Iko-Ọjọ Mercy Haruna Q&A
Iko-Ọjọ Mercy Haruna talks photography with TheBlkGaze.
The Black gaze to me is the unique exploration of Black identities and stories of Black families through the lens of Black artists. It’s having our lives observed, documented and disseminated by one of us, for all of us. It matters because without it certain aspects of our history will be lost forever.
How does this relate to your photography practice?
I’m committed to documenting Black motherhood and family stories all over the UK just like I do of my own family and families in my community.
What do you want to say or address with your photography?
What do want to say or address with your photography? I’m particularly interested in capturing the daily lives of Black families and the realities of Black mothers in the UK. I want us to share our stories without fear of being censored. I want a balance in the narrative – the moments of complete joy as well as the sad times.
What influences and inspires you? How is this reflected in your work?
My work is very much influenced by images I would have loved to see of my own childhood. Since my parents didn’t own personal cameras, photographs were reserved for special occasions.
I am interested in what our daily routines in and out of our homes look like. I enjoy observing our connections to one another. I’m fascinated by what it’s like when we’re not in our Sunday best and kids are allowed to be their true selves.
Family photography shouldn’t just be reserved for milestones or picture-perfect moments. “Mundane” moments are key parts of our lives that are quickly forgotten by us and by the world if nobody is intentional about recording them. I’m dedicated to capturing what makes every Black family unique and showing the richness of our everyday lives.
Who are your favourite Black photographers from the past? Why?
I’m inspired by African portraitists of the past like Malick Sidibé, Philippe Koudjina, Seydou Keita and Mama Casset. I love Samuel Fosso for his self portraits and J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere’s awesome photographs of African hairstyles.
I also admire the works of Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Ingrid Pollard and Gordon Parks. Though all these photographers have different approaches, I love the fact that they are Black people exploring Black identities and telling our stories in their unique ways.
Please describe the highs and lows of your experience as a Black photographer?
When I started researching the family documentary genre, I didn’t find many Black photographers or black families represented and that was a low point for me. But it pushed me to do the work that I’m currently doing and it’s great to start being recognised as an important voice within the genre.
There’s never been a better time to be a Black photographer and while there is still a long way to go, I celebrate the shift that has us finally being the ones to document our own stories.
What work are you producing and what more would you like to do?
Much of my work so far has been photographing family milestones like pregnancies and christenings and while it’s been rewarding, I’m more interested in longer term projects that dive into deeper conversations about the realities of family life.
I am about to launch fully into my newest project called “Offspring”. This project seeks to explore the physical and psychological changes that occur when a person becomes a mother. The photographs of more visible physical changes like stretch marks, wrinkles or scars will serve as a backdrop for visualising and discussing less obvious physiological changes and mental health issues that are taboo or tend to be swept under the carpet.
I hope that this project will create space for Black mothers like myself to share their stories without fear of being judged and that it’ll bring about a personal and collective healing.
About Iko-Ọjọ Mercy Haruna
Iko-Ọjọ Mercy Haruna aka Mercy is a UK-based Nigerian portrait and documentary photographer dedicated to capturing the fleeting moments of family life.
Alongside her photographic practice, she’s a parenting podcaster and blogger and has worked on a number of projects including co-hosting BBC World Service’s Parentland – an evidence-based podcast that investigates parenting questions through the lens of scientific research and global cultural practices.
Mercy currently lives in North Kent and is available for UK and international commissions.
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The Q&A is an ongoing discussion open to Black photographers of all ages, genders and genres.