Photographer Coco Olakunle (she/her) shares her definition of a ‘sense of home’, the theme of Journal 002, and how it translates into her day-to-day creative and community work.
Coco Olakunle creates the images she wishes she’d seen growing up.
Known for crafting images that celebrate Black identity, hair and joy, the self-taught photographer based in Amsterdam has honed her photography working on campaigns for brands like Filling Pieces, Ivy Park and Nike. Her editorial work has featured in publications including The Face, Dazed, Vogue Italia and Harper’s Bazaar.
Born and raised in the Netherlands with roots in Lagos, Nigeria, Coco first got into photography as a teenager.
“I got this old camera for my birthday,” she explains.
“It was super slow so I’d push the button, run in front and take pictures of myself – this was a long time before selfies were a thing. I’d take pictures in nature with friends, we’d go to abandoned buildings and have adventures then I’d rush home to edit everything.
“I was finding a way to express myself – it was around this time that I found out I was dyslexic so it made sense for me to work with visuals.”
Representation is a running theme throughout Coco’s work with a specific focus on Blackness and celebrating Black joy. These themes were important even in her earliest exploration of photography with a series dedicated to her sisters and the intimacy of doing each others’ hair.
“Black joy is important,” says Coco.
“It’s something that I’ve missed out on and I see how other people glow when they celebrate themselves. It’s how we start to feel seen and appreciated.
“We don’t need to wait for other people for validation. I take pride and joy in celebrating us. Joy is fuel for us and people like us.
And why the focus on hair?
“The short story is that our hair is beautiful, I love photographing it – it’s as simple as that.”
In Journal 002, we asked Coco to share what a sense of home meant to her. She chose to celebrate her connection to family in Lagos especially the close bond she has with her Aunty Mary – who gets her braids done in the series.
“Navigating Nigeria isn’t always easy. Being with my Aunty Mary helps me feel centred and at peace – she gives me that feeling of home.
“Spending time with her is important. It’s with her that I feel most grounded.
“Even though she is blind and deaf, we communicate by tracing letters in the palm of her hand. So she knows I’m there, I let her touch my hair. My curls feel a little different to my cousins’.
“Home for me is where you receive love unconditionally – I feel it in Aunty Mary’s hug.”
The influence of Coco’s West African heritage is felt in her photography and her latest project, creative studio Showroom.
Co-founded with collaborator Carmen Hogg and based in Amsterdam East, Showroom brings together photography, fashion, music and retail.
It’s also a spot for community events like screenings, pop-ups, panel discussions and Coco’s photography book clubs where food, meeting fellow creatives and getting inspired combine.
“Showroom is a place where the productions I’ve been doing together with Carmen in Nigeria come together,” says Coco.
“It was a way for us to meet people, build friendships, become familiar with the community and showcase the people, talent and brands that we met there.
“We needed a space that shows and breathes the things that we’re passionate about in our own way and develop a community at the same time.
“My personal goal is to hold events for others – everyone who comes by says that the space feels like home and I really want to build on that.”
This article was first published in print in Journal 002 and released in December 2022. Showroom opened its doors in April 2023. Alongside the creative studio and her commercial projects, Coco runs a community photography program where she mentors BIPOC girls, young women and non-binary folks based in Amsterdam.