We spoke with Washington, D.C. wedding photographer Kanayo Adibe about growing up in Nigeria, having an "extreme personality," and being a feminist dad.
Liz: Can you tell us a bit about your background? What was growing up like for you?
Kanayo: I was born in the U.S. but grew up in Nigeria. My dad was a Harvard Business School graduate and Bank Managing Director, and my mom was an Architect who got her graduate degree from Yale. So I guess I can say I didn't have a rough childhood. I spent all my formative years in Nigeria and came to America for college in the summer of 2002. I graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County with a BS and MS in information systems and worked for IT companies afterward. It wasn't 'til January of 2014 that I decided to learn how to make photographs.
Liz: What was your transition like from Nigeria to the U.S.?
Kanayo: It was pretty seamless, aside from learning the accent and pronunciation of words so you get laughed at less. As a kid, we frequently visited America, and in Nigeria we watched a lot of American TV and listened to the music, as well, so we were pretty in touch with how things were here. There was not really any culture shock because, in a sense, we stayed updated with the culture here.
Liz: How did you choose your degrees in college/graduate school?
Kanayo: Well in Nigeria, there are only a few things you can be. Every parent expects their child to either be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or something that essentially guarantees you a high-paying job at some point in your career. Shortly after I graduated high school, I got my first computer and really took an interest in it. That interest was essentially what led to my information systems degrees. I remember after I took my first class, I called my dad and told him I wanted to switch my major to graphic design. I'm sure we all know how that went.
Liz: (laughs) How did that go, exactly?
Kanayo: (laughs) I think he said something along the lines of, "What are you going to do with a graphic design degree? Finish up with information systems, and you can do graphic design in grad school." I never did graphic design in grad school.
Liz: So what was your path like after grad school?
Kanayo: After grad school I worked for a few healthcare companies in IT where I was a programmer/systems analyst working with electronic medical records (EMRs). I supported these healthcare apps and helped build user interfaces used by healthcare providers to deliver care to their patients. It wasn't 'til about early/mid 2014 that I started my photography business.
Liz: And what inspired starting a photography business?
Kanayo: My fiancée, now wife, bought me a camera for Christmas. So she tends to buy me enabling gifts when she notices a new interest I may have. I think I have an extreme personality, so say you give me 10-pound weights, I may end up a body builder, or you buy me a bike, I may start biking 20 miles a day. All of this happened by the way. So she gave me a camera, and it ended up as a photography business.
Liz: I love that. So how is it going?
Kanayo: I am pretty pleased with the progress I have made in the time that I have been shooting, and I am even more pleased with some of my earlier accomplishments when I was still trying to figure things out.
Liz: Are you full-time in your business?
Kanayo: Photography isn't my sole income source; I believe in diversification and multiple sources of income—something I learned from my dad and some of the richest people in America. But I do put a lot of my time into it and choose to cap my weddings at 20 a year for that reason.
Liz: So, today is "Woke Wednesday." Do you consider yourself woke, feminist, or otherwise a social justice advocate?
Kanayo: All of the above. I come from a society that is heavily patriarchal, and being a man with only one child that happens to be a girl, my culture pretty much suggests that I keep trying 'til I get a boy. Because as a Nigerian Igbo man, I must have a boy to carry on my name and inherit my property and so on. But in my world, my daughter can and will do that because I believe it is her birthright, and she is as capable as anyone else of doing it. Maybe except the carrying on of my name. I guess she'll have to hyphenate.
Liz: So how do you apply your values to your photography and business?
Kanayo: I think the easiest way to explain it would be to say that I do not discriminate based on race, religion, gender, sexual preference, or creed. If you are comfortable with a black, non-hypocritical Christian, heterosexual, male making photographs of you, I am comfortable with making said photographs for you. As long as you are a good person and we click in a working capacity, we are good to go.
Liz: Right. Are there any ways you would like to see the wedding photography industry shift or change?
Kanayo: Absolutely! Just like with everything else, there is a huge lack of diversity in the mainstream—publications, conferences, and so on. To get black weddings featured, you almost always have to submit to a black-owned publication. Tons of conferences frequently have a full line up of white-only speakers. And there are some areas that are male-dominated that could also have some women, too.
Liz: Definitely. Is there anything else you would like to say or add?
Kanayo: I don't think so. (laughs)
Liz: Well thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with me!
Kanayo: My pleasure.