When gal-dem launched its print issue in 2016, it was still blossoming into the media platform it is today. That first print launch came just a year into gal-dem’s journey as a platform providing a space for young women and non-binary people of colour to express themselves, uninhibited by the traditionally white and wealthy communities that so often dominate the creative industries.
The first cover of gal-dem’s print editions was a delicate portrait by photographer Dana Washington-Queen of R&B singer Joyce Wrice, with Joyce’s eyes closed in gentle contemplation in front of a powder blue background. Five years on from that first dreamy shot, the annual magazine has become a celebration of, and collaboration among, an exciting rising creative community. As we launch our 2021 issue, centred around the theme of The Roaring Twenties, we look back at the artists who made gal-dem’s covers sing, and what they are up to today.
Dana is a visual artist from Buena Park, California. Their practice spans a range of visual formats including photography and film. Around the time of the first gal-dem cover, Dana was known for their intimate portraits, such as the 2015 series ‘Awa’, which they said was to “counter the images the media portrays of people of colour”. They are also a respected music photographer, shooting SiR for the promotion of his debut album, Seven Sundays, in 2015, and the cover for Tiffany Gouché’s EP Pillow Talk was released in the same year.
Today, Dana also works with landscapes. Their series, Chicago, 2020, consists of black and white photographs of nature accompanied by field recordings titled ‘c/o sound bodies’. The recordings feature people in Long Beach, California and Chicago engaging in outdoor activities including walking, gardening and building. Last year, they also co-founded Black Farm Studio House, a non-profit organisation that connects art, agriculture and wellness through public programs, community engagement and resource sharing.
In September 2022, an exhibition of their work will be exhibited at The Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).
gal-dem’s second print issue, on the theme of ‘Home’, was photographed by then-rising star Nadine Ijiwere. Nadine’s cover photograph shows South London musician Ray BLK in a yellow playsuit, sitting on a wooden stool while staring intensely into the camera. In 2017, Nadine was already known for the diversity of the models she featured in her work. Now, she’s become even more renowned for her striking photographs that subvert commonly accepted notions of beauty. In 2017, Nadine was commissioned for Stella McCartney fashion campaign in Lagos and, in 2018, became the first woman of colour to shoot a cover for any edition of Vogue in the publication’s 125-year history.
But it doesn’t stop there. In October 2021, Nadine released her first monograph Our Own Selves, continuing the narrative of her oeuvre. “When I started exploring photography in the magazines I’d flick through, I would think to myself, ‘Well…’ I never saw anyone that really looked like my friends or anyone I could relate to in those images,” she says of the book to the Guardian. “If they were people of colour or Black women, they were all light-skinned and had European features. If they had curly hair, it was blow-dried straight to match the white women. None of my friends really looked like that.”
For gal-dem’s ‘Secrets’ issue in 2018, Kiran Gidda shot Grammy-award winning musician NAO for one of the two covers. The self-taught photographer is known for her colourful images and emotive portraits. She has taken pictures of a number of musicians including Kilo Kish, Corinne Bailey Rae, Dizee Rascal, Megan Thee Stallion, models such as Aweng Ade-Chuol and published work in Billboard and Nylon.
Mahaneela is a multidisciplinary artist working with film, photography and music. She has taken portraits of a roster of notable people within the creative world including Julie Adenuga, Adwoa Aboah and Wunmi Mosaku. She has also directed a number of music videos including for Disclosure, Trey Songz, and Nigerian artist Dyo’s ‘Go All the Way’ featuring Mr Eazi, a nostalgic piece inspired by the vintage photography of Malick Sidibé, James Barnor, Seydou Keïta, and Samuel Fosso. Also, all the stunning shots from Issa Rae’s #SeasonByeve event? She did that.
For gal-dem’s 2018 dual cover, she photographed R&B and pop singer Raveena, who had released her debut album Shanti the previous year. “I started photographing because I saw something missing within the photography space,” Mahaneela told POPSUGAR in June last year. “Black and brown people should be cherished and celebrated, and that has always been my intention with my work.”
Nwaka Okparaeke’s images have graced gal-dem’s covers on more than one occasion. The first time was for the ‘un/rest’ issue in 2019 and again in 2020 for gal-dem’s community covers, celebrating people who have supported their communities, where she shot singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama.
Nwaka is a film director and photographer focussing on the relationship between peace, love, freedom and everyday experiences. The dream-like quality of her photographs have attracted big brands such as Nike and ASOS, seen her photograph artists such as Lil Simz and direct music videos for the likes of Demae. She has also photographed both Marcus Rashford and Burna Boy for TIME, Tierra Whack for Crack Magazine, Celeste for Wonderland and more.
For gal-dem’s 2020 community covers, Yossy photographed Nottingham East Labour MP Nadia Whittome in an elegant white ensemble that contrasted with the bright blue stairs she sat on – giving new meaning to the ‘business casual’ look with joggers and a blazer. The photograph was both soft and elegant, while simultaneously demanding your attention.
Yossy has made a name for herself as a seasoned street style photographer, appearing in Refinery29’s London Fashion Week coverage and working with brands such as Adidas. For the people in the fashion world, being papped by a street style photographer is one of the most coveted moments of attending fashion events – and in some cases even your Sunday best won’t cut it among the outfits worn by some of the world’s trendiest people. Her job entails “running from venue to venue trying to find the most interesting and eye-stopping outfits out there. I’ve lost count of exactly how many people’s Instagrams I’ve asked for after taking their picture,” she told Marie Claire.
Joanna Legid (Joanna Catherine Schröder)
Oumi Janta’s mesmerising rollerblading dominated the internet in 2020, and Berlin-based fashion photographer Joanna Legid’s community cover contrasted a playful outfit with a commanding pose, illustrating the power Oumi said she feels while skating in the cover’s accompanying interview.
Joanna seeks to create portraits with a fierce and honest approach to the person captured. She has photographed a range of big names for both commissions and personal use including Adwoa Aboah, Tommy Genesis and Eris Drew. Her images can also be found in BLONDE Magazine, a publication she has also written for, Refinery29 Germany, and many others. She also co-founded heartxwork, an online platform and magazine for creatives of colour living in Germany.
Photographer, set designer, and non-binary artist Furmaan Ahmed shot Tobi Kyeremateng’s theatre-inspired community cover, a hauntingly beautiful image of Tobi in a deconstructed skirt by Jenn Lee, reminiscent of the sort you’d expect in a production of Black Swan.
Furmaan’s surreal otherworld-like photographs have captured the unique personalities of artists such as Willow Smith, Dorian Electra, Sasha Velour, and the late SOPHIE. “I hope people can connect to that part of their imaginations to explore more of what could be,” they say in her profile by Dazed in February. Their work is inspired by mysticism, magic and religion. “I want you to feel like you’ve experienced a glitch in reality for a second,” they add.
Freelance photographer, Nicole Ngai’s clients include British Vogue, i-D, Dazed Digital, Vogue Italia, Metal Magazine, Refinery29 and Southbank Centre. She shot The Black Curriculum founder Lavinya Stennett for the second community cover.
Nicole’s photographs regularly have a distinctively intimate style, something she explores in her photobook Threads, published in 2019. “I’m really interested in bodies,” she said to i-D in March 2020. “There’s always a juxtaposition of vulnerability coupled with strength in my work, and on this line a certain sensuality emerges. I like the idea of things teetering on this sort of line and the tension it brings.”
She has also co-founded a zine called Tender, where she explores the temporalities of photography and the changing of seasons in nature.
Mia Sakai is a creative director, freelance photographer and editor-in-chief of the independent bi-annual art and fashion magazine Aether. gal-dem’s most recent cover, ‘The Roaring Twenties’, by Mia is in line with her signature vibrant editorial shots, which often have a sense of otherworldliness to them.
Mia started Aether in 2015 while studying at Camberwell University, hoping to use it as a way to showcase her and her peers’ work. It has since grown into a large community known as the Aetherverse, giving young creatives the opportunity to see their work in print. “As I started creating issues of Aether, I realised I didn’t have to limit myself to only doing it as a hobby – I could use Aether as a way to experiment and create a platform not only for my peers but for my own work too,” Mia told careers website Hundo. “Once I experienced the power of collaboration and what I could create I fell in love.”