Interview with Yetunde Adebiyi

7. Pan lid clap [B&W] AdePhotograph by Yetunde Adebiyi reproduced with permission

PR:     Can you tell me a little about yourself?

YA:      I’m originally from South London and lived there until I was 12 when I moved to Kent with my family. I wanted to move to a city when I left Kent. I’m much more of a city person. Liverpool combines what I love in places, busy-ness and being close to the water.

PR:     Not being land locked?

YA:      I suppose so. I look to move around, be independent and do my own thing.

PR:     When did you come here?

YA:      I came to Liverpool six years ago to study Law but found it wasn’t the right professional path for me.

PR:     Can you tell me a bit of what you do?

YA:      I’ve been working as a body piercer for 2½ years after working in a couple of different jobs. In my breaks I used to get piercings and through that was offered an apprenticeship. It’s a business largely concerned with aesthetics so deals with intimacy about the body. I get to have these private conversations – people open up to me. They’ve come for a service that can mean a lot to them. Sometimes people have wanted this for a long time and I’m aiding their self-expression.

PR:     Can you say more about the piercing ‘world’?

YA:      There can be an unexpected value. Having a sense of power of yourself. The Piercing Bible by Elayne Angel is a good point of reference. She worked in the medical field and is a highly recognised and respected body-piercer. There are political and ethical issues to  take into account as well – particularly with genital piercings. We try to promote good healthy body image in the studio. People are entrusting their bodies in a personal way. I’ve learned respect for people’s personal space.

PR:     How does this relate to photography?

YA:      I prefer candid photos since it feels more personal, although that’s not always an easy way of capturing experience. I stand back. Or I get into the thick of it. I watch people. I like to see people enjoying music. It’s easy to create an image of what those running an event want it to be. It’s a lot harder to present the event as it is with your vision and that to be equally worthy. I have pretty much always shot in film at events. You have to be precise – yet there are time, lighting and physical constraints.

PR:     How did you get into photography?

YA:      I’ve always been interested in images and image-serving sites and social media, as an observer. I decided one day that I wanted to take pictures of my experiences. At the beginning I was taking pictures of house parties – they are great in Liverpool. There are lots of people involved – DJs, producers, visual artists – you may get a gathering of people and extend the house or special space to people they’ve never met before.   Some friends were running Down to Funk – a Funk and Soul night – my approach was grainy, analogue and it felt it worked with the Funk night and then I just carried on. These days I don’t really like to hang out in bars, so I really love house parties. I’ve grown to enjoy Techno nights as an attendee and taking pictures and I’m lucky that some of my friends run them. Working at the Techno nights makes me feel I’m supporting friends in a much more tangible way. Most of the photography work I do is through friendship. So that’s also how I got involved with Between the Borders, I was attending parties initially and became friends with Theo one of the members of Between the Borders who is one of many that oversaw the running of the parties.   There’s an incredible network of people who want to create – it’s tinged with a very much Liverpool vibe.    There’s community.  Whether it’s arts, film, asylum – whether you’re a feminist or a foodie – there are communities for everything – whether it’s Afro – Caribbean, Eastern European, South or East Asian there are lots of communities here that espouse solidarity. I enjoy that, especially in such a time when things are so individualistic – and drive to be the best is not necessarily directed in a healthy way. There’s nothing wrong with striving but often people have lost sight of why they do things. I was really surprised last year at an event I was shooting. One of the DJ’s commented, and noticed that I stand and think. That I take time. I make sure each shot I take is really worthwhile. I respect that they appreciated that. You only have 24 or 36 exposures on a roll. I only shoot 2 or 3 rolls – it’s not a lot when you need to present 50 or so pictures they might like.

PR:     What camera do you use?

YA:      I am self-taught. I can respect the camera but it’s not about that for me. There can be an anxiety-inducing level of snobbery about kit. As a person, it’s not my main point of interest when it comes to photography. You can have the best camera but if you can’t be genuinely creative with it… I got my first camera from Oxfam, a Pentax point and shoot, for £2.50 and I still use it. It got me to where I am now. It has things missing but I love that camera. Though if I had to say I have an allegiance it would be to Nikon – my SLR’s are Nikon – because of the backwards compatibility of the F-Mount. I also like instant photography a lot and I like the Golden Half for having no electrical parts (unless you need flash) because it feels like I’m using the camera at a base level.

Ade photo 1Photograph by Yetunde Adebiyi reproduced with permission

PR:     Is there something about intimacy in that?

YA:      Yes and if I could have it my way I would do everything from image to developing to publications to secure that intimacy and maybe legitimacy?  At times I feel conflicted because I didn’t study Photography or Fine Art so I would often call myself a ‘pretend photographer.’ Artist, photographic-artist, seems like such a lofty title, something reserved for other people. Other people – but not me: maybe it’s a cultural thing? … In my experience of Nigerian culture there’s sometimes that question of, why are you doing this and not that? There are other things sometimes seen as more important than the creative arts as a profession when the divide between poverty and wealth is so great. This has and is changing markedly; the effect that artists like legendary Afro-Beat musician and activist Fela Kuti has undoubtedly been felt. Being first generation  these cultural influences still affect me. There’s a respect and pride thing that comes into it. I feel I’ve taken a risk by not choosing a traditionally secure career and regardless my Mum always says: “Do what makes you happy.”

PR:     Is photography an expression of freedom?

YA:      I think film gives me a lot of freedom with photography. I’m excited when I take photos. With analogue – once it’s done, it’s done. You move on. Then there’s the excitement of them being developed. It’s different from digital where you can look at it there and reshoot it. Maybe you don’t need to take pictures of everything and I’ve realised because of that I don’t take my camera to every single place I go. It’s really important not to miss the experience. Though I also appreciate the need to self-document things, especially when it involves music and the freedom it provides others, so I like seeing people lost in the moment. Body language. Particularly the eyes. Mostly I see photography as an expression of truth.

PR:     Is photography a common language?

YA:      Photography holds the concept of memories, even if it’s a studio shoot.   You’re evoking something in the image influenced by previous memories – you lay down a memory. Even the intent of advertising is to present a form of ever-evolving nostalgia. There’s also a weird  sense of undeserved nostalgia because we live in a 24-hour media culture. Memories and the past are even more important because people forget things so quickly. A photograph is a memory. Even if I feel wary, there’s still excitement and that’s definitely lost a bit with digital photography. I spend a lot of time editing and often end up going back to the original image.

PR:     Dealing with issues of migration, asylum etc through Between the        Borders – is visibility particularly important?

YA:      Visibility is incredibly important for Between the Borders content is gained through submission and so provides a platform intended to provide better understanding of people both directly and indirectly affected by migration. When I went to a Direct Action at Yarlswood (Immigration Removal Centre) there was a placard with a mobile number so the women inside could speak. The women were   saying  ‘Thank you for coming,’ “Thank you for remembering us.” The MC asked through the microphone “How can we help?” One voice rang out, shouting out of the window: ‘Freedom.” It’s that idea of imprisoning people who have made journeys marked with strife often from places where they have suffered and this suffering is not erased just because an image of a small child washed up on a beach is considered yesterdays front cover. How can we stand in solidarity if there is no knowledge of what’s occurred?

PR:     Can photography be our conscience?

YA:      Photography is a constant reminder. I definitely see conscience in photo-journalism, especially when there’s death involved. War and drones everywhere. I perceive photo-journalism as one of the most important forms. It’s the difference between ‘imagine the horrors’ and ‘look at the horrors’ and not become de-sensitised to them. This is important for the photographers themselves, since they put themselves at risk for facts.

PR:     Are they representing us?

YA: They represent our humanity. Not everyone has time or financial capability to protest or donate – but it’s empathy – that’s what I want   from photography. Think of the Orlando night-club shootings at an LGBT nightclub, Pulse. These people went out to have a good time and were senselessly murdered. Photography is evidence, and with Pulse there is a definite portrayal of a heinous crime rooted in homophobia that is unavoidable. In a time where Western Society has become more tolerant – to a degree – it’s easy to believe things like this will not occur, but here is the evidence.

PR:     What does Open 3 mean for you?

YA:      The exhibition has solidified what I do. It has given me a sense of security in the things I like to shoot and the importance of collaboration. The special thing about the parties was that they were free to asylum-seekers and migrants. People just want to have fun. I’ve always had a regard for the social culture of nightlife, the importance of music and dancing and feeling free. Freedom shouldn’t be a luxury. People just came and danced from 10 pm to 10 am. There’s not much record of it other than what I documented. Though there are a few images from Grace – a member of Between the Borders – for the zine we made last year. Being able to present zines that document this and the other endeavours of Between the Borders means that I’m able to combine the fun of nightlife with socially conscious concepts and be part of a collective that wants to make peoples voices heard.

PR:     You’re the story-teller of that experience?

YA:      Something like that. I want to tell a story so others can supplement it with their own. For some people recording experience on their phones actually prevents experiencing, it can feel quite empty. People can be afraid of expressing themselves, can struggle with articulation. I understand documenting shows, trips, moments etc is personal evidence but it can become more about evidence for other people and in that mind-set it’s less a common language and more a social currency. If everything is viewed through screen you are not really experiencing. Why not allow yourself to enjoy the moment as much you can. Technology has advanced so much that now people use mobile phones as their sole means for photography and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. What constitutes the proper equipment? When everyone can take a photo, what makes someone more of a photographer? Maybe the person who tells the story the most honestly.