Spotlight Sessions with Odera Okoye

A new week brings about a new #SpotlightSessions. I hope you have been enjoying reading these biweekly segments and been inspired by each person's journey. 

#SpotlightSessions - shining the spotlight on everyday people with inspiring stories

This week, I interview Odera Okoye. I first came into contact with Odera after landing on Renowned - a digital platform created by Odera and his brother, Aka, which aims to explore the themes of God, faith, identity and culture through visual storytelling. From the aesthetics and vibe of the blog, I knew that the creative forces behind the site were people to watch out for. At that time, I was aware that Odera and I both attended the same University so I managed to spot him at a random African Caribbean Society event and went on to applaud him for the work he was doing towards Renowned. Since then, he has graduated from King's College London with a BA in English and is on the road to securing a bright future in the creative industry. This is a Spotlight interview you don't want to miss. So, here's the spotlight on Odera... 

1 | Tell me a bit about yourself: your background, education, age etc.

My name is Odera Okoye. I’m 22 years old, I just graduated from King’s College London in the summer with a BA in English, and I’m a freelance photographer and (budding/aspiring/fake) Director of Photography. I’ve recently been trying my hand at more video/filmmaking techniques, too; I’ll have it by the end of the year for sure.

2 | You seem to have a thing for the lens. How did you first land into the creative space and what does creativity mean to you?

I wholeheartedly believe that insane amounts of creativity reside within every human being. Being made in the image of God, the ultimate ‘creative’ (as much as I cringe at that title), we’re not called to lives of mundanity. We’re called to make, create, mould, shape, inform and direct.

As for me, I always say I kind of landed in it by accident, but in truth it’s been a prolonged process of trying to create in different facets (and quite often failing) before finding the thing that comes most easily and consistently fills me with passion and motivation. I’ve long been excited by visuals though, and creating engaging, stunning aesthetics. I started off just taking photos on my phone, as most people do – whether it was on family holidays abroad or just visiting the local museum. I fell in love with the immense possibilities of creation and just kind of progressed with it.

I only bought my first camera and took my first ever photos on it a little over a year ago now. I outgrew it pretty quickly (within a few months) because I had such a love and passion for it, I’d watch videos literally every day: gear reviews, camera tutorials, photography vlogs, behind the scenes, anything with a camera in it basically. Once the opportunity arose financially, I upgraded to the camera and lens I have now. I’ve had it for about a year now and I’m pretty much ready to make the next step up but I don’t know if my wallet is quite as ready so…

3 | On your online portfolio, you describe yourself as a 'lifestyle & fashion street wear photographer, with a passion for documenting ordinary people and their everyday stories'. What is it about people's stories that captivates you?

I think there’s something so fascinating about the individual human experience; we see many of the same people every day, but we oftentimes overlook the stories of how they got there, or even just what they’re doing, how they’re looking or how they’re feeling that day. The amount of times I’ve looked back on old shoots and not even remembered capturing a certain expression or laugh or look. I don’t really even feel like we as human beings are capable of remembering those little everyday moments, so it’s amazing to be able to actually document them and save them in time.

4 | What is Renowned and how did it come about?

Renowned is a digital magazine that explores themes of God, faith, identity and culture, through the medium of visual storytelling. We work with creative individuals (photographers, poets, writers, artists) to create stimulating and engaging content, and tell impactful stories through it that hopefully help, challenge or otherwise inspire people. It’s not even about religion – it’s just about real-life experiences and finding answers through them; God just happens to be both very real and pretty much what life is all about so He fits in quite perfectly.

Renowned of today isn’t actually the same as when we started it about a year and a half ago (and it might not even be the same by the end of the year). Originally we were highlighting ‘God in culture’ – just cool and inspiring people in music, fashion, sports and everything in-between, that were talking about or displaying their faith and the impact it had on their work and lives, or asking questions we found particularly interesting, or doing things we wanted to give more of a voice to. And we’d also write our own think-pieces and articles on topics we were grappling with ourselves. So, it really came about just through conversations between my brother and I. 

He noticed that amidst all the culture mags and zines and websites and general noise that the world constantly pushes out, there wasn’t anything we were coming across that really gave voice to the God-journey and explored life from a faith AND culture perspective. So he had the crazy idea that we should just make it ourselves. For us, we’d like to think we’re pretty down with the culture, and so it naturally just flowed out of our own experiences and what we wanted to see portrayed more. we’d previously written some articles for a publication and we only had some slight knowledge of how to maintain a website but we didn’t have the faintest idea how to build or design one from scratch, so that summer during 2nd year of university was pretty intense!

Funnily enough, when I mentioned I fell into photography almost accidentally, this is kind of what I meant. We had a vision for Renowned – how we wanted it to look, the kinds of images and articles and general aesthetic we wanted to create – but neither of us really knew anyone in the creative space like that. And we weren’t about to start paying folks out of our very limited student loan. So I bought a very basic, entry-level camera and lens and that’s when I just had to start learning everything I possibly could about it. A lot of it was on-the-job learning, being thrown into the deep end and having to survive; a lot of the time, that’s really the best way to discover your own incredible potential and capabilities.

About six months in, we decided to revamp and redesign the whole outlook of Renowned. We wanted to push ourselves to create more top-notch, cinematic content for ourselves, plan and direct things from start to finish and really just take things to a more personal and directorial level of creativity, as opposed to writing about what others were doing. So we took the website down for about a month, stripped all the content, built a whole new design template, wrote new articles and challenged ourselves in a whole new way to up the quality of our production. 

It's been a little quiet website-wise since about last summer since my brother became a full-time working man, since we started leading in church and since I'm doing a lot of other fun creative work for people. But we've pretty much adjusted to the new hectic lifestyle and schedule now. We’re en route to some big ideas for Renowned in 2018, but we’re taking the necessary baby steps.

5 | Is faith important to you? If so, why?

People are really lost and struggling to figure out this crazy thing called life. For me, I just reckon they’re not tuned in to the right frequency, or the right source. I've sampled the lifestyle that the world is selling and it's pretty dead, I can't lie; there's no real longevity in it and people just seem depressed and stressed all the time. God definitely doesn’t provide you all the answers right away (to be honest, where's the adventure in that anyway?) and your faith definitely doesn’t just make life problem-free but the journey of human existence becomes a whole lot clearer and more purposeful. You gain a sense of direction and a peace that really does just pass all our human understanding. But it’s honestly a journey because I don’t think you can ever really say you’ve ‘arrived’ at a final destination. And that’s kind of the whole beauty of it – that constant growth and revelation as God just opens you up to more and more of His vast wisdom. Life could be so much simpler for so many people if they’d just follow the right map. To go through the whole of life trying to figure things out in your own strength, not having that assured and secure faith in something so real? That’s a life really and truly wasted, in my book.

6 | Top tips for anyone hoping to get into the creative space?

I don’t think I’m equipped to answer this question because I wouldn’t even really say I’m safely ‘in the space’ like that; there are aims and visions and goals far beyond where I’m at with all this stuff currently. But the advice I’d give (because I’m giving myself it currently) is: grind, grind and grind some more. To me that means: learn everything your brain has room for about your craft and passion; push yourself out of your comfort zone; persevere out of a love and enjoyment for what you do, and not a desire for acknowledgment or fame or wealth. It’s the same with anything in life that you’re passionate about, really – you need to be excited and enjoying every step of the process (difficult times and all), before God can even bless you (which really just means ‘trust you’) with the big-time.

Fire Question Round

First thing you do when you get up in the morning?
Right now it’s push-ups because otherwise I’d just want to get back into bed.
I’d be lying if I said it was ‘reading my bible like a fine Christian man’ because I have to wade through all the (one, sometimes even two) notifications I received during the night before I can get to the app. I should do something about that, probably.

Worst place you could get stuck?
A packed train carriage when you need to sneeze (or fart).

Last track you listened to?
It was the church band’s set list for tomorrow, I can’t lie, but that doesn’t count. A2’s BLUE album has been getting plenty of reloads recently.

Two things that have impressed you this week
1. How quickly our youth church singers are getting to grips with the tricky songs we’re throwing at them.
2. My brother’s discipline when it comes to his healthy eating. Yeah. Like, damn.

What do you wish you knew more about?
Where do I even begin? Right now at the top of the list is 'How to play keyboard like a real boss and not the fraudster that I currently am'.

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