As a first-generation American born to Ghanaian parents, Darren Agboh didn’t grow up thinking that a career in photography was even an option.
“My family is not artistic,” he says with a laugh. “And I mean that in a respectful way. School was always the first priority when I was growing up. Creativity was seen as this fun little extra curricular activity, not something to be taken seriously, like becoming a doctor or lawyer.”
Agboh was actually on his way to becoming a doctor of social psychology when he started taking photographs in 2016.
“I was so stressed out with everything and needed an outlet. At that same time, a few friends of mine were quitting their full-time jobs and becoming photographers, and they suggested that I pick up a camera to de-stress.”
So, he did.
“I started off doing street photography in New York City. I would leave my phone at home, go downtown, and just walk around the city for hours, taking photos of all the things I saw. It was all very innocent at first, but once I started to share my work online, people really gravitated towards it and started offering me opportunities.”
Read on to discover more about Agboh’s self-taught approach to photography, and the inspiration he finds behind the lens.
Shutterstock: Do you have any sort of formal training?
Darren Agboh: No. The streets of New York were my training grounds.
I was fortunate to begin my creative career in one of the most bustling artistic cities at a time when the Black community in New York was undergoing a sort of renaissance. Ideas were raw and ripe for the picking and collaboration was easy because everyone was willing to create together.
Everything creative I’ve done has mostly been in a “baptism-by-fire” manner. Someone reaches out to me with a creative idea or need and I figure it out. Maybe over the past three to four years is when I’ve been able to really hone in and be more intentional about the work I’m doing and how it intersects with my social psychology degree.
SSTK: How so?
Agboh: Social psychology looks at the ways in which the social world influences people’s thoughts, feelings, motivations, and behaviors. Basically, social norms have an effect on people’s self-concept, how they think and behave towards others, and how people think others will treat them based on these social norms.
So, negative stereotypes of certain social groups can really affect the self-concept of people who come from those social groups, as well as the behaviors that people display towards people from negatively stereotyped groups.
This is why photography is important for changing social norms, because it has the ability to dismantle people’s narratives about the social world.
As I navigated through my photography career, I began to notice that I am in a perfect position to use photography to dismantle people’s negative stereotypes about marginalized groups. I use photography as a means of giving voice to the lived experiences of those who are oftentimes not given the freedom of authentic representation in mainstream media and imagery.
SSTK: Which of your photo projects are you most proud of?
Agboh: In December of 2019, I went to Ghana for the “Year of Return,” where the Ghanaian government called out to people of African descent across the world to return to Ghana and reconnect to their roots 400 years after the first slave ship left the Gold Coast.
While I was there, I took the time to pursue my own creative projects from start to finish, for the first time.
Ghana Affiliated was a project designed to showcase three different tribes that co-exist in Ghana—the Ashanti, the Ewe, and the Hausa Tribes—and create modern, artistic, photographic representations of people from those tribes.
To do this, I searched the street markets far and wide for tribal cloth from each of these groups, and found models that belonged to each of the tribes. I then took portraits of the models in front of their tribal cloths.
In post-production, I turned the models black-and-white to accentuate the physical attributes of each tribe, as well as to highlight the rich and vibrant colors associated with each tribe’s cloth.
It is a story of cultural identity, tribal history, and aesthetic beauty, all packaged in a series of photographs.
License these images via Darren Agboh x2 x3.
SSTK: And how did you get into stock?
Agboh: I think the COVID-19 pandemic really had people questioning what they wanted to do with their lives.
I was really focused on client-directed photography projects, but during the pandemic I started to realize exactly how I wanted to use my voice as a photographer . . . and stock felt like a good place to do that.
I applied to The Create Fund as part of my effort to break into the industry and, a year later, I got a call asking me if I wanted to take part in the program.
SSTK: A year? That’s a long time!
Agboh: Yes, but it worked out. A month before, I had $7,000 worth of equipment stolen from me, so the money I got from The Create Fund allowed me to get back on my feet after that loss.
SSTK: So, what’s next for you?
Agboh: I can’t give away all my plans! But, I am working on a long-form portraiture project of Black couples. I want Black women around the world to know that they are loved by their Black male counterparts.
SSTK: What advice do you have for other aspiring creatives?
Agboh: Representation is everywhere. You just have to be willing to have open eyes and open ears to listen and observe, and have honest intentions to represent people authentically.
License this cover image via Darren Agboh.