Carlos Idun-Tawiah: the People
Carlos Idun-Tawiah: the People's Choice

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Carlos Idun-Tawiah: the People's Choice

‘Photography can definitely be a great way to create a new community,’ says Carlos Idun-Tawiah, and viewers of his work agree. The 24-year-old photographer and filmmaker was recently awarded the Palm* Photo Prize 2021 People’s Choice Award for a work from his series Obaasima that showed in 10 14 gallery in East London.

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The portrait shows a young woman looking directly into camera while having her hair styled in a salon in Accra, Ghana, where Idun-Tawiah is based. The sitter’s polka dot collar clashes with her stylist’s vibrant stripes, and yet the whole scene seems harmonious and calm. It’s testament to Idun-Tawiah’s exacting eye and his aliveness to colours, texture and people – and to the stories which really matter to them. When people from across the globe responded to this story and reached out to him, ‘it felt like a huge family – the Obaasima family – people resonated with this story and gravitated towards the essence of Black hair. The feedback was very genuine. We put the story out when we were locked down, and it felt very therapeutic, having that story being put out at that time.

‘I wanted to find a way of bringing out how soulful hair braiding is’, he says, ‘hence the title, Obaasima’. as Eyram Adzo Agbe puts it in the original InStyle article, ‘the Twi term “obaasima” means one thing, and everything, at the same time. Obaasima can refer to a virtuous woman, or someone who is multifaceted, engaged, and well groomed.’

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Obaasima is a sequel to a project initially created by Josef Adamu in New York. ‘We created a whole narrative around a girl waking up in her home, making it feel very domestic, before going to the hair salon and taking it out in the streets, to make sure we could make it very relatable. We wanted to draw people’s attention to the details and the facts of hair braiding and the entire history of hair stories’ – which go back centuries.

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Throughout our interview, Idun-Tawiah is humble, always taking time to acknowledge the team around him and the connections and lasting friendships he has made through his work. He speaks with particular fondness on his series for Young / The Creative Agency. ‘We put three friends together and put them in various settings and various elements that speak to the Ghanian community, I enjoyed every bit of photographing that story as well.’ And it shows in the end results.

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Idun-Tawiah is currently working towards his first book. Between covers, it will be more obvious than ever how the young photographer draws on Ghana’s rich archival and fashion photography to inform his unique perspective, one that is somehow both highly stylised and yet utterly natural. With a passion for documenting stories that go beyond their colours and framing, Idun-Tawiah continues to bring people together.

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Carlos Idun-Tawiah (b. 1997) is a Ghanaian photographer and filmmaker based in Accra, Ghana who centers African resurgence and preservation of the dynamic lives of Black people. Inspired by Ghana’s rich history of archival and fashion photography, Carlos brings his life-long investment in art into documenting the ever-changing landscapes of Black life across the African continent and the diaspora.

Since capturing Michaela Coel in 2018, Carlos’s work has appeared in the American, British and Italian editions of VOGUE, The Guardian, InStyle, ESSENCE, CNN International, CNN Style, Notion, WWD, Teen Vogue, Pitchfork, Marie Claire France, Vanity Fair Italia, Harper’s Bazaar U.K and Adobe’s Behance. Featured clients include Mercedes Benz, Yale Alumni Service Corps, Alara, Bohten, Maria Borges, Threaded Tribes, Daughter by Ebonee Davis and Naomi Campbell.

Interview by Sammi Gale


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