If a photo is really worth a thousand words like the saying goes, then photographer Taesirat Yusuf’s work is worth a million.
Based in Lagos, Nigeria, Yusuf found her passion for photography in 2017 and has been steadily building her portfolio while using her work to emphasize the importance of Nigerian identity and representation.
“Photography has always been a way for me to express myself through my imagination and a way to let the world view things through my art. I didn’t know I wanted to be a photographer, I just wanted to capture things that fascinated me and visualized my imagination,” says Yusuf.
One of Yusuf’s greatest skills lies in her ability to capture her subjects in a beautifully raw and intimate state. Looking at her work makes you feel as if you’ve just been invited into someone’s home and they’re saying, “this is me.”
“The best part of being a photographer, personally, is the joy that comes from seeing what I create having a positive effect on people and seeing people wanting to identify with me on the grounds of the work I’ve done,” says Yusuf. “It’s an uplifting feeling to be able to create something that ends up being important in different ways and spaces.”
A prime example of this is her photo essay titled “Why Are You Sad?” which explores toxic masculinity, and the emotions men often have to hide from the world in order to be seen as heroic. In these photos, the audience follows Yusuf’s subject as he navigates the process of openly expressing his vulnerability.
Through her creative use of lighting, these photographs display the range of emotions the subject is experiencing in a way that is usually absent from the restricting binaries of mainstream media.
Using photography to dismantle and address social norms comes as second nature for Yusuf, who says a majority of her work is conceptual and documentary style.
“At the moment, my favorite work is my photo-project titled “Black Girl Rituals” and the reason is I had so much fun creating it with people in their comfort zone which gave it this tone of originality,” says Yusuf. “It’s this originality that makes me love the project.”
In this set of photographs, Yusuf captures the process of Black hair care through the combing and plaiting of the hair. Each photo offers viewers an intimate glimpse into the creative process behind traditional Black hairstyles and how hair is an integral part of Black women’s identities.
While Yusuf loves the creative freedom photography gives her in exploring the world around her, she acknowledges that it does come with its own set of challenges.
“Some difficulties I face are definitely the expensiveness of the craft and how it gets overwhelming sometimes to create when you aren’t getting the desired response you need,” she says.
One of the things that has helped Yusuf offset some of these difficulties is her involvement in Black Women Photographers (BWP.) Founded in 2020 by photographer Polly Irungu, BWP is a global community and digital database of photographers who are available for hire.
“Upon joining the BWP community in June 2020, I witnessed an awesome growth, I got comfortable with sharing my art with the world, met awesome people through the community and I’ve gotten paid for jobs via the community for my work better than I have ever been in my years as a photographer,” Yusuf recounts. “It has really had a huge impact in my life as an artist and I’m forever thankful to Polly Irungu, the founder and other awesome Black women artists in the community.”
When Yusuf looks to the future, she sees a career as a photographer and contributor for fashion magazines and other publications while creating work she loves.
“Photography to me is a way I can express myself,” says Yusuf. “I see it as my happy place because when I get to create, nothing else is on my mind except creating and I love that feeling.”
Elizabeth Alvarado is a multimedia freelance journalist with a passion for exploring social issues within communities of color. Based in Washington State, she has covered the Latinx community around Seattle and has worked abroad in Mexico City reporting on women’s issues. Through her writing, she aspires to give a voice to those who feel they aren’t being heard. Twitter: @lizthejourno