Interview: Ike Edeani

July 06 2014

Capturing the essence of a person in a portrait can be a huge challenge for some photographers, but for the Nigerian-born and now San Francisco-based Ike Edeani, it’s his forte. Ike (pronounced I.K.) is a former architect-turned-photographer. He’s yet another example that a person’s “career” is really just a fluid, ever-changing journey.

Edeani’s journey brought him from Nigeria to the United States for school in 1999. Later ending up in San Francisco, his photography grew from a hobby into a passion. It doesn’t hurt that he has legions of fans—over 600k people follow him on Instagram alone. He also definitely knows how to travel—the next two months include trips to NYC, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria. In his own words: “Bags stay packed.”

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Tell us about your early life growing up in Enugu, Nigeria.
I spent a lot of time drawing and painting, when I wasn’t playing video games or running around outside getting into trouble with my friends. I was never a very good student; I had a short attention span and didn’t do all that well with tests. I also hated science courses, so I knew pretty early I wanted to do something art related.

What brought you to the States?
My parents lived here for many years in the 60s and 70s, moving back home in 1983. My mom always wanted me and my siblings to go to college here, and I moved over in September of 1999.

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What was your journey into the field of photography like? When did you get your first camera?
I’ve had many different cameras since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until I bought a film SLR in the summer of 2010 that I started taking it more seriously. Like most people I just shot portraits of my friends at first, then branched out to include my surroundings and other random moments. Overall though, I focused on just making photos for myself and sharing them online, until last May, when I was hired on my first editorial assignment.

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What do you love about photography?
I love that it gives me the opportunity to translate what I see, and how I see, pretty much exactly as it looks in my head. Other than that, the feeling that there’s always something new to learn, more to discover, which keeps me going.

Did you have a lot of creative forces around you when you were younger?
Not creative in the career sense, but I’d say my mom was very creative in her thinking, and encouraged me to pursue my interests. That was relatively rare in Nigeria, where most kids are pushed toward medicine, law or engineering from a young age.

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You’re based in San Francisco. Is there something special about the city that resonates with you?
The quality of light is definitely very special here, both when its overcast and sunny. I shoot primarily with available light, so it’s been huge for me, and fairly evident in my work I think. The unique topography also creates some really amazing views and sight lines, which are lovely for photos.

Your portraits are a highlight of your portfolio. Is there a reason you’re drawn to them more than anything else?
Well, people are more interesting than just about anything else, and it’s a great challenge to try to capture a person’s ‘essence’ in a photo. If you’re successful, even the most self-conscious person will love that photo of himself or herself, because ultimately everyone is photogenic.

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I’ve had photographer friends tell me that there really is no point where you stop learning, so long as you don’t stop shooting. Do you find that to be true?
Unequivocally. If I ever felt I’d mastered everything there was to learn, I’d have to stop shooting.

Do you have any recent upcoming projects that you’re especially excited about?
I’m heading to East Africa this summer to travel with my good friends that run Mama Hope, a non-profit organization that develops various projects in direct collaboration with the communities they help. I’ll be documenting their efforts, while shooting my own work. I’m also traveling home to Nigeria to work on a personal project documenting where I grew up. Finally, I’m moving to New York in the fall, which I’m really excited about.

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Austin Bryant is a freelance writer based in Boston, MA. Follow him on Instagram.