PROFILE

Yagazie Emezi

A teenage mum rests her chin on her hand while sitting on a sofa in a darkened room.

Canon Ambassador and photojournalist Yagazie Emezi is motivated by a desire to highlight the stories of underrepresented groups, particularly women and children. This image for Save the Children is of a 17-year-old teenage mother sitting in the shadows at her Aunt Esther's home in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Taken on a Canon Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM) at 40mm, 1/80 sec, f/5 and ISO80. © Yagazie Emezi / Save the Children

Nigerian artist, self-taught photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Yagazie Emezi's passion for her home inspired her to first pick up a camera. "When I started taking pictures, I actually didn't have any interest in photography itself, I was more interested in sharing visuals of home," says Yagazie, who finished high school and university in Albuquerque, New Mexico after studying Cultural Anthropology and African Studies.

"I left Nigeria when I was 16 years old and remember most of the images on my first camera [a Canon EOS Rebel T2i, now succeeded by the Canon EOS 850D] were taken when I returned after eight years. I just wanted to record these memories of my childhood home," she explains. "I remember going through my parents' old suitcases, wearing these old clothes, taking these self-portraits and visiting Lagos for the first time, just wanting to take pictures of everything and share Nigeria with people."
Yagazie began her career back in 2015. "I was so new in Lagos and was taking images and uploading them to Instagram – just sharing my surroundings," she says. "At the time, I got introduced to the founder of Lagos Fashion Week and she gave me the opportunity to photograph backstage. I did a good job and, just through word of mouth, that's how I started photographing mainly for luxury stores in Lagos."

Yet it was the stories off the catwalk that enticed Yagazie's lens. "I found fashion very soul draining and became more drawn to street photography, or just looking at scenes through a car window as I was driving by, thinking, 'this is what I like because there is life in there,' she explains. "So, I would still do my own random street photography and push it forward using social media."
A headshot of Canon Ambassador and photojournalist Yagazie Emezi.
Location: Lagos, Nigeria

Specialist areas: Photojournalism

Favourite kit:

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM
A woman covers her face with her arm and holds her hands up high while being photographed.

This image was taken as part of a test shoot on safe and respectful ways to photograph women who need to remain anonymous. "With storytelling, there isn't a set rulebook," says Yagazie. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens. © Yagazie Emezi

A woman in a headscarf stands against a wall with her back to the camera and her arms raised.

"Why wouldn't I?" Yagazie answers when asked why she feels it is important for her to cover women's issues. "Especially as an African woman, because the representation for us even now is simply not enough." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens. © Yagazie Emezi

After becoming a staff photographer for a non-profit focusing on access to education for young girls from slum and rural communities around Liberia, Yagazie's intimate portraiture took on a new trajectory.

"My main interest at that time, and still today, is women and children," she says. "Being in Liberia really gave me that intimacy that I needed to build my confidence as a photographer, as opposed to being in a large city where there are hundreds of other photographers and you don't know quite where you fit in.

"Here I was in Liberia, ultimately by myself, having the time and access to actually sit down, talk with people and photograph them," Yagazie continues. "The timing was quite lucky because this was around two years after Ebola. I had already built my social media platform, and editors and publications were looking for stories on what Liberian life was like. That is how I got a job offer to shoot a story with The New York Times – and the rest is history."
A man lies on a surfboard in the shallow waters of a beach.

A young surfer lying on his board at a beach in Liberia. The time Yagazie spent in the country working for a non-profit organisation and documenting the lives of its inhabitants helped her to develop her unique style of portraiture. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens. © Yagazie Emezi

Yagazie's work has also featured in other high-profile publications, including Al Jazeera, Vogue, the Guardian and The Washington Post. Her photojournalism focuses on identity and culture, social justice, climate change and migration. Throughout 2018 to 2019, Yagazie documented patrols at sea around Liberia, Gabon and Namibia with the non-profit organisation Sea Shepherd. In 2019, she became the first black African woman to photograph for National Geographic Magazine and is a National Geographic Explorer Grantee.

The most rewarding situations to capture, Yagazie says, are those that share a connection. "There have been many moments that have been very rewarding, and these are moments with the storytellers who are sharing them with me. As photographers, we want – and this can also be a negative – to feel like we belong, because we get so invested in a story and sometimes forget that we are often still visitors in a space.

"Whenever a photographer feels that they haven't taken from somebody, that is the reward – when you feel as if both of you have shared and it isn't this opportunistic approach to just get the work done."
What drives you to keep developing and improving?

"I just want to be good. The learning never stops. If we ever think that we do not need to learn anything else, then it's just proof that we haven't learnt much."


What motivates you to work as a photojournalist?

"Storytelling. I love hearing people's stories. Having the opportunity to see how other people live lets me have a fuller life, because it expands my own world. I wouldn't say it is completely altruistic. I have to do it for myself, because it allows me to live more fully, having witnessed how other people live."


What are the most important elements to you when creating intimate portraits in difficult scenarios?

"When I am working, I am very warm, and I find myself in a lot of environments that remind me of home. I am also observant. There is not a one-way approach because every individual for an intimate portrait is going to be different. I am just perceptive enough to know when somebody needs their physical space, or when somebody enjoys a little bit more intimacy. It's about reading people."


What is your go-to lens when on assignment?

"That would be the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM. It is just really great for landscapes, and because it's really wide for certain indoor spaces that I find myself in.

One thing I know

Yagazie Emezi



"What I strongly believe is that photography is a tool to tell stories, but it has also been weaponised in the past and even in the present. Everybody in this field has a responsibility and should be aware of the power of photography. It just has to be in the right hands."

Instagram: @yagazieemezi

Twitter: @YagazieEmezi

Website: www.yagazieemezi.com

Yagazie Emezi's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Yagazie Emezi's kitbag containing a Canon camera, lenses and a tripod.

Camera

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

The successor to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III that Yagazie shoots with is beautifully engineered and a thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. "I am so comfortable with the EOS 5D Mark III," says Yagazie.

Lenses

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM

Favoured by those wanting to carry a single lens on location, this lens delivers stunning image quality with advanced image stabilisation. "I shoot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and this lens 90% of the time," says Yagazie.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

An affordable STM lens with a fast f/1.8 aperture for general, low light and portrait photography. Yagazie says: "It is important to accurately tell people's stories, but then also to accurately represent how they look – the 50mm helps a lot with that."

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