IN CONVERSATION | PHOTOGRAPHER- KELEENNA

06.04.20


“Photography is like a language that allows me to express things and document things.” – Keleenna

By profession, he is an investment banker but has worked towards a career in photography over the last few years. He is inspired by both British and African culture and uses photography as a way to document, take mental notes, and tell a story; consistently taking and storing visuals that he encounters. With a strong economics background, he uses this to his advantage as he believes there is a creative element to it as you are consistently trying to solve and understand abstract answers. He has a strong focus on street photography and also engages with fine-art works too. 



What is your definition of studio space? 

For me, I think my definition is not what I currently have right now. I think a studio space is a space where you can think, create and organise yourself – whether it’s in art or anything, it’s similar to a study. It is essentially a space where you can continue to develop whatever it is you’re working on. For me, as a photographer, it’s a place where I can take photos, but also have space to edit and have a table to put collages or a mood-board together. It should be a space that allows you to comfortably do each stage of your creative process. 

What does a perfect studio look like for you? 

Right now, a studio is just a space where I get to do shoots, but the perfect studio space, for me, would be a place that you can live in or have it as a part of your home, so that it’s really accessible as you don’t know when you’re going to be inspired. I’ve been really inspired to shoot a concept when I’ve not had a space to do it, so a perfect studio definitely have that easy access. 

Also, a studio space that relates to your character, so, for me, having multiple backdrops with the ability to change it a lot would be key – locking down backdrops is difficult, so having that flexibility to turn a small space into something different would help create a sense of ownership. The ability to alter and change things that help you create as you please is ideal.

Having enough space is of course crucial as well – to have my computer in one section, a desk and a table in another – that would be great, as you don’t want all of that stuff to interfere with the area where you shoot. Having enough smart spacing like tables that come out of the walls and stuff that allows you to maneuver into any aspect of your creative process is what would be ideal. 

Have you been looking for a studio space recently? 

I’m actually in the process of looking for a new place as my lease is up soon. One thing that is interesting is I’m now looking at extra bedrooms so that I can convert one into a studio space, or a living room which is quite large so that I can convert a part of it into studio space. I kind of have this vision of some sort of drape or curtain mechanic that I can pull different backdrops down from and then put it away easily. So, yeah, I am in the process of looking for something with easy access as it will be where I live as well as where I work – I’ve found myself inspired at random times and you cant execute on it right there and then because you have to book spaces beforehand etc, but if it’s within my house, it’s about if I have good enough friends who will come out to help me shoot something, so it’s more accessible. 

Do you feel like you found your style after university? 

Its interesting, because I feel like I’m starting to understand where my style has come from. I feel like my style is very African inspired – I don’t live there right now, I live in London, so it’s quite interesting to think about how a lot of the shoots I’m doing are influenced by that. One of the things I’ve realised, if I look back on my life, is some of my most vivid memories are of things that have happened either whilst I was on the continent or things that are specific to the culture, so I think that my style has always been there but as I interact more with people and research things more, it’s like I’m pealing away the layers to find out who I am, like a form of self-discovery.

Would you consider moving outside of London? 

Yeah, it depends on the transportation, like if I could get into London easily and if people could get to me. I think that’s one of the benefits of living in London – you meet all kinds of people and as a photographer, you’re visually inspired, so London is where you can see a diverse range of people and styles, expressions and ideas, so I think that if you move out of London you would want to be able to still tap into that great pool of people. If I could get easy access to London, I would consider it, but I would struggle to see myself living outside of London and being cut off because of transportation – I think that would really stifle my growth as a photographer. 

Do you feel like you would miss out on London’s art scene if you moved outside of London? 

Yeah, I think definitely as an artist I want to have conversations with people, that’s where you get inspired and meet people. From a collaborative standpoint, you want to be in London because that’s where you can meet these people, so I think I would definitely miss out on the collaboration and the growth prospects. 

Do you believe that London has an impact on your art? 

I think it definitely does – there’s a lot of people with African heritage in London, and for me personally, being someone of 2nd generation Nigerian heritage, there is a culture around that as well, in terms of growing up in England but your parents grew up in Nigeria and so they raise you as if it’s Nigeria but there is a community and a culture around that and that is very strong in London – I think it’s because 1) theres more people in London and 2 ) diversity in London is big. You’d be surprised, you could live a fairly Nigerian lifestyle right here in London – from restaurants, to hairdressers etc, and even though my work is African inspired, there are pockets in London and because it is so diverse, I’m able to tap into that. I think it’s the same with most cultures. 

How do you believe that artists should be integrated into the city? 

I think it’s interesting, I just put together a recent exhibition showcasing in Shoreditch at Gigi’s – I think what was interesting about that process was trying to find a space. I think this is one thing that I like about my career path, because I’ve got a background in investment banking, I have an insight into how to put together a pitch to get people to buy into my ideas so it can materialise. So, for me I think I was lucky that I was able to do that. I started out by cold-calling and then when I got through, I was able to highlight the benefits for both parities, it was an easy-sell. That is something I’m lucky to be able to do because I have that skillset and I also got lucky with the call, so what I think London could do is provide those opportunities for people to showcase their work and integrate in other parts of society, for example, Gigi’s is a bar and has a stage, so it isn’t your typical exhibition space, but there is space there for someone like me. It’s a mutual benefit for them and me. Something along that line of how can London’s commercial scene benefit from artists and having artwork in places – we already understand from architecture how this can be used to design a space, but decoration and other ways of marketing is something that artists should be able to do more of in London and would enable it to be more integrated. 

What is your personal vision for the future of studio space? 

I think it’s really up to people – on one hand, for me, I feel like I need to take it into my own hands a bit more – so that’s kind of why when I’m looking for a place to live, I’m looking for where I can find space to convert a room into a studio. I think there is going to be that push in terms of people becoming more independent if nothing else changes from the supply side as I think the demand is only going to grow. So, I think from that perspective you might see more people taking that route, but if things like this are done well and it’s highlighted that there is a need, then councils and other organisations should start listening more. I think right now, the arts are used as a way of keeping kids occupied on weekends, as opposed to an outlet for professional careers – I’ve seen that in Birmingham – I think that with the council, a lot of the time, they give spaces to people for community projects, but there’s not so much done for the people looking to take it on as a serious career choice. I think a council benefits from saying such artists came from this community, the same way that footballers do it, I think if they can buy into the idea of artists coming out of their community and see how it has wider benefits, then hopefully they would provide more spaces and opportunity for that. 

If you could have a conversation with a developer, what would you say? 

It’s hard because the space I would want would be so different to the space a ballet dancer would want for example. I think that would be something for developers to think about because I can imagine there are risks to building a space specifically tailored for each discipline. I think if they think smart, and I’m sure there are examples already out there of buildings that are easily tailored or changed dependent on the occupant at the time, I think that is something I would like to engage with or challenge them to do more for. That would help both artists and developers understand as I think they are too locked into who they are targeting.