Meet the Nigerian photographer shooting Rihanna's Fenty campaign and showcasing our culture to the world

Ruth Ossai's pictures proudly celebrate her Nigerian roots.

Ruth Ossai is the Nigerian photographer shooting Rihanna's Fenty campaign

Rihanna is the first woman to create an original fashion brand for French luxury powerhouse LVMH which owns Dior, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Givenchy.

She is also the first woman of colour to head an LVMH Maison and her line will be the first new house created by the group since Christian Lacroix back in 1987.

But these are not the only exciting things about this collaboration. The campaign for the Barbados-born superstar's new line "Fenty" - after her full name, Robyn Rihanna Fenty - is being shot by a Nigerian photographer.

Ahead of the online global launch, which is today, May 29, 2019, Fenty has been releasing a steady flow of great pictures shot by the talented Ruth Ossai.

Meet Ossai, the Nigerian photographer behind Rihanna's Fenty campaign:

From Nigeria to the world

She grew up between southern Nigeria and northern England. She is now based in West Yorkshire, UK.

The self-proclaimed "Igbo/Yorkshire warrior" started taking pictures on her father's phone.

In an interview with Nataal, an African-focused media brand, she said, "I started snapping on my father's BlackBerry, then on my own phone, and as a teenager, my mother gave me a shoot-and-go camera."

"I wanted to photograph my life in Nigeria to show my other family in Yorkshire, and so would make lots of photo albums. The images were low quality but I still love this archive. Ever since then, I've been documenting life in Nigeria and Igbo identity. It's only in the last few years that I've shared these images with a larger audience."

Her photography career took off in 2017 after collaborating with Nigerian filmmaker Akinola Davies Jr, on Gidi Gidi Bụ Ugwu Eze ("Unity is Strength") - a short film and photo series about Nigerian youth, produced for Kenzo.

The series, which reflected her Nigerian roots, landed her interviews with popular media houses like Vogue.

In 2018, Ossai worked with Nigerian designer Mowalola Ogunlesi on a photo series inspired by throwback highlife videos and album covers.

Since then, she has succeeded in making a name for herself by staying true to her Nigerian roots. This can be seen in the clothes worn by her models. It is also reflected in the textured mats, poses and unique backdrops commonly associated with the older Nigerian generation.

Ruth Ossia X Rihanna's Fenty

Her distinctive style, which screams old school Nigerian photos, made its way into the Fenty campaign.

The few pictures from the ad show the models either standing or lying in front of backdrops reminiscent of the photo booths used by our parents. 

Explaining her unique photography style, she said, "My use of backdrops is a reminder of the amazing special effects and scenes you see in Nollywood films."

Speaking with It's Nice That, she added, "I'm really infatuated by the way in which photography can tell stories, capture and empower black identity and culture. Especially Nigerian identity, which is so beautiful, effortless and powerful. This is something I have been surrounded by and capturing all my life."

"My photography is not a response to anything particular but I am a strong advocate of photographers who are embedded in the context in which ideas are produced, participating in the contextualising of their images. It becomes very problematic when Nigerians - and other Africans - cannot tell their own stories: it becomes too often incomplete, inaccurate and stereotyped. This narrative has needed changing for too long now. My work is also honestly partly a reflection of myself; I love and never stop thinking about West Africa, whether I'm home or away."

Ossai balances her career with youth development work in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Yorkshire.


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