Photographer, Stephanie Nnamani
Nigerian-born photographer Stephanie Nnamani explores an absent historical narrative for black women. Looking to the Victorian era of social and cultural change, she presents her subjects with the opulence and status symbolized by formal oil painting techniques. With this series, she creates portraits that could have, and should have been.
Getty Images Art Director Christina Nwabugo talks with the talented, enigmatic photographer, aka Teff Theory as she is known online, about narrative, working with an all-women team, and the Black Renaissance.
How did the name Teff Theory come about?
I was in the middle of a creative shift. I had other names in the past but no longer felt quite like that version of myself –it made me feel like I could not move forward. The name ‘Teff Theory,’ combines my interests and studies in social science with my discipline in art. I wanted to create work in a way that encouraged creatives at every level to recall that their art is first of all a service to themselves, creativity as an act of caring for their own self.
"My commitment to my womanhood, African roots, my Blackness, and to my healing. I am inspired by the driven spirit of Nigerians to seek to thrive under a governance that has systematically demonstrated mediocre leadership."
Do you work with a large team? How do you advise others to build a team?
My team is generally quite small, comprised of women. At most, there's five of us. Always women; women of color. I would advise others to build with a team that either shares or exceeds your capacity of commitment to the story. For me, creating with women just works. I believe in our collective magic.
What inspires you to create?
My commitment to my womanhood, African roots, my Blackness, and to my healing. I am inspired by the driven spirit of Nigerians to seek to thrive under a governance that has systematically demonstrated mediocre leadership. My creative process places self -cultivation and discovery ahead of research.
You work across continents. What differences do you experience when creating in America versus Africa?
In Nigeria, the people and spaces carry the stories. Circumstance allows me to engage with portraits and spaces. Whereas for me in America, the people carry the story, especially in the larger cities. I noticed this distinction after having lived in New York and relocating to North Carolina for undergraduate studies. I enjoy the more rural and suburban areas over cities because I find myself searching for home, even while I'm away from it. I'm not moved by the large skyscrapers in NYC enough to want to capture it nor include it when composing an image.
What is your favorite photo and why?
I have a handful in general, but from The Black Victorian shoot it is Eve in the yellow dress, seated with her head bent backwards, smiling, her hands placed over her eyes. When the idea first occurred to me, that was the initial image that sort of haunted me. Once I captured it, I literally set the camera down and danced. It's also my favorite because the yellow dress is from a two-piece my sister Andrea designed for her clothing brand, KAHKTI, and named after me.
Black narrative within the renaissance era was somewhat erased –why is it important for you to reframe this narrative in the modern era?
It is my belief that the Black narrative wasn't as much erased as it was suppressed. Erased would imply that there was something present. We are in the midst of a Black creative renaissance of our own. Just as we enjoy the power we have to create, it is important to add to the voices and lives that were denied adequate representation and access.
What would you say defines the Black renaissance figure?
A Black renaissance figure is someone who exhaustively champions the reclamation of the Black narrative. For too long, our stories have been told by others; it has been mangled; skewed, and often outdated. The Black renaissance figure partakes in and orchestrates the shift.
How important is it to encourage young BAME photographers to reflect their history into their work?
BAME photographers are living, breathing testaments to the resilience and efforts of their ancestors. Paying homage to the ancestors is one way to communicate gratitude.