“Do not follow where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today’s Big Showcase is spotlighting a trailblazer in the architecture photography space. Amanda Iheme is undoubtedly not a chip off the old block of her predecessors in the photography industry.
A psychologist by training and practice, Amanda tried different genres of photography as a hobby before niching down to architecture photography in 2017 after discovering an exclusive love for historical and contemporary Nigerian architectural designs.
Treading the Road not Taken
“Nigeria is quite big, so I can’t say how common or rare architecture photography is in the country, but when I started in 2017, I didn’t know anyone who did architecture photography primarily, only those who did general photography. I also tried different types of photography; portrait, landscape, child, product, wedding, street, and night, and shot everything I could shoot until I realised that I really enjoyed shooting buildings. It was only recently that I discovered fellow architecture photographers like Fawaz Oyedeji, Mujib Ojeifor, and Rubyspolaroid on Instagram.”
Amanda pursued her passion for capturing Nigerian architectural designs she appreciates and became a pacesetter of sorts in the Nigerian photography industry. Like every amateur creative with a potential for greatness, she started small by acquiring vital skills necessary to practice architecture photography.
“To practice architecture photography, you need to be a good photographer, a very good one, and you have to understand architecture photography. You also have to understand, appreciate and be interested in architecture. If you don’t like the subject, you can’t enjoy what you are shooting.”
There is no impossibility in the dictionary of people resilient enough to pursue their dreams, and this is the case for Amanda. “I studied online because no school was teaching architecture photography at the time.”
Turning Passion into Profit
Creatives and professionals who have paid their dues understand their industry and can position themselves properly to earn more than exposure. Like gifted artists who paint and sell interesting pieces, or paint for specific clients; talented photographers either shoot to sell objects that fascinate them or are commissioned to shoot objects of interest. For Amanda, the journey, in either case, has been mostly smooth for the past six years, and she has been earning from a profession that started as a hobby.
“I shoot professionally, get commissions from people to shoot, I shoot personal projects.
And I have also exhibited my works at festivals such as Art X in 2019, Lagos Photo Festival in 2018, and I will be exhibiting at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2023.”
Interestingly though, Amanda doesn’t practice architecture photography for the money as she already has NDIDI, her private mental health practice where she is the clinical director and lead clinical psychologist.
“I don’t feel the need to market or promote my work because I don’t do architecture photography for money; thankfully, I already have NDIDI for that. So, the works I end up doing are ones that I’m very passionate about and are very dear to me. As such, I take my time to create meaningful works that people at different levels can connect with”.
The best quote that best describes Amanda Iheme’s success is this one by Eli Khamarov that says, “The best things in life are unexpected – because there were no expectations.” When you place too many expectations and stake your success in an endeavour, the outcome – negative or positive – will significantly affect you.
Amanda might have hoped for a good outcome, but she didn’t expect her work to be quickly recognised. However, a year after taking up architecture photography professionally, she had her works exhibited at the Lagos Photo Festival. Then the following year, at Art X, the foremost international art fair in West Africa. When asked about how she caught the attention of curators from these top art platforms, Amanda admits that she’s usually at a loss for words because she was surprised by how fast her photography career evolved.
“I tell my friends that if anyone asks me to explain these things to them, I wouldn’t know what I’ll say honestly. For the Lagos Photo Festival in 2018, a curator saw my work; she liked it and told me to do something for Lagos Photo. In 2019, another curator saw my work, liked it, added me to the artists’ list, and asked me if I was interested in being exhibited at the fourth edition of Art X Lagos.”
For her upcoming exhibition at MoMA, the trend was similar because Amanda woke up to an email from MoMA showing interest in her work and inviting her to join a group exhibition in 2023.
On the question of what her creative process entails and what drives the creative pieces that have earned her professional and financial rewards, Amanda credits her ever-present curiosity and appreciation for different kinds of buildings.
“To be honest, if I see a building I like, I take a picture of it, and that’s it. There’s no special or extra thought behind my creative process. Besides writing down new thoughts and project ideas, the best part of my creative process is the shooting itself. It’s pretty fun.”
Not all creatives can boast that creativity and the ability to produce good works come from just sighting an inspiring object. For many, it takes much more efforts, and sometimes, productivity hacks, especially when creating a unique project. Amanda, however, observes different architectural designs and documents the specific ones that speak to her.
“Even when I’m trying to create a body of work, it requires just going around town, looking at the works I’ve done before, and asking myself what architectural stories I want to tell.”
Upcoming photographers, and even creatives generally, can take a cue from Amanda’s creative process. It becomes easier to create good work consistently when you have previous pieces – whether great or fair – to revisit.
Another tip for creatives from Amanda’s creative process focuses on capturing new ideas immediately after they come and developing them as soon as possible.
“When I have ideas, I just write them down; when I’m free, I look through them to see which one is most accessible, especially if it doesn’t require me to travel out of state to shoot.” She further states, “The only thing that has been a common thread in my successive achievements has been working, shooting and constantly creating timeless works. The work I exhibited in 2018 is the same work I will be exhibiting at MoMA in 2023.”
The saying, “success occurs when opportunity meets preparation”, best describes what Amanda has done in her photography career. She even puts it better: “Do the best that you can; you never know when an opportunity will come, and when it comes, you’d want it to meet you ready.” By batch-creating quality pieces during your creative process, you’ll never be stranded when good opportunities come knocking.
Carving a Purpose in a Diverse Industry
One thing that often threatens the creativity and career of many creatives is carving a niche in a big industry. It is easy to get swallowed in a sea of similar purposes, but what makes you outstanding is redefining your purpose and sharing it with the world uniquely. Amanda has focused her photography career on creating relevance for contemporary architecture in Nigeria and documenting historical architecture to preserve Nigerian architectural heritage.
“Usually, my work goes down the path of creating a language for contemporary Nigerian architecture or documenting historical Nigerian architecture.
I ask myself which story I am leaning towards the most, and once I see any building accessible and fits into the narrative I’m trying to tell, I go for it.
Even though I don’t discriminate much about buildings that I want to shoot, I am mostly fascinated with telling stories of buildings constructed before the early 2000s. For example, I am currently in Owerri to take pictures of some buildings falling apart. That in itself is a story.”
Even after carving a niche to focus on, it isn’t all roses and blooms. Each profession presents challenges; for Amanda, financial backing has been the greatest challenge.
“Getting money to do my projects is the biggest challenge because some projects require me to travel and live in different states frequently. If I don’t have funds, I can’t go anywhere.”
To combat this issue, Amanda occasionally collaborates with other professionals to implement some of her architecture photography projects.
“I prefer to work alone because I’m usually just shooting a building, so I don’t really need many hands. However, when I get commissioned to do a body of work, I need extra hands on the set. Currently, a friend of mine and I are thinking of doing a project together where we document the same stories but from different angles. If that works out, it will be my first collaborative creative work, and in 2023, I’ll be more open to working with other people.”
Apart from shared financial costs, collaborations like this tend to expand your creative capacity and appreciate your genius reflected in others.
Another factor that can make or mar a creative career is the validity of produced works. When there’s no validation or measure of success for your creativity, it is easy to give up. For Amanda, validation for her creations comes from her ability to sell them and also to see her photographs hanging in people’s spaces and art centres.
“Photography is an expensive practice, so having my work fund my career, cover transportation costs, and enable me to buy more gear is a sign of success. Having people buy my work and hang my images in their houses is also very important and good for me. Secondly, exhibiting my works in galleries and museums makes me know that not only are they looked at as commodities but that they are also sources of inspiration and that people can engage with the narrative behind my work.”
Every creative person tends to have multiple favourite creative projects, but one usually stands out and increases the sense of validation. Amanda’s favourite is the Von Richards house in Ikoyi, which she shot in early 2022.
“Working with Remi Richards, the owner of the house and an amazing host, was one of the best parts of shooting the house. The second best part was the gorgeous house because the architecture of the house was magnificent, visually appealing, and functional at the same time. This house, built in the 1970s, is a blend of Yoruba and English cultures, so I found it extremely fascinating.”
Juggling Multiple Career Interests
Amanda is clearly one of the people who not only thrive at doing multiple things excellently but also turn their life challenges and even hobbies into inspiring platforms.
This is evident in how she leveraged her mental health challenge and training as a psychologist to establish NDIDI. This private mental health practice provides high-quality mental healthcare to Nigerians.
Amanda has also managed to incorporate creative visuals in her clinical practice to promote mental wellness in an appealing way to customers.
“At NDIDI, we have to put out creative materials that are visually appealing to our customers, so we design our website, social media pages, and the booklets we sell in our wellness store in ways that showcase creativity. One of my values is beauty, and I understood before establishing NDIDI that people trust and lean more towards beautiful and visually appealing things.”
In a bid to also use contemporary media and forms to further promote mental health, self-awareness, and critical thinking for social consciousness and wellness, Amanda shares her thoughts through her podcast and newsletter called Life. Shit.
Juggling different creative expressions is never easy, and even the most talented people require help and various methods of managing these expressions. For Amanda, growing and evolving through the different stages of her multiple careers and interests require standing still and doing nothing.
“I let go of every thought about work, be human, let my mind rest and just live life. I remember taking a 2-month break from NDIDI to relax and reevaluate what was working and what wasn’t. Taking a step back really does help.”
Occasionally taking a step back can fuel your creative engine and help you come back stronger, especially if you are managing multiple roles and projects.
Amanda believes in creating pieces that you believe in because such works will transcend time and remain relevant in decades to come. Regardless of your creative niche, these are the kind of works you can do consistently without doubts about quality or acceptance by people. However, to get here, you must pay your dues as Amanda has.
“Irrespective of what you do, if you’re just starting, do everything, and make mistakes, that’s how you know what’s good for you. Forget the ifs and what-ifs; just do it. Even if it’s rubbish on the first day, keep showing up because you’ll get better. Also, understand that creativity takes time and patience, don’t rush it. Value rest and taking a step back, and you’ll do just fine.”
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), a world-class museum in the USA that celebrates artistic creativity from across the globe, will be exhibiting some of Amanda’s best pieces in May of 2023. This fantastic global opportunity will present our multipotentialite with a bigger stage to shine, and we wish her all the best even as we cheer her to the top.