I can’t help myself with East Photographic lately. They have been keeping me busy with appointments over the last few weeks, but their photographers are so good that when they email I all but drop everything. So when they said Andrew Dosunmu, who signed with East a year ago, was in town from New York I made sure I had time to see him (that looming Vespa production can wait an hour).
I’m not sure if his beginnings as a design assistant at Yves Saint Laurent had any influence on his sense of style but never has a more dapper man graced our reception. Or a more polite man at that. Suffering with a terrible cold he kindly indulged my over curiosity about his upbringing explaining his journey to his current home in New York city as a teenager via South London and Nigeria.
Besides the fact Andrew lives in New York, there is another huge reason we have not met before, for the last couple of years he has been very busy making two feature films. The first, Restless City, premiered at Sundance in 2011. The second, Mother Of George, saw Andrew go on to win best director at the Africa International Film Festival, and the film also won best cinematography at Sundance. He has also been directing music videos for acclaimed recording artists Tracey Chapman, Isaac Hayes, Wyclef Jean, and Kelis. Amazing achievements but lucky for us he is now once again turning his attention back to photography.
We started off by talking about his beginnings as a photographer. Self taught, he says although he has always had a camera knocking around he didn’t really consider himself to be a photographer until about eight years ago. Unusually he started making films first, initially just using photography as a tool to create storyboards for his film making, as a way to simply document the things around him. ‘Photography was my scrapbook. It was this tool that made me record the things that I wanted to film and document’. But he enjoyed the immediacy of being able to tell a story quickly through an image alone, enjoying the ability to document what he saw quickly, and soon he was hooked on both photography and film making.
Jumping between film and digital, medium format and 35mm, colour and black & white, a lot of his work is a strong celebration of people living in Africa or Latin America. He celebrates their individuality and shoots strong portraits that capture the essence of his subjects, celebrating their natural sense of style, documenting people in their own environments. Street casting all his subjects, it comes as no surprise the images feel filmic and stylised, always hinting at a hidden narrative.
Clearly moving to New York as a teenager has had a massive influence on his work as an adult. His colour palette oozes 70’s New York City cool. This even filters into his clothes, rocking up in a very dapper brown suit and hat for our meeting. It's not just the colour palette though but something about the narrative in his pictures that brings to mind the attitude of 70’s New York.
I can only imagine what it must have been like arriving in a city like New York, in the 70’s, as a teenager from the UK. But his images do a lot of the imagining for me. Much like the description of his film, Restless City, the people in his images look like they are surviving in the outskirts of a city, where life is a hustle, and a restless energy is everywhere. A fair description of New York too, particularily back then.
Andrew's images have been published internationally in Vogue Paris, i-D, The FADER, Interview and Big Magazine, and his commercial clients include Nike, Dickies, Puma and Converse. He is represented globally by East Photographic.