New look, old growth with photographer Christina Nwabugo
Image credit: Adobe Stock / Christina Nwabugo.
In talking about her work, photographer Christina Nwabugo references “Photoheliograph,” a poem by Harry Crosby, first published in 1928 in a poetry collection titled “Chariot of the Sun.” The poem is a block of text comprised of two words, black and SUN. Mostly the typeset rectangle is comprised of the word black, repeating five times per line, but embedded in the center of the piece is a single, all-caps SUN.
In this article
- Within nature
- Family and forest
- Closer to culture
“That poem, Black and Sun, it’s just lots of words, black, black, black, black, black,” says Nwabugo. “The sun is so direct on our people, that the richness of our Black skin is what makes the black black black sun.”
Image credits (from left): Adobe Stock / Christina Nwabugo, courtesy Christina Nwabugo/ Headshot of Christina Nwabigo.
Image credit: A version from Cary Nelson’s “Anthology of Modern American Poets”.
It makes sense that this poem serves as a touchstone for Nwabugo, a British- Nigerian photographer based in London, who describes her work as being, “about nature and the communities that surround it.” Just as the words of Crosby’s poem arrange themselves around the centering sun, Nwabugo’s human subjects appear in lushly tropical settings, like palm forests pierced by ethereal sunlight, or in the ambient lighting of natural dwellings open to the surrounding elements.
“The type of work that I do is all about how African Diaspora people work and live within nature,” says Nwabugo. “When I'm making photographs, I'm looking for a story that is untold and undiscovered.”
Nwabugo’s personal connection to her African heritage coupled with this specific focus to her photography and high level of technical accomplishment led to her receipt of a commission via the Adobe Stock Artist Development Fund in 2022. Created to support and promote accuracy as well as aesthetic achievement in stock imagery, the Fund is targeted to support new work by self-identifying artists from underinvested communities.
In her Adobe Stock portfolio, Nwabugo portrays a community in tune with their surroundings, posing variously in matching indigo garments, or colorful batik wraps. The story seems to be one of interrelationship with the surrounding palm forest, but one of Nwabugo’s subjects seems equally as comfortable scrolling a smartphone as he does planting seedlings. The message seems to be, that people contain multitudes, a notion explored by fellow poet Walt Whitman — one need not be completely disconnected from contemporary culture to live in tune with nature.
Family and forest
Nwabugo made three projects for Adobe Stock — one about self-care at home with gardening, the second about an eco-dye group, and the third about a family in Lufasi Nature Park in Lagos, Nigeria.
"Adaneke works in Lufasi Park as one of the site managers, and she's also a conservationist,” says Nwabugo. “People want to buy Lufasi land and turn it into buildings and I think that’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard. I think she appreciates the photography because it allows Lufasi to live forever.”
Imagery of this nature aligns with Nwabugo’s values of creating something that will live beyond her and carry a message about the things closest to her heart.
“I'm now able to fulfill a legacy that will live on beyond me, and there will be a hard copy of what I'm doing,” she says, “where people can feel like they're in a Nigerian jungle, hearing all the birds, hearing the water stream.”
Water is another important touchstone for Nwabugo, who finds boundless inspiration in its energy and circulation through the world.
“I gravitate towards water,” she says. “Flowing with the natural energy from the ground, from the earth is what will provide you stillness. Escape to a river, escape to the nearest waterfall, just get out of the concrete and the steel and just let the river flow.”
Closer to culture
Nwabugo grew up in an artistic family, so she found much affirmation for her artistic aspirations — but her work in Nigeria has opened a new cultural vein for exploration.
“I believe that I'm here in Nigeria for many reasons, which is beyond photography,” she says, “and is to be closer to my culture.”
Nwabugo’s affinity for her subjects and their surroundings shines through in work that is verdant and lush, but also comfortable and intimate. The quality of light in her forest-scapes is both inviting and otherworldly. As her subjects explore the forest, lounge on a ground strewn with huge tropical leaves, or present a home life festooned with reminders of the surrounding natural world, they radiate with ease and intimacy. Nwabugo’s images present happy people with a strong sense of self, and her interest in them feels sincere and respectful.
“When you look at old stock photography, it was very much white kitchen and green salad,” she says, “but now it's very much about authentic lifestyle. The Adobe Stock library is now showing the fearlessness of what it means to be a real person in this world.”
Whether a call to new lands, a return to one’s roots, or simply encouragement to bring a little piece of nature home to foster a peaceful existence, Nwabugo’s portfolio is a visual treat and a call to gentle action.
“I'm trying to make a volume of work which speaks about the invisible yet visible spirit of Nigeria, which is nature, nature's everywhere you look here,” she says. “You can make nature be a part of your home. That's the story that I'm trying to tell.”