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Student Spotlight: Ejatu Shaw

Friday 02 December 2016

As well as studying Architecture at The University of Edinburgh, Ejatu Shaw has a passion for photography. Alongside her studies she takes stylish self-portraits and photos of those around her, capturing her subjects in a retro style. Her photographs have an strong sense of intimacy; looking at them, you feel you’ve gained an insight into the subject of each portrait. Interested in how she balances her two creative fields, how she sees them intersecting, and where she hopes they’ll take her, we discussed it all with Ejatu.

What made you want to study Architecture at The University of Edinburgh?

Back in high school, my favourite subjects were Maths and Art. I see Architecture as the perfect amalgam of these two subjects, combining areas of design thinking with construction and structural calculations.

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In addition to your course, you practice photography – how did you get started?

I first started out on my iPhone 4 a few years back. The camera quality wasn’t the greatest, so I went crazy with the filter apps to make my images presentable! My father eventually saw my passion and bought me a small Sony DSLR. I uploaded my images on Instagram, and from there began to build my following.

How would you describe your style as a photographer?

I’d describe my style as very vintage and minimal. A lot of my work actually consists of self portraits, and I like to give off a nostalgic 70s vibe in these, appreciating a period of time where black people refused to follow Western beauty standards and instead embraced their natural hair.

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Where do you look for inspiration, and what or who inspires you?

I am really inspired by the late Malick Sidibé, a Malian photographer that captured the life and popular culture of Bamako, Mali in the 60s and 70s. He photographed everything from sporting events, people dancing at concerts, and fights in a nightclub, documenting a period where Mali was beginning to gain its independence. I often make my images black and white to capture a similar timeless atmosphere where my subjects appear to be consumed by the world around them. However, whilst Malick captures a more social vibe, I often opt for an atmosphere of darkness and solitude.

Is there a photo or series that you’re most proud of?

I am very proud of my ‘Abolished’ series, which takes a look at the effects of institutional racism on the mental health of black men. My work from this series is going to be exhibited at the Edinburgh Student Arts Festival in February, so keep a look out!

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Where do you want photography to take you, and what do you want to say with it?

I want photography to give me opportunities to travel the world, to engage with and learn about different communities, hear their stories and present them to the world in photographic form. I am also hoping to start working with different platforms including print, media, and marketing.

What are you currently working on, or what’s next?

I am currently working on producing more images for my ‘Abolished’ series for the Edinburgh Student Arts Festival in February.

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What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learnt as a student?

The course has been really beneficial for me in terms of learning about composition, the design process, but it has also encouraged me to learn several software programmes including Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, which are both also essential for my photography work.

So, will it be architecture or photography? Or both?

I definitely want to make use of my Architecture degree, especially since the University of Edinburgh is a leading global institution. However, ideally I’d like to merge the two – I’m still figuring out a way to do this effectively!

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Do you have a dream project for the future?

I plan on living in Sierra Leone (where my parents are from) for a couple of years once I graduate, to follow the stories of some of the people that live there, and eventually compile a photojournalistic book of sorts.

View more of Ejatu Shaw’s work on her Instagram www.instagram.com/ejatushaw.