Liz Johnson Artur, the Cult Russian-Ghanaian Photographer Tapped By Fenty

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Liz Johnson Artur South London Gallery
Liz Johnson Artur, Nigerian Party, 1995Courtesy of the artist

London-based photographer Liz Johnson Artur has shot Rihanna’s latest Fenty campaign in Peckham

Who? “I didn’t plan to photograph the African diaspora for 30 years, I think I just grew into it,” photographer Liz Johnson Artur told Dazed earlier this year. “It became my way of looking at things.” Johnson Artur’s ongoing fascination with documenting the people of the African diaspora is collated in a wide-reaching series entitled the Black Balloon Archive, to which the photographer is continually adding. The image-maker was born in Bulgaria to Russian-Ghanian parents, and it was in 1980s New York that she was inspired to take pictures of close-knit black communities. Since moving to London in 1991, Johnson Artur has captured the city’s inhabitants at parties, club nights, church services or simply on the streets of Brixton, Peckham, Elephant and Castle, and beyond. 

Her extensive photography of London has been showcased this summer at the South London Gallery in an exhibition charting her extraordinary vision of the city (which closes next week). “One reason I started doing these pictures is I didn’t see them anywhere [else]. I saw glamour shots, sports shots, and horror shots, but I didn’t see regular life – people just being represented for who they are,” she has explained. “I guess that’s how I got into it, and that’s why I’m still doing it.”

What? Now, Rihanna has tapped Johnson Artur to shoot the newest Fenty campaign. The LVMH-backed fashion label, which the former AnOther cover star launched earlier this year, drops its latest collection today: featuring jersey separates (coats and jackets are rendered in the soft sweatshirt material), satin double-lapel blazers, knitwear, and the brand’s first pair of boots, the pieces aim to “challenge and transform traditions of men’s suiting”. For the accompanying campaign, Johnson Artur captures the collection in Peckham, south-east London, in a series of photographs that explore “themes of sisterhood and shameless extravagance”. 

Why? With Rihanna’s Fenty designs captured on the streets of Peckham, Johnson Artur’s latest study of black culture is transatlantic. The resulting images capture an energetic, bold spirit that is typical of both Fenty and the characters Johnson Artur has routinely photographed. Much of Johnson Artur’s previous work has been interested in fashion: from photographing Jason’s Closet and fellow London club-kids or approaching someone because their unique style catches her attention. “At the end of the day, that’s what my pictures try to represent: people who are who they are... I want to celebrate them, but more than anything I want to make a point that there is so much out there... Maybe [my photography] will help make ‘normality’ a more inclusive place,” Johnson Artur has said. “That’s what I can hope for.”

Fenty Release 8–19 is available online from August 28, 2019.

Liz Johnson Artur: If You Know the Beginning, the End is No Trouble is at South London Gallery until September 1, 2019.