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Alumna’s photography visually documents her struggle with self-identity through photography

Alumna’s photography visually documents her struggle with self-identity through photography

Alumna’s photography visually documents her struggle with self-identity through photography
February 18
13:00 2023

Not many people would go to the lengths of sitting through a 10-hour car ride with a person they barely know to take a series of photographs.  

However, with her camera and a vision, university alumna Amani Sodiq-Odunaiya, 22, conceptualizes her emotions in her photography through any means necessary.

“The images I create allow me to somewhat immortalize and honor my pain,” Sodiq-Odunaiya said. “My own personal experiences and stories have inspired my favorite work that I’ve created.”

Sodiq-Odunaiya is a Nigerian-American queer woman, and much of the artist’s photography is an expression of her identity. Throughout her childhood, she felt like a queer identity was one only white individuals could experience. However, through her photography, she became more confident in her sexuality and set out to reach others who were once in her same position. 

“We can exist in different ways and identities,” Sodiq-Odunaiya said. “I thought that was important for other people to see in my photography.” 

Sodiq-Odunaiya was born in Irving, Texas but spent most of her childhood in Nigeria. She moved back to the United States in 2016, but found the sudden shift in culture affected her mental health. While struggling with her first experience with depression, she was introduced to the creative outlet that would save her life. 

“While my family didn’t know how to handle my depression, they could sense something was going on,” Sodiq-Odunaiya said. “Because of this, my uncle gave me this polaroid camera as a means to distract me from what I was going through.”

Sodiq-Odunaiya’s cousin, Precious Adegunle, 23, was a witness to the difference the photographer’s new creative outlet made in her life. Adegunle watched what started as a gift from a family member morph into something more for Sodiq-Odunaiya.

“She’s always been creative,” Adegunle said. “So when we had just come back from Nigeria and she really started to express how she wanted to pursue photography further, I knew she had it in her to make this happen.”

When Sodiq-Odunaiya started attending college to further her knowledge in photography and videography, her mental health still made it hard for her to find friends. However, she quickly learned that by using her camera as an icebreaker, she was able to form relationships. 

“There were a couple of times where I would muster up the courage to go up to a random person and ask to take a photo of them,” Sodiq-Odunaiya said. “My camera gave me an avenue that I wouldn’t expect to start some of my best friendships.”

As her camera continued to allow Sodiq-Odunaiya to navigate her depression and anxiety in college, she equally furthered her career and was offered exhibition spots and job opportunities from her visual portfolio. However, after graduating in 2020 and finding a professional job in her field, the university alumna still found herself struggling with depression — even while doing what she loved. 

“I was just in this void,” Sodiq-Odunaiya said. “I found myself searching and running, but not towards anything and not away from anything either.”

When Sodiq-Odunaiya was at her lowest, she felt herself imagining a place she could slip away from the turbulence in her life. It was then, through her therapeutic creative process, she found herself researching places she could bring a new vision to life. 

The photographer landed upon pictures of White Sands National Park in New Mexico, where the vast desert clicked with her vision. She decided to contact fellow photographer and university alumna Erykah Franklin, who she had met only once prior, and pitched the idea to her.

“I just asked, ‘Hey, I know you don’t really know me, but are you willing to get in a car with me and drive 10 hours to New Mexico to take photos?’” Sodiq-Odunaiya said. “She agreed somehow.”

The two photographers got to know each other during the ride and bonded over their similar ideologies and identities. The trip quickly became an example of how Sodiq-Odunaiya is able to create relationships through her camera.

“We’re both photographers and so we both know to focus on the creation of the image,” Franklin said. “But we can also create everlasting relationships with the people we shoot and work with and that’s what I took away from the trip. ”

When Franklin saw the final product they had created through the photoshoot, she was amazed by Sodiq-Odunaiya’s work. Overall, Sodiq-Odunaiya’s new friend was grateful to have been part of such an intimate piece of her art.

“I’ve always loved her creative process being a healing journey for her,” Franklin said. “There’s just a rawness that she provides in her photography.”

Image Credit Amani Sodiq-Odunaiya

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