adama jalloh's intimate gaze

Photographer Adama Jalloh has fast made a name for herself shooting up close and personal moments from her life experience.

“I picked it as a GCSE subject and the teacher I had really encouraged us to experiment,” says Adama Jalloh, “that’s when I really started taking an interest in photography and shot anything I could think of – friends, family, surfaces…” Gifted a camera by her parents at 16, she began Identity, an intimate portrait of black hair salons in south London, while in her second year at Arts University Bournemouth; at 22 she took home the British Journal of Photography’s Breakthrough Award for a follow up assignment, You Fit The Description.

Focusing her lens on the Black British experience, Jalloh uses the camera as a tool for visual narration, exposing the ugly traits of police stop and search, dispelling tired stereotypes, and, perhaps most gloriously, celebrating the everyday of Peckham’s Rye Lane. “It’s hard for me not to be drawn to things like identity or my surroundings, especially now,” she says. “Focusing on the black community is one aspect of my work I don’t think I can ever ignore, it’s what I’ve grown up around. I just want to show honest and genuine images, even if it is the most simple thing.”

A mixture of un-posed street scenes that reference earlier documentary photography and portraiture that echoes a similar relaxed attitude, coupled with an obvious affection for her subjects – amongst them the poets Siana Bangura and Abondance Matanda, NON Records’ Nkisi, and Campbell Addy of Nii Journal – Jalloh’s photographs paint a rich narrative packed with warmth and a familiarity that separates her work from others today.

Stretching from heavyweights to her contemporaries, Liz Johnson Artur, James Barnor, Mary Ellen Mark and Seydou Keïta are namechecked alongside Ronan McKenzie, Ruth Ossai and Andre D’Wagner as influences, while, perhaps unsurprisingly with such a blueprint, representation is an increasingly vital component of her practice. “Coming across Liz Johnson Artur three years ago really made me think more about how I want to portray people in my images,” she explains, “more so even how they want to portray themselves, because it often works both ways.”

Despite an affiliation with traditional film processing today, Jalloh admits she was not an immediate fan, struggling with school sessions in the dark room and going through “a fair amount of rolls where nearly everything would come out blank. It put me off for a while.” Since achieving the required skill set (and some), the photographer now favours the aesthetic analogue delivers – a distinctive sense of depth for example – while reflecting on her preference for shooting in black and white, something she simply “fell into the habit of”, is the result of her photographic heroes. “I’m so used to visualising things in black and white, but every now and again I look back and think ‘that could have looked better in color’ – so I just now make sure I give myself the option”.

I just want to show honest and genuine images, even if it is the most simple thing

Valuing the collaboration element of her medium, Jalloh is keen to build relationships with her subjects, chiefly from her native Southwark and the neighbouring borough of Lewisham, that extend beyond sitter and photographer; as part of You Fit The Description she spoke openly with young men of colour about their experiences of the Met Police. “Most of the time I’m asking to photograph people I don’t know, so there is that slight hesitation with a few, while others become even more confident in front of the lens,” she asserts, “Some ask me to send them their photo, or I just print a copy (for them) as a way of saying thank you.”

Tapped by curators Ashleigh Kane and Grace Miceli for last summer’s group show A New Sensation, a one night only showcase exploring the reality of being a young creative in the capital, the previous year saw Identity form part of all female show, Black British Girlhood. On the presence of the female gaze, here the photographer’s attitude is principally instinctive: “I won’t even lie, it’s not something I think about when I’m shooting street photography – I don’t have time to think thoroughly during those moments because everything is moving so fast – but I’m definitely aware of the gaze when I’m shooting more thought out projects, and I think it carries a lot of weight with the results that I get from those images.”

With plans to advance beyond the M25, the photographs displayed here, selected by Adama from a catalogue that marries common routine with striking portraiture, are all personal favourites: “They bear memories in different ways, whether it’s me thinking back to what I was like when I was younger and the type of environments I was in, or just the way I interacted with those I photographed. I think,” she continues, considering her words, “just by talking to others for the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot more about wanting the images I take to be something people can look back on, maybe in decades.”

This Week

picture this

You’ll be familiar with the term ‘male gaze’ – a phrase coined by feminist critic in Laura Mulvey in 1975. And unless you’ve been hiding under a large rock for several decades, you will have certainly come into contact with it: think any  film, photograph, or  TV show that’s made for the male viewer.

But the tide is turning. Be it the internet, accessibility to cameras or simply the introduction of the first front-facing camera (thanks, Apple), a growing number of the photographs we look at on a daily basis are being taken by women. In the last five years, an unprecedented wave of female photographers has taken the art world by storm, grabbing people's attention with their pictures of women (and themselves). This is the central theme of journalist Charlotte Jansen’s new book, Girl on Girl, in which she interviews 40 artists from 17 different countries. The project is pro-women, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s solely about feminism. “No one would ever say: ‘oh you’re a man, your work must be comment on masculinity,’” Jansen explains. “Yet it’s almost as if you have to start with that question as a woman. Most women are like: ‘of course I’m a feminist’, that’s obvious, right? But it doesn’t mean everything I do is about that.”

To wit: this isn’t simply about ‘female photography’ (there’s no such thing, Jansen says), but addressing and challenging the ways in which the media write about these women.

Read More

unruly body – the world of jamila johnson-small

In her own words, Jamila Johnson-Small is interested in dance as a “radical social proposition”. She means this quite literally. And in fact, this quality of “radicality” – a potent combination of power and resoluteness – is palpable in Jamila’s presence, both onstage and in person.

Read More

step behind the scenes of mirror maze and meet es devlin and the other women who make space

Cheryl Dunn's video Making Spaces takes a look behind the scenes at the making of Es Devlin's immersive installation Mirror Maze and features interviews with other innovators of today - learn more about them here. 

Read More

they are a god: beauty is next to godliness

What deems your favourite pop or rock star 'godlike'? Is it their talent, their use of the  transformational tool of beauty products or both? And how much do we consciously or unconsciously attempt to emulate them in our everyday lives? 

Read More

hannah reid’s guide to songwriting

The London Grammar singer takes us by the headphone and guides us through the sensual word of her award-winning creativity.

Read More

five senses from my world: yara pilartz, actress

Five senses from French actress Yara Pilartz world.

Read More

turning pages

Lucy Moore is co-owner of London’s most iconic bookstore, Claire de Rouen, a long-standing source of inspiration for fashion designers, artists and students alike. Here we sit down to chat all things Claire de Rouen and she shares with us five of her favourite books that celebrate female sensuality. 

Read More

anosmia and memory

What happens if you lose your sense of smell and how does this affect your memory?

Read More

the girl with the most cake

Rina Sawayama explores the idea of our online self through her J-pop inspired own brand of RnB, often referencing our place in the digital world, resulting in a surprisingly sensual and personal outpouring.

Read More