Minimalism acts as a potent conduit in Ruby Okoro‘s photography to explore the multiple dimensions of identity, intimate relationships, and spirituality. Okoro takes us on a journey through the purposeful use of negative space, careful compositions, and a great eye for subtlety.
His lens beautifully captures the human journey with remarkable poignancy. Whether it’s the assembly of three students in different timelines, his images capture the core of the human experience inspiring us to reflect on the fleeting aspect of life and a testament on the passage of time.
Embedded in the simplicity of his frames, he skillfully portrays the intricacies of familial relationships. The warmth, intimacy, and full extent of the beauty within these relationships evoke a deep sense of connection. With this, his works stamp the belief that the ties which bind us together shine with timeless love and compassion.
Ruby Okoro is a clear example of a visual storyteller whose evocative photography explores transformative storytelling, intersections on identity, relationships and the human journey while also creating room for compelling narratives.
In this interview, Ruby invites me to his world as we unravel each image which serves as a portal for reflection and an opportunity to find beauty in the human experience.
Can you please tell me a bit about yourself and what you do?
My name is Ruby Okoro and I am a Nigerian visual artist expressing through the medium of photography.
You grew up in vastly different locations, Lagos and Italy, would you say these two inspire or play a role in your works? If so, could you describe these experiences?
I think it’s a classic case of our experiences shaping who we are and how we show up in the world. My upbringing definitely inspires my work. I mean, I grew up surrounded by art. My father being an architect with a studio and house filled with art. He would also play the guitar and other instruments as well.
As a young boy, of course I was actively absorbing all of that consciously and even subconsciously. I even started painting at some point. One major thing growing up in the eastern part of Nigeria did, was inspire a genuine love and appreciation for the culture and tradition, as raw as it can get.
I have often found myself chasing that nostalgia and trying to capture memories of that time in some of the works that I create. During my time as a young boy in Rome, I also absorbed a lot of the art and beauty abundant in the city, even though I clearly wasn’t aware of it at the time.
I especially fell in love with literature and the world of storytelling during that time and would write all these short stories to express myself. I even got published at some point in the reader’s digest magazine, and as a kid, that was pretty exciting for me.
Today, I think that influence shows up in different aspects of my work, but especially the way I name my projects and the stories I weave around them.
There is a distinctive motif present in most of your works which is the color red, what does this symbolize?
Truth is, at the start, it’s not like I set out intentionally to “pick” the color red as a constant thing in my works. It’s more like I naturally gravitated towards it. I mean colors generally have always been a way for me to put my unique spin on things and tell stories in my own way.
I started off playing with a lot of purple in my earlier images and then sort of moved from there to blue and red. The more I experimented with red, the more it felt right. I love the intensity it lends to a visual story and you know, the way it also transforms a scene from ordinary to magical.
Your use of color seems to be very intentional in your works. How do you decide which ones to use? How does it interpret your photography?
I hate to sound cliché but I really just go with what feels right in that moment. I trust my intuition and mood towards that present time or particular project. When I edit images, different things inspire my process and visual choices. The story I’m trying to tell, how I’m feeling, the energy that image is sending back to me and in a lot of instances the music I am listening to at that moment.
So all of these inspire my choices and the colors I use but ultimately I lead with what feels right to me in that moment. At this point in my journey as a visual artist, the use of colors is definitely a major theme in my work. It’s a malleable tool for me to create the stories and imaginary worlds I want to see and I just let it be that.
That being said, it is also very important for me to not force anything as I create. So I just let my “dance” with colors lead me where I need to go.
Themes such as hope, family, transformation are present in your works? What inspires the vision in capturing these? What is the process in translating these concepts ?
A reflection of my personal relationship with my family. Growing up my relationship with my dad was very interactive so it’s only right I revisit those moments of intimacy between one another.
Apart from the emotional complexity in your works, there is a spiritual element to it as well. What kind of world are you inviting your audience to? What do you also intend to achieve with it?
To be honest, I’m creating to communicate in some form. Transferred it’s all a combination of everything I’ve absorbed through physical and spiritual states. Kind of like a sneak peak into my subconscious.
I would like to touch on some of your pieces:
First Three: A Visit from time
i) Many struggle with the term “Afrofuturism” as they believe it helps create this western notion of Africans flying in space or the cliche ideology on it, however, I believe there is more to it with concepts such as liberation which I mostly interpreted looking at your work. What would you want your audience to take from that piece? How would you also change those constructed mindset into what Afrofuturism means?
Best believe there’s more to Afrofuturism, time travel also exists in my book, more like you tapping into something earlier than you should or maybe you’re just destined to be ahead. A visit from time in summary is about 3 best students in a class getting invaded by themselves in a different timeline. I wouldn’t change it because opinions matter. I can only interpret things my way or pull you closer to the way I observe certain scenarios.
Days Before Ascension/Days after Ascension
i) Days Before Ascension clearly captures themes of fear and anxiety during isolation at the beginning of the pandemic? Why did you decide to do that project?
ii) Did it affect your own personal reflection of self during that period as well?
iii) I read that there was no plan towards the continuation of the series, what influenced the decision to create a follow-up series?
I decided to create “Days Before Ascension” as a way of coping with all that was going on as well as expressing my interpretation of the times. I felt a transition creeping in towards a different technique also, so even titling it without an idea of a follow up series all aligned. The energy in the air was intense during the pandemic. There was a lot of fear and anxiety.
There was also a lot of dismantling of belief systems and ideas of “self”. This was both confusing and transformative and I wanted to express that. Personally, I was also dealing with stuff that needed me to process my emotions and you know, re-examine where I was at. The “Days Before Ascension” was my way of processing everything going on at that time as well as expressing and documenting it. Days After Ascension is the follow up series and that’s where that story ends.
Father and Son
i) Your project, father and son helps encapsulate the relationships between father and son,it was a lot rawer. How did you capture the complexity within these photos as it can be difficult navigating the different relationship types?
I learned a lot from my father. A reflection of my personal relationship with my family. Growing up, my relationship with my dad was very interactive so it’s only right I revisit those moments of intimacy between one another. I dove deeper into the father and son project for Adobe.
You have been instrumental in the album artwork of many musicians, how do you make each piece unique to these artists? Would you also expand the process in making these?
I just visually interpret things to tell a story. By default, I am telling the story from me being there. The Crayon shoot I did, I dove in blindly. I didn’t even see the house, I just knew that this is the idea they wanted to portray. Not all shoots work that way but I appreciate shoots which do. This takes me back to the basics where I focus on composition.
Before I compose colors, I have to focus on perspectives and proportions because it needs to balance in my eyes and be visually appealing. It’s like a straight line, straight lines irk me so if I am arranging people in an image, it still needs to have that composition. Think of it like geometry but not consciously. With albums or songs such as “Gbagada Express”, it was the name of the album and what I listened to that made me interpret.
You have had a strong partnership with VSCO especially early on in your career. Congratulations on your partnership with VSCO as an ambassador, Would you want to share more light into that?
VSCO has been a huge part of my career. I was always constant on VSCO even more on Instagram. Over time, I kept getting honors and distinctions. This means that when an image you post slaps, they keep sending you emails. With this, I kept getting interviews, community talks and even beta apps to test colors where I share stories to inspire the community. It has definitely been a journey.