“Some things mysterious boys do” perfectly illustrates Nana Yaw Oduro’s poetical images that showcase male characters in situations both quirky and graphical, underlining their bodies’ geometry. Through his work, Ghanaian photographer Nana Yaw Oduro - born in 1994 - translates his emotions and materialises his vision of life. His photographs share his feelings and give life to his imaginary worlds, between infinite beaches and desert plains.
If Cindy Sherman or Amalia Ulman use self-portrait by playing a role that is not theirs to criticize or denounce; Nana Yaw Oduro instead runs his pictures to make them reflect a depiction of himself and his sensibility, through the staged models. The stories emerging through his lens are inspired by his history. The photographer explores topics echoing his personal life through masculinity, boyhood, feelings, and self-acceptance. His photos provide fictional self-portraits in which his models are like actors, playing a biographical role. Nana Yaw Oduro is, thus, the stage director of his own emotions during the performance of a photo shoot. He specifies: “I put into perspective how my subject could be me on set. I always say: I’d rather shoot myself but since that’s impossible I need people who know, understand, and relate to me.”
Nana Yaw Oduro, We both felt the same way, 2020, 50x75 cm
Photography, edition of 8 + 2 AP
The pictorial composition helps to read these personal stories: the characters are individualized and stand out from their surroundings. The space of each picture is defined without being too precise: a piece of beach, a cracked piece of land, a blue wall... It could be anywhere and at the same time nowhere. Arousing the curiosity of the viewer, these captures seem out of time. They embody a desire for freedom with the only existing boundary being the photographer’s imagination.
Nana Yaw Oduro, Pawpaw boy, 2019, 50x75 cm
Photography, edition of 8 + 2 AP
The stories his pictures present are composed using a mixture of his personal emotions, evident in the colors of his environment. Like other photographers of his generation such as Marc Posso or Yannis Davy, colors are at the heart of Nana Yaw Oduro’s work. However, whilst these photographers have historically worked with saturated colors, Nana Yaw Oduro uses alternatively tender, pure, or raw colors in his photographs, alongside those captured in black and white. He explains: “I believe you’d agree with me black and white have always had some power and soulful connection to it and sometimes the photo is just perfect in that.” Whether the colors are bold or in shades of grey, the chromatic treatment structures his images and produces a certain softness and harmony between shapes and colors, between man and nature; underpinning the narrative. Thus, there is no predetermined and systematically repeated concept in Nana Yaw Oduro’s work. The photographer creates each of his images based on his sensation. He is free from any constraint and lets his imagination wander, composing with what is in existence around him. His photos are inspired by daily life, a song running through his ears, a horse that crosses his path, or a basket of fruits under his eyes. Creativity has no limit for him. Inspiration is everywhere. Poetry is everywhere.
Nana Yaw Oduro is a Ghanaian photographer born in 1994 and based in Accra. He graduated from the business class of the University of Ghana in May 2017 and started photographing in 2015.
To create Nana is generally inspired by his feelings and his local environment. He likes to let the places express by themselves. When shooting, Nana Yaw Oduro focuses on how the model can embody his feelings. He describes his aesthetic as "refreshing and real".
Nana Yaw Oduro already had few collective and individual exhibitions in Ghana, in China and in the US (SXSW and LA artwalk).
Who are the people you take pictures of? Usually I put into perspective how my subject could be me on set. I always say: I’d rather shoot myself but since that’s impossible I need people who know, understand and relate to me. So I’d rather shoot people who are close and dear. People around me: basically, my family and friends.
You said that poetry was one of your sources of inspiration. What are the poems or poets that particularly inspire you? I believe there’s poetry in so many places and things we don’t even realize. Sometimes a random talk from a friend could mean so much. I just open my ears to the world enough! And obviously there are people I listen to on a daily. Those poets I believe have had influences on me, Charles Bukowski, Leonard Cohen, and a lot Buddy Wakefield.
What are your other inspirations? Music. So it is basically what runs through my ears. Always!
Fruits and horses are elements that often appear in your pictures. Why? I really love to use my environs a lot. So I just wouldn’t know what I might get today. I might meet a horse today or not. I just go with it sometimes and maybe it happens to be horses and fruits always but trust, not all works are thought of for weeks. Some just happen sometimes moving around doing random stuff, luckily with a camera in hand. You see you capture! But obviously props do differ.
While bold colors are one of your signatures, how and why do you choose to create sometimes black and white pictures? I believe you’d agree with me black and white have always had some power and soulful connection to it and sometimes the photo is just perfect in that. Sometimes, it’s a preshoot decision. When I happen to have a look of the final work in my head, other times, it just clicks after shooting. It’s got to do with the work and what it requires. I wouldn’t force color on every work.
What is the message that you want to convey through your work? I’m basically always trying to show my emotions through actions. That’s why there’s a lot of that in my works. Also I believe that every artist has an obligation to represent something significant in their lives. With me, I always have masculinity, boyhood and all that at the back of my mind when creating and that seem to reflect almost all the time in my images.
What are your upcoming projects? I’m currently working on continuing a long term project “No body’s favorite color is red” I started in 2015.