Photographer Idara Ekpoh Captures the Radiance of Her Subjects

With an emphasis on empowerment and representation, this artist produces images she wishes she had seen growing up

Phoenix, Arizona-based photographer Idara Ekpoh‘s career “started as a side hustle, and then I fell in love with capturing people,” she tells us, when we connected after her involvement in Apple’s briefing on the new iMac (which launched last month). A first-generation Nigerian-American, Ekpoh utilizes her passion and talent to explore identity and capture moments of beauty.

After taking high-school photography, she wanted a camera to shoot graduation photos for a bit of extra money. Her mom caved, and bought her a Canon Sl1 Rebel. This early portraiture planted the seed for her future projects that mostly center on Black people. “Representation is really big for me,” she tells us. “Growing up, if I had seen more positive images of Black women, it would have meant a lot. It’s important to me to create the art that I wanted to see as a kid. I want Black kids to see and feel the radiance we have.”

Whether her lens is pointed at school children in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria or a cast of Black women for her An Ode to Black Women project, Ekpoh understands the gravity of the resulting image. “Anything I can do to capture someone and tell their story—that’s what I love to use my work for now,” she says. To tell these stories, the shoot environment must be easygoing and friendly, she explains, and the subject needs to feel fully involved and powerful. “I show them the photos as I go and their confidence goes to an all-time high,” she says. “They relax and feel good.”

Since the pandemic paused shoots and grounded trips, Ekpoh tasked herself with a new project: to take self-portraits every week, a challenge that proves difficult given she’s forced to prescribe directorial notes to herself. The resulting images, she emphasizes, are far more than selfies.

“In a season of self-isolation, Self Portrait Sunday was birthed as a way to explore the concept of identity,” she explains on the project’s landing page. “Self-portraiture has allowed me to explore my identity as a Black woman through visual storytelling. I control my narrative and my images are a reflection of that. I have become my favorite muse.”

Furthering her mission of producing the images she wished she’d seen growing up, she’s centered herself in her recent work, acting as the “photographer, muse, creative director, makeup artist, hair stylist and whatever other titles exists in order to bring a vision to life,” she says.

“I wanted to create so I became all of the above… I realized that I didn’t need other people to create the art that I wanted to see,” she adds in the project’s introduction. Her photographs are vibrant, multi-dimensional and tender. They’re also the product of an evolved process. “I love making the self-portraits, but I miss planning and executing portraits,” she explains. Shot on a Canon EOS 6D (with Sigma 35mm 1.4 and Canon 50mm 1.4 lenses), the resulting images spotlight her immense talent and transcend expectations of an entirely self-produced project.

As far as on-set assistance goes, Ekpoh needs little, if any. “I shoot with natural light,” she says. “As long as I have a window, I’m good.” She’s also well-versed in the software available for post-shoot editing. The new 27-inch iMac’s Retina 5k emphasizes the details of a high-pixel photograph, plus the machine’s expanded memory and storage make maneuvering high-usage applications like Lightroom and Photoshop easier—all of which Ekpoh uses. “In post, I start by exploring to see what I like and don’t like. I let myself have that freedom which is sometimes good and sometimes not,” she says.

The ability to be nimble proves a vital component of Ekpoh’s style and process, even when taking photos of herself. Shot to shot, she captures the subtleties, nuances and beauty of Black individuals. “I want to give people a space to be captured,” she says. “I love giving people that space to capture their true beauty.”

Images courtesy of Idara Ekpoh