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Interview with Etinosa Yvonne on her project 'Protect Thyself'

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Etinosa Yvonne is a Documentary photographer from Benin city, Nigeria. She considers photography to be a medium of expression and a tool to drive social change. Etinosa leverages on the power of storytelling to create awareness, educate and inform, question as well as express herself. She has received grants from Women Photograph, National Geographic in partnership with Lagos Photo and Access Bank Art X for her project; It’s All In My Head. 

Her new project ‘Protect Thyself, is a series as a response to her artistic interpretation of some of the preventive measures that are in use globally to fight against the new COVID19 disease.

Anne Nwakalor, Founding Editor of No! Wahala Magazine speaks with Etinosa about her project. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarification.

Anne: What is your project about?

Etinosa: My year was planned out from last year but unfortunately many things had to be cancelled due to the spread of COVID19. So staying back at home and facing the lockdown, I started to wake up early and go for walks. I think two weeks ago during one of my walks, I picked up a bird’s nest on the way and I was really fascinated by it’s shape. I am greatly intrigued by nature, I think I really admire Plants, Animals and other things that we normally don’t pay attention to as much. I liked how they are and was taking time to study them. I greatly appreciate the patterns that are formed by birds during the nesting season and the way that they take their time. Bringing it down to this project, I picked up in total, four nests and some of them were really interesting! One of the nests looked as if it had a protruding mouth, so I sat down in front of my mirror and placed it on my face and it looked like a mask, like a nose mask. I picked up another one that had the shape of a glasses with holes in between, so I thought, ’let me make a portrait because this can be a potential alternative to face masks’. People are running out of face masks and masks that used to be sold for 10 or 20 Naira are being sold for up to 300 Naira each, so playing around with natural elements made me start to wonder whether this mask made from a birds nests could be used as a form of protection, which led me to create the first image. From the first portrait I decided to make a series of images, experimenting with different ways to play with natural objects and to show alternative ways of taking preventative measures by using objects from the environment to protect ourselves, especially as the world is battling with the pandemic.

Anne: What influenced your style of photography with this project?

Etinosa: Whenever I have project ideas, I always think of the best way to present whatever work that I am putting together. In regards to my style, I think am still finding out who I am, so I wouldn’t say that I have a style yet as I am still evolving. When I think of some of the ideas that I have and the way that I have executed a project, I can see that I am still evolving. In terms of the way that I want to present the work itself, I always think of the best approach, which can end up being quite artistic at times. I usually just play around with different ways of presenting the message that I want.

Anne: Okay nice, I completely understand! What are your inspirations for making work?

Etinosa: It comes from different places, I think I am always observing and questioning, my environment, observing my society and then questioning why it is like this? I am also listening to conversations of people. This year, spending time alone by myself from December up to February really helped me to think, and in that process of thinking, project ideas popped up here and there. I think it is down to observing, being inquisitive and continuously asking questions. It’s in the process of asking questions that I start to do a project, and also exploring possibilities, for example with this project, it's me trying to see if it is possible to create alternative ways of protect ourselves during this pandemic.

Anne: How do you find the motivation to make work, especially during this period that we are in.

Etinosa: For me, I think it just depended on seeing that object (the nest), it sparked some sort of joy in me and I thought ‘let me try this out.’ The fact that I was going to try and create work that I have never created before and to photograph something that was very artistic, was exciting for me. I find that there is a general lack of motivation right now, as your mind is just going here and there and you don’t know where your next pay is going to come from. I haven’t had much motivation to document anything recently, as I don’t know what is going on at the moment with the current situation, so me seeing the nest on my daily walk was exciting! Ideas came to my mind and I started setting things up in my back yard. It was just nice that all of these ideas were coming to me without me having to think hard. Things were straight to the point, I had the idea in my head and started putting things together. One of the things that motivated me was that I was using a medium I have never tried before such as props. I have used props before for other projects, but this one was, if I can say, very witty and more entertaining and it just brought joy to me.

Anne: Yes! From your images I can tell you had some fun with it I really like your use of the nests and the scarf, was it studio lighting that you used?

Etinosa: No. It is all Natural lighting, normally I would wait to around 5pm for the sun to set but unfortunately the last image with the two subjects, we were waiting for the beautiful light that comes from the sunset but the person who would normally help me needed to go so I decided to shoot it regardless of the lighting, even though it was a cloudy day and the sun wasn’t shining I just put it together with the available light that was there, but it is all natural light, no artificial light.

Anne: Its really really sharp and I love the detail of the straw of the nests! Okay and one last question, what advice would you give to creatives on how to stay busy and active especially when it comes to creating work?

Etinosa: Quite frankly, I would not tell people to go out and create work because I know how difficult it can be to be in this space and people are generally lacking motivation at this moment. I would say do things at your own pace and don’t feel pressured. There are moments when you will feel like taking a break, take a break. I have been dropping my phone in places and not picking it up until I feel like it. I am even cutting out on the way that I respond to messages, sometimes I respond to messages the next day because I don’t want any form of pressure. Do things the way you deem fit, if you feel inspired fine, if you don’t feel inspired then that’s also fine. You have to do you, if you feel like creating then create, if you don’t feel like creating then don’t create. Don't let the fact that everyone is doing something to pressure you, if you don’t feel like doing anything that’s fine, if you feel like reading a book then go ahead, if you want to use this time as an opportunity to rest then do it! Do whatever makes you happy because at this point I just wouldn't tell anyone to create work and find inspiration, because if you don’t have inspiration then you just don’t have it. My project came naturally, I did not force anything by saying that I want to create work, it was a natural idea that came to my mind. The truth is that this situation is affecting peoples mental health and I will not be the one to add to people’s challenges, so I would say do you and do whatever makes you happy.

To have a look at Etinosa’s project, visit her website-

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