IN CONVERSATION WITH

KEMKA AJOKU

PHOTOGRAPHER

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Born and raised in London, Kemka studied Mechanical Engineering in Nigeria, deciding to study abroad for a change in environment, whilst gaining a greater knowledge of his heritage.

During his degree, Kemka picked up a camera as a hobby, and never put it down. Inspired by the natural settings he was surrounded by, he used his confined space of Ogun State as a crucible to develop his creative skills, and ultimately graduated in 2020, carrying his degree and his camera back home.

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HOW ARE YOU?

I’m fine thank you. I’m alive and healthy, mentally and physically sound so I can only give thanks. Been very tired this past month but I’ve found small pockets of time to rest recently in so I’m back to 100% now. 

WHAT ARE YOU READING AT THE MOMENT?

‘All About Love’ by Bell Hooks, and ‘The Creative Act’ by Rick Rubin. For some reason, I can’t read one book at a time. I have two reading moods and read what fits the mood I’m currently in when I want to pick up a book. So those are the two currently on my rotation.

YOUR FIRST INTRODUCTION TO PHOTOGRAPHY?

Very first? Probably when I was 9, and I got a camera for my birthday. It was a cheap 5MP camera with a memory card in the megabytes. The type of cameras people are bringing back now.

HOW IMPORTANT IS CULTURE TO YOUR WORK?

Depends on what you mean by culture, to be honest. The meaning of culture in London is very different from the culture in Nigeria. To me, culture consists of the nuances in your upbringing and surrounding that shape who you are and what you believe in when no one is looking. For me, everything I work on, whether consciously or subconsciously, has elements of who I am - which I guess my work is influenced by culture, whatever that really means.

WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A CINEPHILE?

Sadly no, but I want to be. I just struggle to sit down for a couple of hours to watch something on a daily basis. A good film to me is like a luxury, so I tend not to do it often. But I do intend on watching more. Recently got a MUBI subscription so hopefully, I use it more soon.

 

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YOUR FAVOURITE MOVIE?

Shaft (1971) dir. Gordon Parks. And that’s simply because of the soundtrack by Isaac Hayes. Love it so much that I have it on vinyl, and I don’t even have a player.

WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO AT THE MOMENT?

A lot of afrobeats. Coming out of a club tour I was exposed to nothing but afrobeats on a daily basis and I fell in love with it again. The last time I really enjoyed it this much was when I was last in Lagos, so yeah I wake up and spin songs from Nigeria almost all the time now.

Outside of that a lot of Japanese synth-pop, simply because I can see the colors vividly through the sound, and I find that pretty interesting.

WHAT ROLE DOES MORTALITY PLAY IN YOUR PROCESS?

I feel like I’m too young to think about how my limited time on earth sieves into my work. I feel like that’s something that the public can only interpret, especially once I’m no longer physically present. Once I think about my long-lasting impact, I feel like then I’ll start to think more about what others think of my work, rather than what I think of it, and I believe the latter is more important.

THE MOST IMPORTANT PHOTOGRAPH YOU HAVE COME ACROSS?

Earthrise (1968) by William Anders. To me, that’s the most important photograph ever taken

WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE ARE THE MOST DIFFICULT TO PHOTOGRAPH?

Those with the tightest budgets. 

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN AN IDEA FOR A PHOTOGRAPHY STORY IS THE ONE?

I only ever know after the story has been made. Things are revealed to me after the shoot that I can never conceive of beforehand. Sure the backbone of a photo series can be conceptualized and planned around, but it’s always after the work has been made that the pieces really start to align. That’s when I finally the ideas lying in the subconscious come to life, and until that happens I’ll never be able to know.


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Portrait of Solari

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Portrait of Ayra Starr