Artist Talk: Photographer Mark Aghatise “On the need to change the African Narrative “

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UC: Who is Mark Aghatise?
MA The funny thing about this question is that I wrote this earlier in my journal today to answer on my own. Hmmm… well, I am a British Nigerian living in the States. I am a photographer, writer, painter, runner, laugher… I do a myriad of things and have multiple interests. Lately, I have realized that I and my work are inseparable. They speak to and for each other.

UC: With your interest in fashion and photography how would you describe your creative process and your journey into the creative scene?

MA: I first picked up photography five years ago and then stopped a year after, it was only at the beginning of 2015 did I really come back to photography. And fashion-wise, I started last August so I am still very new and learning with every day. I love the space that I am at now, I believe I can easily communicate myself through fashion photography and can experiment with ideas while still having a professional touch.

There is something about the nuance black skin provides the camera.”
My process starts with inspiration. Sometimes I see an editorial that strikes my eye and I instantly imagine a shoot influenced by the choices made in that shoot. Other times, I meet or see a model who inspires me. In either case, when I get the inspiration, the whole shoot comes together in my head almost instantly, from there I begin to bring into reality. I will assemble a team, pick a location and styling and editing tones. And then, I just shoot it. It really is a simple process for me, the hardest step is being inspired but after that, I just recreate what spins in my head.
 mark aghatise urbanecoven
UC: As far as inspirations come and go what are the basic things that stir yours?
MA: MELANIN! There is something about the nuance black skin provides the camera. The way colors pop, how light travels on the skin, the shine and the depth in color. My strongest shoots and images come from black models and shoots inspired by black culture ( Africa and the diaspora ) inspires me over and over again. We are the origins of style, there are catalogues on how we have found new and different ways to present ourselves.
I also find women to be quite inspiring. There is a certain freedom in exploration and the risks that women take in terms of personal style. I think womenswear offers a longer conversation through the clothes, I am able to go further in photography with womenswear. This isn’t to discount menswear, but there is something about the way the right model and right styling can transcend just body and clothes.
UC: Is there a creative limit for you or do you areas you wouldn’t dare explore?
MA: No, I think everything is creative. I at times dislike the work or label “creative(s)” as a means of describing a person because everyone is creative in some manner. The way one puts toppings on a pizza to the different formulas someone can use to solve a problem. Both are equally as creative as someone who paints or dances. By nature, I think man is creative.
And also, no I don’t think there are areas of “creativity” that I am scared to explore. I am thankful I picked up photography because it communicates parts of me that nothing else can, so perhaps there is another creative outlet that expresses part of what makes me “Mark Aghatise” that everything else is not doing now.
UC: What would you say are the major subjects of your work, are there certain themes you always tend to explore?
At the root of it all, I try to present new and honest presentations of black models. So often are we categorized in life and also in media presentations, so I try to break those apart. Black men and women are indescribable. I try to translate that fact in photography.
UC:  If you were to change 3 things in the world what would you change?
MA: Settle the debate once and for all: nigerian jollof is the best. period.

– From my perspective, the creative industry in the West is ruled by connections rather than talent or skill. I would restructure the system that bars so many talented individuals from accessing the resources and work those at the top indulge in, and instead provide more equality in terms of opportunity.

– The minds of white men.
UC: How would you define the African in disapora’s involvement in arts globally?
 MA: I don’t think I can. Seeing the work the youths in Africa are doing in terms of art and fashion… it is on higher levels than what the West is producing or doing. But then I also think this has always been the case. I would say contemporary African art and fashion is leading, fresh, bold. Over here, the fashion industry is just now catching up to Black aesthetics worn in the 80s/90s. Everyone is looking outwards rather than inwards. The future is in Africa.
UC: Are there challenges that affect the African in disapora’s involvement in art. If so what are they and would you recommend certain solutions?
MA: Generally, I tell everyone to focus on their lane, focus on their narrative. Stop comparing and looking around. If you think no one is doing what you are doing, good. Look so deep internally, see what makes you you and what defines the art you create and own it. Live it and love it and keep striving within it. When you are so strongly yourself, it is evident beyond any question.
Also network and market yourself, connections are everything at this point. Yes there are tons of people with talent, so? If you do not know how to market yourself, or even have a goal of where you are trying to go, it doesn’t matter that you are the best out there. Unless you are content just creating your art for your own sake, then totally own that and do that.
UC: As a photographer what do you aim to achieve with your works?
MA: To communicate, share, and bring about the parts of my essence that other things (like text, painting, poetry) cannot.
UC: What’s would be your greatest lifetime goal?
MA: I want to one day own a studio and teach photography, particularly to children. Children are so brutally honest in their words until we beat that out of them, but imagine, if they could also be that honest in their photography. That is my interest in developing.
On a lighter note….
UC: Describe your typical shoot day in Atlanta?
 MA: I wake up, probably late/close to shoot time, and panic haha. I was up the night before prepping for the shoot, getting ideas for shots I want, going over who is on the team and what is their purpose. After a series of calls and gps, everyone is together and we shoot for several hours, maybe even move location. Once done, everyone leaves, I get some comfort food and edit the images a day or two later.
UC: Worst food joints you’ve been to?
MA: If you love yourself, you won’t get $1 pizza in NYC.
UC: Three people you can’t do without?
MA: Im going to cheat and make it four people: my mom, dad, and my two sisters. The unit with whom I will process and experience this reality with, they come first.
UC: Guilty pleasure?
MA: Milkshakes, I know the nutrition facts for them and know how bad they are for me, but man…they taste so good.
UC: Worst advice you’ve ever given to anyone?
MA: I once told someone to be brutally honest with themselves, but forgot to tell him to accept the different parts of himself that he did not like, or to figure out how to change those. I think it is great to be critical of yourself, but to a certain degree. We are constantly growing and developing until we die, so it is okay to make mistakes or be immature.
Connect with Mark Aghatise

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