this project is that they can tell how real it is for me. And they feel that energy through the portraits as well. Absolutely. And I think there was when I was scrolling through your feet and you did have a section where you had collaged them together and, um, and so in in, actually screamed out that, and I'm looking at it right now because I mean, you just you have created just so many looks and feels, but you can see your own self, um, and and the the you know, the joy. But the inquisition and the connection with yourself, and I think that's so powerful. I wanted to talk about another project that, um I saw on your website, uh, and again coming back to sort of identity. And, um called her letter, uh, where you're pairing images and then work people's letters. And I'm not sure if they were all letters to self or, um, letters to other people. But it's one thing, and I know yours was a letter to self and I It's one thing to take a portrait of yourself, but it's another thing to actually sort of right words down. Talk to me about this project. Yeah, it's it's funny that you mention it because I even forgot it's still on my website. I did it a couple of years ago, and this is more. This is when I was trying to, you know, make that connection with portraits and identity and things of that nature. And so, um, I did this project called her letter, Um, because I really wanted to more so again for myself. But I also wanted to do for other women, and so I basically asked a group of black women to write a letter to their future or past self. So if there was something that you could say to yourself, what would that be? And then just being able to pair that with the image of what they look like today. So allowing them to have space to hell or speak life into themselves, I think was really, really important. Um, I think some of these letters, even some people were writing what I know there was, um I'm not sure I have it on my website. But there was even when he was a mother and daughter duo and the daughter wrote a letter to her mother, you know, and the mother wrote a daughter to a letter, and I just, um the mother wrote a letter to her daughter. Excuse me. I think that that's it's powerful because it's a connection between them, and I'm just there to capture that moment. Um, and so it's probably one of my favorite products. Because of that, I think it's really intimate because to write down something is you have to be intentional. You have to actually physically grab a pen and paper and write it down. I didn't want them to type it. I didn't want it to be. Some of them were both voice notes only because you know they couldn't, like, didn't have the time to write it down. So I was like, You can do that as well. Um, I think there's just something powerful about handwriting, Something down. Like taking the time, pen and paper, real old school, and just writing something down and being one with your thoughts. Um, and I think it takes you through kind of like a little journey of self realization. And so I really love that project because it did. I saw that happen for other people. And then when we came to the shoots, I had them read the letters out loud, and so, you know, they came and they brought the letters and they would read them out loud, and it would oftentimes just be me in the room. So I felt like, you know, really grateful for them to feel comfortable enough to share that with me because a lot of them were vulnerable. A lot of them work through their insecurities and things of that nature as well. So just creating that that space of healing, I think that's definitely something where I want to kind of continue to deal with my work. I think photography for me, especially with the self portrait project, has been a self, a sense of healing. I've had to go through and be able to heal through my traumas, my insecurities, um, and things that I have gone through through my work and and that specific project. I was able to create space for others to do the same. Um and so I even had my own like you mentioned. I have a portrait on there and I have a letter that I wrote to myself, um, and and just allowing people to just heal and capture that moment. So then that way they can always refer back to it. It's so cool, because I, uh this is the reason why this jumped out to me is because I the concept of holding space for people, the concept of actually like there's really interested in a lot of the brain research that's going on, you know, right now, and that's that's just sort of understanding. Um, what from a brain perspective like you, literally. When you put pen to paper, it allows you to get those thoughts out of your like, literally out of your head. And so especially when it comes to trauma and you know, self worth and things like that, like it literally allows when the brain is triggered with those thoughts for them, for you to release them. And and so it's, um, again recognizing that and and combining that with the visuals, Um, is I mean, what a beautiful, beautiful thing to hold space for people and yourself to do. And those like, uh, definitely people out there listening like it's a powerful experience to sit down and write a letter to yourself. You can go through so much things sometimes when I said especially like I don't journal as much as I want to. I used to journal a lot more than at that time. I don't do it as much as I want to know, Um, and this is like a mental note for me to get back to it, because when you do journal, when you do write these, even if it's a small letter to yourself, you kind of start to unpack things that you didn't even know was there. You know, I'll start off by saying, Oh, I'm fine. And then before you know what? I'm crying because I didn't even realize there was something that was bothering me that I just allowed myself to release. Um, so you it's really, um, unique in a way that you can just kind of release your feelings and your thoughts, et cetera on paper, um, and then you have it there to physically, right? That's why I preferred the physical aspect of posted people typing. The only other thing that I did was I did do voice notes, because I think there's something powerful we're hearing. You like reading something out loud and saying and hearing your voice, I think you can get the same kind of, you know, feeling or emotion is writing it down. So those are the two components that, like I don't really want to. I didn't want to do people typing the letter or whatever, because I feel like it. Almost. There's a separation there, right? It's not physical, it's on your computer. You can close it and walk away, whereas in a journal on a piece of paper and you can actually hold on to that or with audio, you can hear yourself speak, you know, speak life into yourself, speak like being to your situation. And so I truly, truly love that project because I saw what it did for other women. I know what it did for myself. Um, and I think that it's just again that I think there's a a theme that I have throughout my work. You know, between that project and again, the self portrait project of healing. And how can you utilize your creative medium to provide healing, whether it's for yourself or creating space for others as well? This is my life mission. I'm with you on this. I, uh, my best friend and I run, uh, mindful adventures retreats. And it is all this. Um, it's it's again. It's holding space. Um, for for people to be able to have that, Yeah, the healing experience and creativity does that. And, you know, like you said, I'm pretty inspired right now to go and start making some self portraits because that's, you know, a very vulnerable thing. Um, you know, it's different when you're just like, take a selfie versus this the experience of truly seeing yourself, um, and in in a different way. And that's or hearing yourself. You know, like you hear yourself talk and you hear it on the inside of your head. You know, it's another thing to listen to your voice, Um, on recording, um, and and so I mean, just I just I love it. Thank you. What? I'm going to have to do it again. I'm gonna have a mental note. Like I didn't I didn't bring that like to do a reboot of that because I love. So thank you for asking about Yeah. Maybe Maybe you do it after your Sunday session or before your Sunday session, because that just gets into the mood in the zone and the letting go, um, is really for me a big, a big part of that, um it can literally, like release trauma that you're holding in your body and physical pain. But that's another conversation. I had had chronic back pain, and it was literally through things like writing and ripping it up and throwing it away. That helped heal. So it's super powerful, super powerful. Um uh, what do you get the most in terms of, um, younger photographers or other photographers out there? sort of looking at you and your work and asking for advice. Um, what What are some of the things that you like to share? Um, the common questions that come about. Yeah. Um, I think the first part is always like, how do you get this image? How did you do this? Um, and I think one thing that I always share with younger photographers is that it's not something that came overnight. I have been shooting for five years. Um, the work that I had in the beginning, um, it's not work that you see now for a reason. Um, there was growth there. Um, I think the her letter when it's probably like the the furthest back that I can think of that I started. I still have currently on my website. Um, because that's when I started to explore who I was as a photographer. What I wanted my work to do. Um, and I and it's still it's still relevant to this day. That's why it stays up there. Um, I try to tell younger photographers just really create space to just explore and see where it goes. I think when you start to put too many restrictions or stress and think that Oh, I need to be doing this just like how Idora does it. I need to capture myself the way she does. I need to do that. No, you don't. I do this in a way that works for me, and it just works for the people that I also work with. As far as the clients, I shoot. Do it in a way that is unique for yourself. You have to figure out what your why is why are you capturing? Why are you getting into this in the first place? Why did you pick up your camera? You know, my wife in the beginning was to make money. And then I realized Oh, wait, that's not my Why I like to do this because I love people and I want to tell their stories. And then that's what sticks with me. And as I continue to shoot, the more you shoot and shoot and shoot, the more you're gonna grow, the more you're gonna start to look at different things differently. You're gonna look at details differently. You're gonna figure out things you want to incorporate concepts, etcetera, all that stuff comes with time and just inspiration as a whole. So you have to give yourself grace to have that time and experiences. Um, and so that's one thing I always try to share with people. The second thing is always around editing every I get so many questions about, you know, how do you edit this? How do you get these colors, These tones, tones, tones and I take pride in my tones. I love them so much, and so I really love to pay for, you know, when they asked that again, that's something that came with time, Um, and just creating my own style of work. I think every portrait relatively looks different, but you can tell that there's the same kind of like brown under like tones that kind of stay with throughout all of my all of my images, Um, and so that just came from trial and error. I did get my own course. That will be that I did with Mood Elliot, that will now be up my website in the coming weeks for people to purchase. So if they want to learn from me, I do, um, always teach um and then I have ongoing course with Unravel Cabin Academy as well to kind of do that as well. But I think it's just kind of just sit down, look at your image. What does that image like? It's so weird. But what do you feel from it? Like, you know, just allow yourself to just be free and just you can always go back and erase. Just play around and you will start to find things that stand out to you the most. Um, and then one last thing. If there's people's work that you do love, figure out why, like, what is it that you love about this person's work? Do you love my work because it makes you feel a certain kind of way? Do you love this person's work because it's really dreamy and area? Do you like? Like what? What is it that you like, Um, and figure out how you can take those. Take note of those things. Take note of the things that you like in other people's work because there's something that you can start to incorporate in your own. The goal isn't to copy anybody else. Please do not copy, but you can always say, That's how you again you take that inspiration if you see a picture and you're like, Oh, wow, I really love this or I love this artist work. Why do you love it? There's people that I love because they give me that same sense of healing through their images that I want to have in mind. And so I'm like, Oh, I love how she took this portrait or how the tones really make me feel this and that And then I take those specific concepts, are those ideas and apply them in my own unique way. And so I think those are the kind of things that I always try to tell People who are starting out is just really going to create that space for growth. And with time you'll get to where you want to be. Just allow yourself to be free and like and go wherever it takes you. You know, such great advice, space and grace like base and great I. And again, I just I love the this a bill, the concept of understanding why you're doing something, you know, not just like the oh, I like that. Why do you like. And that's where you know, two year olds know what they're doing when they keep asking Why? Why? Why? It's everything. That's right. Everything. That's right. Um, Doris, such a great conversation. Thank you so much for joining us today. Um, I want to give a shout out to Polly again. Who is the founder of black women photographers? She's She's tuning in, she says, So proud of you, which is awesome. Um, we had, um we had Cosmo tuning in. We had Susan, who is in a normal Illinois. We have Robert Sims who's saying, like the joy and passion that comes through, keep doing your thing. We have, um, Joe Mullen shot Who's saying absolutely love it. There a self portraits and her storytelling style shots of people and places. Beautiful work. Um, and on and on and on. Uh, England, Uh, Cairo, Egypt. Uh, super, Super cool. Where can people find you and follow you everywhere? From England to Egypt. Uh, let us know where to find you. Of course you can find me on my instagram page, which is the Oh, yeah, it's I d So Ohh. Uh y e a h I t s I d y so? Oh, yes, I d So you can find me there and then also my website idea at coe dot com. Um, feel free to look at my work. Reach out if you have any questions, comments, um, and just kind of stay tuned for things that are coming soon. So much to come. I love it. And also available for hire, um, and check out your, um, your classes and all of that. And maybe we can get you here on creative life. Yeah, that'll be great. It will be a portrait this week. So if you are following the series, we're back on our regular cadence. So there'll be another new self portrait this week as well. Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you again. And everybody, uh, we are looking forward to two more weeks as part of our conversation series that we've partnered with Paulie from black women photographers. Be sure to go out and check out that website. Polly is if you are interested in being part of the community. If you want to put your name out there, there's a whole section on that. Your name? Your images. If you're an editor, go and find this talented, beautiful work people available for hire. And we're looking forward to the next two weeks when we're going to be speaking with Tammy Thomas as well as Alexis Hunley. Um and so you can R s v p For those. If you're here on the creative live TV page, you can just scroll down, hit the RSVPs so that you get a message. This episode will also come out as part of our We are photographers series our podcast series of audio. So wherever you listen to your podcasts, um, you can subscribe to we are photographers and you can look out for this upcoming episode as well. So everybody we'll see you next time. But thank you again to Dara Expo and we'll see you all soon. Thank you, Dara. Thank you so much. Can I appreciate it?

Class Description


Our weekly audio podcast We Are Photographers brings you true stories from behind the lens and behind the lives of your favorite photographers, filmmakers, and creative industry game-changers. From their struggles to their wins, host Kenna Klosterman discovers the real human stories about why they do what they do.

Listen to this and other audio episodes on our audio Podcast page.


As photographers, we often don’t like to be on the “other” side of the camera. Idara inspires us with her 30+ week Self Portrait Sunday series that took off during the pandemic. Find out how the vulnerability of making self-portraits can not only get your creativity flowing but also heal and build self-confidence. Idara shares her process in both capturing the true essence of her subjects, as well as honing her post-processing style. We talk about storytelling - whether that’s through a still of an individual’s face or through the moments you can edit together with cinematography. Idara is a brilliant example of how passion projects create space for paid opportunities.


Idara Ekpoh is a Nigerian-American Portrait Photographer whose art is centered around celebrating Black women and their stories. She focuses on creating captivating visual experiences through her dreamlike & cinematic portraits. She has been able to utilize photography as a medium to not only tell her own story through self-portraiture but to empower and bring visibility to the voices and stories of those within her community. 


Deitra L. Jackson

I really resonated with Idara's self portrait project during quarantine and her reason for creating it. Her Self Portrait Sunday series is lively and creative in imagery and imagination. This Creative Live class was a wonderful introduction to the woman and her work.