Behind the Mask (2018)  © Arinze Areh

As the Seven Foto Questions series gradually comes to an end, I am realizing how similar the eyes behind these lenses are, no matter how much the work varies. Previous interviews have had one thing in common: the need to tell a story. For most, if not all photographers, relaying a story to the viewer is an important aspect when it comes to the art of photography, but sometimes it's just the simple things that matter the most. Arinze Areh, an admirer of his surroundings, and what he mentions the most: simplicity, likes to keep [his] photography true. For Arinze, every photo reminds him of a certain place and/or time. He sees his work as a portal to the past and explains how it has related to his journey of self-discovery.

I am from Anambra State, Nigeria, but I have spent the majority of my life living in Abuja with my parents and three siblings. Growing up, my parents were very hands-on, and by observation and many times, correction, I learned a lot about kindness, humility, empathy, and connecting with people. These attributes are now ingrained in my everyday life and photography.


When and how did you start taking photos?

I started taking pictures in 2013, my third year of Uni. At the time, I was dealing with mental health issues, and I needed an escape from my thoughts. So, I would take long walks away from familiar settings, using my friend's point and shoot camera to capture random things I found interesting. Of course, the pictures were terrible at first, but it was liberating and calming to learn to see a photograph in every moment and every scene, to appreciate the beauty of simple everyday things.

Mama adjusts her scarf as she prepares for church.  © Arinze Areh


What are your inspirations?

I draw inspiration from everyday experiences, art, people, music, movies, books, and stories. Two years ago, I went through a collection of photos my dad had taken during my childhood. He successfully documented family moments and details, creating portals to the past for us to relive those memories. Through those photos, I could remember simple things like what our first house looked like, how we dressed up for school, and how we sat on the swing outside, listening to mom tell stories of her childhood mischiefs. My inspiration comes from seeing photos that tell stories, that trigger a sense of nostalgia, and transports the viewer to the scene or moment captured.


This is a part of Seven Foto Questions, a series of interviews with photographers answering the same questions about how they each came into their craft.



What do you want to convey with your photographs?

The beauty in simple moments and ordinary things, genuine feelings of happiness in unanticipated places, and the strength that comes from being vulnerable are the main things I try to convey with my photographs. Although I believe as I grow, these could either develop into something else or shift towards an entirely new direction.

A student stands in front of the class to get a better view of the notes on the board.  © Arinze Areh


What do you consider a good photo?

The definition of a good photo is a bit tricky because visual art is subjective. What one perceives as good, could be viewed as bad by another. Nonetheless, my definition of a good photo is one that evokes an emotion in the viewer, tells a story, and is visually pleasing. As my sister and I like to say, it is one that "slaps" or "hits" differently. The composition, lighting, details, and emotions fill your mind with wonder and amazement. Making you feel as if you were present at the moment it was captured, sometimes triggering memories or a longing for the things or mood portrayed.


What is your favorite photo and the story behind it?

My favorite photo is a shot from my "Behind the Mask" Series of my friend, Joseph. The series explored vulnerability, identity, and a false sense of belonging, showing how we wear masks to protect and disguise ourselves as we act and perform to the music of society, likes, and acceptance.

When we were shooting the series, for the first time, I saw my super confident and adventurous friend become insecure about his body and scars from the past. After talking about it, I asked if he would feel more comfortable with the mask covering his face, and he agreed and was instantly open to trying some ideas. After seeing the first set of images, he felt comfortable about showing his face, tagging it as an unveiling in the end. It was amazing to see him move from being insecure about his body to seeing himself as a work of art. That was the most rewarding thing.

A woman getting her hair plaited.  © Arinze Areh


Can you use one theme to describe your work?

Describing my work with one theme has proven to be a very challenging task for me because I feel it is a blend of everyday things and observations. Today I could be photographing buildings, nature, and abstracts, and then tomorrow, its portraits of people, moments, and topics. However, I would say, since it is a documentation of various things, then in large part, it is documentary photography.


If there is one thing you want your audience to know about you, what would it be?

I am an easy-going guy with a passion for genuine connections and visual storytelling. Can you imagine that shortly after buying my camera, I got a tripod and thought I had arrived? In my mind, I was a pro, so I took it everywhere with me, didn't even let my siblings touch it. To think that at that time, I didn't know what aperture or shutter speed meant is hilarious, but also an indicator of how far I have come.



All photos by © Arinze Areh