For The Girls: Isabel Okoro Is Memorialising The Experiences of Black People

"I wanted to make that image of our lives a consistency, so that it now becomes the norm."

After successfully connecting creative communities across Lagos, Toronto and London through her awe-inspiring photography and editorial campaigns, Nigerian photographer Isabel Okoro recently released her debut monograph ‘Friends in Eternity’. The new book encapsulate themes she’s explored throughout her career, displaying various images of Black people in a worry-free state, that she believes should be the norm. 

Okoro studied Neuroscience and Psychology, a fact that isn’t as surprising as it may sound at first, given her chosen profession. Her photography has been extremely people-focused in a way that embraces her psychological studies. Okoro’s work until now, has documented Black people, both within Africa and diaspora, examining themes of wanderlust and escapism through different mediums such as documentaries and more.

Her photo story, ‘Waiting For Forever’, made in collaboration with the brand 4ye, leaned heavily into these themes with photos of the three kids chasing the sun to the edge of the shore, as far as they can go. Okoro states that the series is based in Eternity, a concept that explores people – specifically Okoro and her friends – waiting to exist in the world, exploring the perpetual feeling of adolescence and the feelings that come with it. 

These ideas have been examined in much of her work. She has made a habit of working with close friends, which brings a particular type of intimacy to the photos that may otherwise not be there. Following the release of monograph and her recent exhibition in Toronto, we caught up with Isabel to discuss the inspiration behind her work, Black personhood and what is next for her. 


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Her words which follow below have been lightly edited for clarity.

NATIVE: Let’s talk about your book — ‘Friends In Eternity.’ Now that it’s out, how does it feel for you?

Isabel: I think it’s been kind of bittersweet. Bitter because it’s something that I’ve been working on for a long time, and you know, I feel like a lot of the way that I interact with my work, within the past two years, has been centred on the idea of the book. Even when I wasn’t necessarily creating anything for the book, I still always had the book in mind and would try and keep my work consistent in that way. Now that it’s out in the world, I feel like I’ve just let go of something and that can be quite bitter for an artist, to let go of their passion projects in that way. But, I think it’s nice just having it out in the world and having it exist beyond me which has always been the goal.

NATIVE: How long have you been working on your monograph?

Isabel: I would say, like in general, for the past four or five years. I’ve known that I wanted to make a book regarding the concept of eternity but the idea for ‘Friends In Eternity,’ came in 2020. Around this time, about two years ago, I really started to look through my older work and try and connect all these dots that I saw. That is how I think Eternity revealed itself to me.

NATIVE: So why the name ‘Friends In Eternity’? Like what influenced that? What was the whole mindset behind the name?

Isabel: So eternity is my world, it’s what I call my visual universe. I call it that because I think one of my main goals is to immortalise images of my friends and images of other young Black people existing in this space. So that is where ‘eternity’ came from, and also, a lot of the things I’m inspired by like light and the sun are all eternal and forever.

NATIVE: So the concept is centred around you taking pictures of your friends?

Isabel: It’s not necessarily just about my friends but they are a main focus. With my work and with this world, I’m honestly just trying to create images that consistently represent young Black people in these spaces of joy, peace and freedom. These are our realities: You do have friends that you hang out with, you do have friends that you laugh with and friends that you feel at peace with sometimes. I wanted to make that image of our lives a consistency, so that it now becomes the norm.

I use the term ‘normtopia’ to define my world because I would say that it’s only normal and not perfect. At the end of the day, human beings by virtue of our humanity are imperfect. I’m not necessarily concerned with being anyone’s saviour or anything like that. I want the work to serve as an aide and to be a driving force in depicting what Black existence can be, when you don’t suffocate it with violence or dehumanisation.

“I’m honestly just trying to create images that consistently represent young black people in these spaces of joy, peace and freedom.”


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NATIVE: Why was it important for you to memoralise the ‘normal’ experiences of Black people?

Isabel: I think I’m getting to a point in my life where I only care about real life. I say that to mean, I care about work that exists in real life and, I care about people I interact with in real life. I care about these real human interactions and connections that are very intentional. I think that the process of creating something physical forced me to think about what images people were going to gravitate more towards.

Working on this book forced me to really go back, and think about why I wanted to make the work in the first place. At the end of the day, once the book is out, it’s permanent. I can’t change it, I can’t adjust it to be more of what anyone else wants it to be. I have to stay true to myself and my work in that way and so caring about what’s real and what happens in real life meant that I had to create something that existed outside of social media and outside of the virtual spaces. I needed to create something that people could hold and flip through, something tangible that lasts and exists outside of me.

NATIVE: What was the selection process for the images that made it to your monograph? Were they taken all at once or over a period of time?

Isabel: I began thinking about eternity and creating this visual universe in early 2020, but before then, obviously I had been photographing and making images. Around 2019, I started to notice that my images had a certain feeling that they carried that I didn’t notice and I liked it. So, I started trying to do more of that although not necessarily on a conscious level but just like subconsciously by staying true to who I am and making the kind of work that I like. I ended up at this point, where it just felt so familiar, there was a certain feeling that these images carry that I know it was just me trying to say something. Once Eternity revealed itself to me, I, then started becoming more intentional with my approach to shoots. I would look for specific models or try and shoot at specific places because I knew at that point what I wanted to say in my work.

NATIVE: When did you realise that photography was something you wanted to pursue full-time? 

Isabel: My first year of uni. I had been taking photos for a while and I kind of saw I was good at it. and I liked doing it and I knew that I really had something in me. At the time, I didn’t really know what it was yet but I just knew that there was something there. It wasn’t just like ‘oh I’m taking photos just cuz I’m taking photos.’ I mean there was a bit of that but more that I’m taking photos because I’m feeling a certain type of way or I’m dying to remember this thing, there was always this kind of emotion attached to it.

NATIVE: Out of all the images which one would you say represents your book’s entire concept the most?

Isabel: I don’t really think I can choose. If I had to, I’d say maybe the cover image, just because I just love that image so much and I really went through a lot to get that image. Having that image as the cover and also what it represents and the references and motives behind why I wanted to create that image, it just stands out to me as what I would say describes my world.


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NATIVE: You’ve been very honest with what normatopia or eternity means to you, but what does it represent?

Isabel: I think more than anything, to me, on a personal level, it just represents the journey. I shoot a lot of my work on film so, I’d done this shoot for the cover and something was wrong with my camera. All the photos came out blank and it was the same exact shoot, the same exact place but the photos came out blank. So I had to call my friend whose little sister I photographed and ask ‘can she come back again and lets try and get the image one more time?’. We did and this was kind of the strongest from the set and I just loved it so much. Since that day, I knew it was going to be the cover of the book because it just represents again the journey because literally, I think there’s a part of me that’s always trying to appease my younger self and this girl just kind of reminds me of a younger me.

NATIVE: When people get this book and look through it, what kind of emotion do you want it to evoke?

Isabel: More than anything, I just hope that they feel something. I don’t think I can necessarily dictate what exactly that is or what I think it should be. I just hope that they do feel something. I will say I hope the feelings are feelings of calmness or a sense of ease, peace, you know, just stillness, I guess.

NATIVE: Now that you’re done what’s next for Isabel?

Isabel: (laughs) I don’t know what’s next really. I’m still trying to process where I am at right now but I would just hope that the work keeps growing and growing however that may be.

You can purchase a copy of ‘Friends In Eternity’ here.

Featured image credits/

Words by Moore Wright and Interview by Ada Nwakor