Tell us a bit about yourself, who are you and where are you from?
My name is Bernard Kalu. A Nigerian, Igbo by tribe – I hail from Abia State in the eastern part of the country. However, I was born in Lagos and this is where I am currently based.
Who am I? I am many things but in summary; I am a Christian, a Husband and a Visual Artist with photography as my primary medium.
What kind of photography do you practice and what kind of stories do you like to tell?
I do majorly street and documentary photography focusing on social and environmental issues, I am privileged to do some freelance work for some of the leading NGOs in the world today. Also, I do some commercial work on the side photographing events like weddings, conferences etc.
However, I believe some of my most important work (personally speaking), are my personal projects like my street photography work which is currently still on-going and is in its 8th year now.
How did your photography journey begin?
This journey began a long time ago – I think way before I even made the conscious decision to be a photographer. Growing up, I was exposed to small prints and photo albums of my family and it was only very recently I actually made the connection to how this influenced my life and career. Moreover, the concrete step to me becoming a photographer happened when I got gifted my first camera (2009/10) by an Aunt of mine while in the University, the joy and rush I felt was unparalleled.
I took photos of everything, flowers, plates, spoons, lizards, the sky – like everything and those days formed the foundation in my pursuit of photography as a career choice. However, it wasn’t until a few years after I was already done with the university, sometime in 2014, I made the plunge to officially become a photographer. Shortly after though, I hit a wall. I had been ‘working as a photographer’, shooting weddings and other events but the essence was missing for me.
The way back from this creative block was beginning my life long project of photographing the streets as well as moving toward doing more documentary work as opposed to just majoring on the weddings et all.
What is your biggest source of inspiration and influence?
The Holy Spirit of God is my biggest source of inspiration.
Over the years, I’ve realized I am massively influenced by Nostalgia. Recently, while I was in the process of reverse engineering my life and process, I found out that the Greek word for return is Notos and Algos means suffering. So nostalgia (Notos + Algos) is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return. What I mostly seek to photograph is that essence or feeling I believe I had once experienced before. The crazy part is, this feeling or yearning is never fully fulfilled; the more I chase it, the more and larger this yearning gets.
Much more, I am also influenced by the works of some artists like painters and other photographers as well. In my recent endeavor with telling stories around the environment, my biggest influence on this has been my wife – Jennifer. She’s a foremost environmentalist and the founder of Sustyvibes.
What is the biggest goal you hope to achieve with your work?
My goal with my work is to inspire hope.
One of my biggest joys is seeing people find themselves in my photographs; because this is usually my experience, I see a part of myself in almost every photo I create and having others share this same experience is goal fulfilled for me.
Are you working on any projects currently?
My recent project “Onye Ocha Bia Uwa Ojii” is ongoing and a continuation of my work on Colourism: the generalized skin tone bias amongst people of the same ethnic group or race. Famed actress, Lupita Nyong’o once said, “Colourism is a daughter of Racism”, a seed that blossomed into white supremacy: the idea that whiter and brighter denotes better. It runs deep in families, in peer groups, this penchant to allot higher esteem to people of a lighter complexion. Colourism has been around for centuries and is “thought to be a lasting relic of slavery; white masters showed preferential treatment to light-skinned or mixed-race slaves, who were often the product of rapes with darker-skinned women”.
This is a part of the body of work of my project on Colourism – Onye Ocha Bia Uwa Ojii.
The image was made in Brighton UK as a part of my residency program in ONCA Brighton: an arts charity that bridges social and environmental justice issues with creativity.
A self-portrait made with the Fujifilm X100V
This photograph was created in June 2017.
I was on my way home that night when the rains began to pour hard; it was a long day and it hadn’t really been a pleasant one. While sitted in the front of the bus nearly sulking, I got prompted to raise my head and saw the cross. In my faith, the cross points to the sacrifice Jesus made for the glory ahead and while still staring at it, I saw this man walk past – he was a pictorial representation of how I felt inside at this day. I took the photo instantly and it was a message to me. A message to keep faith and know that there’s glory after the storm. There is the joy of salvation after the pain of sacrifice.
Shot with the Fujifilm X-T1 and XF18mmF2 R
This photograph was made in March 2018.
There was a fire incident in a landfill close to where I live in Ogudu Lagos, as soon as I saw the flames I joined my neighbours to go see what had happened. This photo shows how helpless humans will be when the planet boils over due to its abuse by humans.
Shot with Fujifilm X-T1 + XF18mmF2 R
This photograph was made in 2022.
Football or soccer as it’s called by some, is the major form of sports in the Nigeria.
There’s a hope that fuels the drive of young people to play. The hope of making it “Pro”.
It is a long journey and only a tiny few see their hope fulfilled but for the majority others that do not – at least they gain the health benefit of the exercise that playing soccer gives.
Shot with the Fujifilm X100V
All images are copyright Bernard Kalu, and are used here with permission.