Episode #3: Navigating Online Fame and Real-Life Finances with Fati Abubakar
On this episode of Creative + Moneywise, photographer Fati Abubakar talks about navigating online fame and real-life finances after her “Bits of Borno” photo project went viral. Plus, we discuss pushing for equitable freelance pay and dealing with racism in the photo industry. Tune in wherever you get your podcasts.
Fati is a photographer and public health worker based in Borno State, Nigeria, which is where she was born and grew up. Her “Bits of Borno” project showcases her hometown at the time of Boko Haram. Her photos have been featured in the New York Times, CNN and Nigerian media such as ThisDay and The Blueprint. Fati also has a weekly photo column in The Daily Trust newspaper.
Cinematic Orchestra Cello Loop by Wanderexplore
Happy Upbeat Cello by Audiokraken
Dramamine by Sound of Picture
Spring Solstice by Sound of Picture
Jester by Sound of Picture
Your Call by Kevin MacLeod with a Creative Commons License
Light Touch by Sound of Picture
Odyssey by Kevin MacLeod with a Creative Commons License
On My Way by Kevin MacLeod with a Creative Commons License
Hearts Aflutter by Sound of Picture
FULL TRANSCRIPT from 01:15
Laura Hi, Fati, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today.
Fati Thank you for inviting me.
Laura Yeah, so, you and I actually met in person a few years ago in Washington, D.C.
Fati Yeah, I was in DC actually for an exhibition and also projects that I was a part of. There was this documentary that Voice of America had done about the conflict in our region. So, they had invited me for that . It had won an award so I had gone there as part of the team. That was why I was in DC and I don’t know how we met, was it Instagram? Or Facebook?
Laura I feel like it was Instagram or maybe this secret Facebook group we’re a part of. Uhhh, before we jump into the interview, I just have to ask you if you’ve watched any good Korean dramas lately because I know you love them.
Fati Ooooh! Oh my god, something happened, I posted again a picture of one of the actors. And then there was this girl who’s all the way in Lebanon. She’s half Nigerian and half Lebanese and she said, “You should join our WhatsApp group. We’re watching a new one.” I said, “Perfect, I found new people to watch with.” And then she added me to the WhatsApp group and it’s called Seoul Sisters, like Seoul, Korea. So we’re all Seoul Sisters.
Stranger is the one that they’re currently watching. I don’t have good Internet to watch it, honestly. It’s very expensive Internet here. So, I’m watching like bits of pieces of it. But I’m optimistic that it’s worth it. I’m gonna pay to watch what I need to watch. I romanticize Korea a lot because of the K-Dramas. And I don’t know why I never paid attention to Korea in the first place but I’m glad I found it eventually.
Laura I’m glad you found it, too. I mean, Korea’s a tiny country between two behemoth world powers and economic powers. But they have amazing cultural power out of Korea. OK, now that we’ve gotten… Now that we’ve gotten caught up on Korean Dramas, ummm, let’s move on. So, Fati, tell me a little bit about your life growing up.
Fati Well, my life growing up was honestly very boring. My whole life was a routine. I went to an integrated school that had Western education and Islamic education and also was teaching traditional languages at the same time. So, it was a very full curriculum. We would go from seven and come back at 6 pm. And on the weekends, our town is known for the weddings. So, every weekend there’s a wedding. So, we have to dress up and go and my mother would insist that we go to the wedding. And then there were so many events. Saturdays are just for events in this town: naming ceremonies, there are funerals.
I always say I grew up in color, chaos, corruption and a lot of culture. I would say that I had a very, very happy childhood because I grew up oblivious to a lot of things. My father bought me a bicycle and my uncle would take us on picnics. And I also tried to learn swimming. My dad would take us swimming and we would go to the lake. You know, we would try fishing, etc., so…..
Laura I love that one of your growing up activities you listed is going to weddings. That’s so joyful. So, did photography fit into your childhood?
Fati Umm, no. The Nigerian society always wants either a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer. So, there’s the classic professional courses that are expected of, you know, any individual that wants to do well in life. So, I didn’t have any art surrounding me. My mom was also buying me a lot of books. So, I was interested in fiction at the time when I was 14.
But when I moved to university, one of my friends was studying mass communications and I was interested in journalism at the time and I remember after classes I would ask her, so, what did they teach you? I was in medical college, all the way across the other side. But I would, like, ask her questions, etc. I enjoyed going to some of the classes where they would paint. So, those were things that I saw.
No one took that department serious. And it’s sad saying that because we have such a rich cultural heritage. But there are no paintings. There are no sculptures that I’ve seen when I was growing up. I didn’t see any uh you know beautiful imagery that I would say, like was hanging in museums. So, there was nothing honestly.
Laura I’m not familiar at all with the Nigerian education system. Is this a system where very early on you’re tracked into a certain kind of study path?
Fati Yeah. So, like at 13 you have to decide whether it’s science you’re going into or arts you’re going into or maybe social sciences. Nobody asked me what my dreams were, you know. Oh, you’re really good, your grades are really good, you’re getting As. Go to science. And then, oh, you’re not doing so well. You should go to the arts. It’s like a terrible way of viewing the arts.
So, I went to medical college to fulfill those dreams of being a doctor that my parents had. I ended up getting a score that wasn’t high enough to be a doctor but was OK to do other courses within the allied health professional department. So, I went to nursing and to be honest, I really enjoyed being in nursing. And I don’t regret it at all because I think that it definitely taught me a lot about the world. It taught me so much about societal problems and the origins of them. They call it community health nursing and you would spend six weeks in a village and you would have a report at the end of the outing that would state what problems exist in the community and what you think are the solutions — what solutions you offer.Now it merges well with what I’m doing.
Laura It sounds like you did enjoy being a nurse. Was there any point in your nursing career when you really started to feel like, uh, photography is it? Or was that totally separate and much later?
Fati Yeah, it was much later. I was interested in community health nursing and human behavior, so I thought you know, I wanted to study public health. I want to expand further on what we can do on the preventive side of things. So, I went to London to study public health. And then, they were teaching us using media for health. And they brought in this woman who did this beautiful presentation about using infomercials, commercials, animation, all the different ways you can talk about health problems within a society but in visual ways. So, that work for me was the trigger. I was just fascinated. I hadn’t seen a lot of that before.
Laura What year was this in London when you saw this visual presentation? Is that when you felt like, OK, this is what I want to do. And then you started doing it?
Fati No, like when I saw it, I was really, really interested. I went to London in September 2013. And around 2014 the following year was when there was so much intense media frenzy around the Chibok Girls. And they were abducted around that time in 2014 and then there were so many other killings. It was so much that I just couldn’t cope.
Laura I remember that time, and yeah, it must have been really hard for you.
Fati Yeah, it was very difficult. Unfortunately, I spiraled into a depression while I was there because before I left my hometown, there was like a lot of terrorist attacks. The conflict was really intense. And you know so many villages were destroyed. There were like 2 to 3 bomb blasts a week. There were suicide bombers everywhere.
So, when I left, I left knowing that I was privileged enough to leave. But a lot of people that I knew, some of my family members, were still there. So, watching that on the news, on Facebook, on Twitter, etc., was really depressing and I spiraled into a depression and I was seeing a therapist. I was put on medication. But I remember after that class, I wanted to buy a camera.
So, I bought a camera. I was walking around London and I learnt it on my own. I used YouTube and I approached my professor and said, “I want to talk about what is happening at home.”
And he said, “Can you go back home to do the research?”
I said, “No, unfortunately not.”
But he said, “OK, why don’t you, you know, tailor your research to some of the refugees that we have here in this school who are also going through the same things, who are, you know, from war-torn countries and cannot go back and are sort of having an education as all of these things are happening or maybe as they’re nostalgic for home?”
So, I started researching on the psychological impact of war on refugees, especially in a school setting.
Laura From what you’re saying, it sounds like getting a camera and starting to look at the world around you might have helped you come out of that depression. Did I misunderstand that?
Fati Yeah, like when I bought the camera. I noticed that every time I would go for a long walk and take my camera with me, I was really happy and I would take an image and just capturing a really nice image made me incredibly happy. So, I think having a camera was very therapeutic for me.
So, I got tired of living in the UK. I started working as a nurse’s assistant but I wanted to go back home. So, I decided to come back in 2015 and when I came back it was such a contrast from what I’d seen in the media about what was happening in my hometown. I remember calling my mom and she kept saying, “We’re fine. We’re fine.” But it was hard to believe from afar. So, when I came back, I saw that exact resilience that I was reading about, you know. This is a conflict zone. There are so many people living in it. There are many people who are traumatized but there are also some other people who are traumatized but wake up every day, going out to look for something to eat, to like go, go try something new.
I also was enraged by the fact that a lot of media coverage at that time was focusing so much on people who had died. We had literally become numbers. There were no faces of survivors. Like 5,000 die. 200 girls were abducted. So, I just felt like it wasn’t humane. I was always curious about, ok, what about the people who survived? How are they coping? Like, when Eid happened, you know, we go, we still go out and we still celebrate Eid. We go to the mosque, you know. During Christmas people still go to the church.
Laura Yeah, I think when we look at the news, we hear conflict zone and we imagine that every single part of this area is completely in chaos. But it’s not like that. And that’s what comes through in your pictures for Bits of Borno.
Fati Yeah, when I was looking on Facebook, I saw Humans of New York. And I thought that was so beautiful. Like, he stops people on the street, he asks them questions and these incredible, profound stories come out of it. So, I think for me, that was a beautiful way of looking at things. So, I walked, walked around every day. I would stop just random individuals and these incredible stories were coming out.
Laura OK. Do you remember the first post that went kind of viral?
Fati Wow, it’s hard to tell because it was really, really slow. But there was one little girl who I went to a school for orphans and I took a photo of her. She was really cute. And then people kept sharing and sharing and sharing. You know, people were sharing it as their screen. Like, wallpaper. I think it was 2016 or 17? I’m not sure. But it … It just made people happy, you know, her smile, you know, she was seated in class with a group of friends. So, it was just… That is one that I remember that made me happy and I think a lot of people also, like, generally felt happy because of that image.
Laura I think I first read about Bits of Borno in the New York Times. I’d love for you to tell the story of how the New York Times got in touch with you and how you felt about that and what it meant for your career.
Fati Well, I think that the first media coverage that I got is CNN sending me an email and then that was … I mean, I knew about CNN because my dad watched it all the time. So, I was like, OK, this is good ummm to have another platform. So, when they talked about it, I remember waking up a few days later to like five different BBC emails. And it was each a different section of the BBC. So, I was like oh wow, I didn’t know they were separated to so many you know different varieties. I’m not a news person so I hadn’t focused so much. And then the New York Times… I didn’t even know about it. I’d never read it, honestly.
Laura How did you feel when you saw that email from CNN and then you saw all those emails from the BBC?
Fati Honestly, I was really shocked. I had never in my life expected to be a photographer in the first place, so I had never expected also to be a photographer that people would be interested in. So, I’d never dreamt of anything like being profiled. It was an out-of-body experience. I was just quietly accepting that this had happened. And then I was thinking, you know, OK, what does that mean. And what will it bring. So, I was cautiously optimistic that it was great for the work. But I did not foresee it going this far.
Laura Do you remember what you wrote back to CNN and the BBC?
Fati Yeah, I think I was very like prim and proper secretary. I just wrote all these formal responses. There was no excitement. They were probably shocked by my lack of enthusiasm at the time but it was just very normal response that I would give anybody else. But the interviews kept coming after that, from Brazil, from Glamour magazine South Africa. There was so many…It’s still happening, the interviews. It’s endless.
Laura Do you handle all of that publicity yourself? Or do you have someone who helps you?
Fati No, I do all of it myself, honestly. I’m freelance so mostly at night I respond to emails and I talk to everyone online. I reply to DMs.
I had underestimated, actually, the impact of the news coverage. After that, there was like a full year of me just traveling, talking to people, doing interviews, going on exhibitions. Like, I didn’t know how to cope with fame. I didn’t know that there would be fame. So, and nobody had emotionally prepared me for how to deal with online fame. And how to deal with being profiled by some organization as big as the New York Times or as big as CNN or BBC.
So, I didn’t know what to do in the end because there was like a spotlight on me. And I remember going to a restaurant here in my hometown and I ordered food and someone said, “Oh, I know your voice! I heard it on the radio.” I panicked. I panicked so badly. I was like… Because there were silent killings still happening in the town. I was like, if someone wanted to find me, they would find me by my voice.
So, it was really scary. And then I was like, you know, I need to either take a break or leave this town and then I hope that people forget me in a way. So, I just took two years off.
Laura That’s when you went to graduate school in the United States at Duke, right?
Fati Yeah, yeah. And then I decided to apply for university. I submitted two minutes to the deadline.
Laura Oooh. That’s a little close, Fati.
Fati Yeah, I was really close. I applied to Duke University, because I’d gone for a talk there once and I really fell in love with the building and I fell in love with the Center for Documentary Studies that they had. So, Duke was the school that I was interested in. But I also been to University of Florida and I loved that it was close to Miami. So, I was going to University of Florida just to be by the beach, close to….
Laura Hey, ummm people pick schools for lesser reasons than that.
Fati But they had a great journalism program also. But the beach was also like the priority. So, but then I got accepted at both of them and ummm I decided to just take time off you know focus on enhancing my skilland I had exhibition fatigue, is what I call it. I was tired of doing the exhibition circle, like, everywhere all over the world. Just the media frenzy….
Laura It sounds like Bits of Borno really helped boost your profile and your photography career. How did it help you financially?
Fati All of the profiling helped put me in positions where people had access to so much money that they could do exhibitions for me. At the time, because I didn’t know much about the business side of photo, I didn’t know that I was even supposed to get artist fees for every exhibition. So, I had a mentor at the time, someone whose workshop I had been to. And he was tracking my career, so every question I had I would ask him, what do you think is an amount I should ask? Or, how do you feel about how they’re treating me?
But how I got money was I started getting a lot of assignments. And the assignments really helped with money and I even got an offer from UNICEF to work with them as staff. So, that salary helped me a lot and I started asking for artist fees.
In the beginning, I was just having exhibitions because oh, the exposure, the prestige of going with this organization, etc. I was in this glamorous event in this really nice dress and was hobnobbing with people on the Forbes list, etc. And I would go back to a luxury hotel and then lie in my room, I was broke. So, for me, it didn’t make sense, how do you have all this attention but there’s nothing in your account? And then everyone who you’re working around, curators, photo editors, gallery owners, everyone has a salary.
I really needed money and I was like, I can’t – I can’t continue living like this. And I think the starving artist thing just happens so much that if we’re not careful, we’re going to die like a lot of the other people not knowing the side of business. And our art picking up after we die. That it’s sold expensively after we have, you know, left the earth. So, I was really worried.
Laura Yeah, you need money now. How did you learn about the business side of photography?
Fati I had to learn the hard way, you know. I was used so many times and I was not paid and I was really broke and really sad. And there was this curator, her name is Bisi Silva in Lagos, she said to me once, “Ask for whatever you want. They have the money. They should give you.” I just needed someone to like, knock some sense into me and say, “Ask.” So, every time I asked, there was money. Every time I asked for something they would just give that. And then like, I feel like because I’d been profiled in the New York Times, because I’d been on CNN, etc., people would give me whatever I asked for.
Laura That’s amazing! Are you able to make a living off of photography now?
Fati Yes, I’m very happy to say that I’m able to make a living. I bought a car. I bought a lot of the equipment that I never had before. I recently bought a drone. You know, so, a lot of the assignments have helped me and even going to Duke I had a graduate assistant job. I saved a lot. And so, definitely, the more you ask, the more assignments you get, the more you’re able to sustain yourself. And so, I would encourage people to always ask.
Laura Do you see yourself continuing to be a freelancer or do you think you would ever try to get a staff job?
Fati Well, lately, I’ve been at a crossroads. I enjoy the freedom of being a freelancer. I enjoy doing these various projects and traveling all over the world. But sometimes you start to get to a point where you need stability. You need a steady income. Being freelance is great but it’s not consistent pay. You’re waiting for assignments. Currently, I want to freelance for a while. But as Corona has hit the world and you know, we’re unstable currently, I’m starting to think maybe I should get a staff job for a year or so to stabilize myself and then maybe go back to freelancing.
Laura Being a freelancer means you’re sometimes having to negotiate with organizations or news media on how much you’re going to be paid. And I know that sometimes, or even oftentimes, an African living in Africa is not offered the same kind of payment as a white person and I’d love to know how you deal with this.
Fati When I started traveling a lot, I started meeting other foreign photographers and even when I was with UNICEF, ummm there was this Indian-American photographer that came in and we talked extensively and she said she had worked in many African countries, and she saw how locals were being treated. So, she talked to me about how, you know, her pay is different from mine because of the racism that exists in the industry and that I should address that when I’m doing assignments.
So, I joined some women’s groups, you know, and then I started seeing what people were charging. People are still not open about ummm pay but we’re starting to see people asking questions like, how much should I charge? Do you think this is enough? So, seeing all of those chats online has helped me know what I should charge and also demand for more if I need to.
Laura Having these kind of groups is so helpful. They’ve definitely helped me, too. And I’m pretty open about what I charge. But I know a lot of people feel uncomfortable for whatever reason.
Fati Yeah, it’s strange, we should have open panel discussions about what people need to charge, whether people are being taken advantage of. I don’t understand the culture of silence around pay. It’s just sad because it doesn’t help anybody in the end.
Laura I agree. And it’s interesting you just said panel discussions because it reminded me that a few years ago, I was actually on a panel discussion about the business side of photography. And it was the Q&A part at the end and someone in the audience asked… There were maybe three or four of us like up on this stage… asked us, “Well, how much do you charge?”
And I was the first person in the row so I was the first person to answer. And I said, “Well, you know, first of all I’ve calculated my cost of doing business so I know like the least amount that I need to charge for anything and all of you should also calculate your cost of doing business. But my starting rate for photography is $600 a day and then my starting rate for video is $800 a day. And that number changes depending on what kind of licensing you want or sometimes what kind of assignment it is.”
And I remember the next few people on the panel, they didn’t give a number at all. And I felt like they were kind of angry at me for actually giving a number because then it made them… It kind of made them look bad and stingy and I think a little bit selfish to not share information. Like, to not even give a ballpark number. You don’t have to reveal your actual number, if you don’t want to. But not even a ballpark.
Fati Oh my god. Yeah, I think a lot of people are very unhappy with saying this is what I earn. And I feel like, you said, it’s very selfish. You know, why don’t you want someone else to have the same amount of money you’re getting? It increases their quality of life and you should be happy about that.
Laura Another little money question: I assume at some point you’ve had a big job where you’ve gotten a big payment and I wonder, what did you do with that money? Did you go invest in new equipment? Did you invest in yourself somehow by taking a class? Or did you just save it or use it to pay your bills?
Fati Well, there was a time when I went to the U.S. and there was this really nice couple and I spent Christmas with them. And his neighbor who he had talked to her about me said I wanted to buy some images and she bought about five of them. At that time, I knew how to charge. I wanted to upgrade my laptop but I was like, you know what? I want to travel. So, I used that money to just travel around the U.S. I went to the Smithsonian. I went to Miami Beach and just lay on the beach so I just invested in self-care and sightseeing and just taking a break from the industry. That was the one thing that I did with the first money that I got from someone buying an image. I was happy. I was relaxed.
Laura That sounds amazing.
Fati Yeah. I didn’t want to do anything. I even went to a camera shop to buy a lens buy I was like, no, let me do something else. I don’t know when I can afford to travel like this. So, I hope there’ll be money in the future for lenses or whatever. But I invested in myself and my self-care.
Laura I like that. I like that a lot. Now, what are two things that you wish you’d known about the photo business when you started out?
Fati Number one, I wish someone had told me how to charge. The amount is number two. And then, how do I charge for different things: photo, video, audio, editing, fixing, the research? So, I wanted like every single facet having a fee that you can charge. That’s one thing I would have loved someone to tell me. And number two, it’s how difficult it is in the industry to get paid even when you ask for it. Even after the job has been done and why it takes so many weeks and so many forms and so many processes before you get paid.
Laura Well, what kind of money/financial advice would you give to new photographers?
Fati First of all, find a business model that works for you and you know, tap into all of the people who are more successful than you are and find especially, a lot of these people who are open, first and foremost. And number two, go online and do a lot of your research. Look at pricing all over the world. I found a website called londonfreelancers.org and it has a list of pricing for everything.
Fati Then there’s the Getty calculator, which I found out recently also that helps, you know, guides you how to put a price on whatever kind of job you’re doing. So, do your research extensively about pricing. There are a lot of blogs, websites that are very open about it. And find a business model that works for you. Find a mentor who’s very open about telling you the business side of things.
Laura That’s very good advice. What is next? I know you have this new photo column in The Daily Trust newspaper in Nigeria. It’s called Exposure. What do you plan to do with this and how does it fit into your career plans?
Fati Well, I have a lot of things to say so I’m happy that I have a column to now channel it on. And it’s nationwide in Nigeria. Everyone reads it. So, I’m happy that it will really talk about all the things we need to talk about. But I feel like I really want to focus on arts education. So, I want to have as many photo training workshops as possible. I want to highlight how important visual arts is. I want to set up a small organization where we can do a lot of these workshops and apply for funds and you know do exhibitions. Funding has been a bit difficult but my next step is definitely ummm being an instructor or being an educator and also kind of finding opportunities for young people in the arts industry and also, if we can, traveling to other places where they can see how it’s done.
Laura Your future students are going to be really lucky to have you, Fati.
Fati I hope so. I really hope so.
Laura I looked at your column about the aid workers. And I thought that was a really biting commentary about foreigners coming in and not knowing much about the area, they don’t speak the language, they’re getting paid the most, they’re making their careers.
Fati Yeah. There’s so much money being pumped in and the aid workers are just enjoying life in a conflict zone. And it just made me really angry, like the people we serve are still there in the tents. And I put myself in that position also. We are all part of this industry that does more for us than who we are working for. So, I mean, it’s a moral dilemma for all of us, is essentially what I was saying.
Yesterday I went to an event at the State Government House and one of the aid workers was saying, “Oh, Fati my boss sent it to me and he said I can’t believe Fati wrote this. You know, she is also part of the system. So why is she talking about things that are like insider information.”
I said, “No, this is a question we should all be asking ourselves.”
Where’s the money? Why is it spent so much on logistics and why are the people — foreigners — who come and paid more? Why are they here in the first place to be the people to save you? And the way people flock to conflict zone is incredibly, incredibly hard to understand.
But thankfully, the event we went to, our State Governor talked extensively about how there are over 100 NGOs in our town of 2 million people. And he said, “We have questions for you and we want to know what you’re doing here. You know, we want to know what your plans are. And we have a plan that you have to follow.” So, I was happy about that outcome.
Laura Yeah, that’s good. I think it’s important to really question that. I’ve been questioning, too, for the last several years. I’ve made my living as a humanitarian photographer for the past, what, six, seven years — a lot of it flying to other countries and covering what’s going on there. And it’s like, why aren’t local people being hired? When I can, I’ve hired local people to help me. I’m also trying to support and give work to local photographers but I also can’t force people to feel the way I do about this situation, which is that more local people should be hired.
Fati Yeah. I’ve also stopped hoping that people have empathy, that they’ll have a conscience. People always think of themselves first. So, even in this industry, there’s this narcissism where even the photographers who come from abroad and settle in places like Senegal or Mali, when they’re not around is when they give the job to locals.
Laura Yeah, I’ve seen that, too. I think if you really want to help the situation you have to also be willing to lose something, which in this case is giving up work so that someone else in the country can have a chance. More than a chance. I mean, there are so many talented photographers in every country. You know, something you and I have talked about before is how even when local photographers get an opportunity to work with like a big international publication or organization, often that publication or organization wants to pay them less, which is so infuriating to me. When I lived in Rwanda this happened all the time and I was always trying to helpRwandan photographers like get paid more. And organizations they would make excuses like, well, it’s cheaper for them to live in Rwanda, so we can pay them less. And I just felt like, that’s no excuse. Then why are the foreigners being paid so much to live in Rwanda, you know?
Fati It’s crazy. It’s such a phenomenon that I absolutely hate, you know, and ummm the NGOs, the arts organizations, you know, ummm, even the photographers, we’re all guilty of allowing this to happen. And I think conversations need to start happening about equal pay and racism and also this parachuting that we’re seeing all the time.
We are capable of doing the same thing everyone else is doing. There are so many talented photographers here, so we should use local talent, you know, and unfortunately, the foreigners have more links to the editors. They have more connections with the institutions. They’re from those countries. The institutions that come are also foreign. So, they are not ours in the first place, so definitely I feel like they may not prioritize us unless they have a separate grant that is dedicated to creatives in the African continent. We are starting to see some emphasis on local content but I don’t think it’s enough.
Laura I was thinking about exactly that when I saw a Facebook post you wrote recently where you have been pitching some kind of story to editors. You didn’t give specifics. But you’re getting radio silence and you know, the first thing I thought was: racism. You are an African living in Africa.
Fati I got a lot of silence, not just very recently but even from the very beginning. There would be only one or two that would respond to the email and it was just a few lines or something. And the excuse was always, oh, editors are busy, editors are busy. But I’m like, why don’t they get an intern or an assistant or something you know, like, why are we always not being responded to?
And I think even in the group, it didn’t get the engagement that it should have. But in other groups I’m a part of, where it’s more people of color, they always discuss this extensively. If I had a white name, if I had a different nationality, if I lived in a different region, they would respond to me more. And then our style is obviously different, how we edit is different. When you see an American or European photographer, it’s really easy to tell. So probably even in the editing, they see that you are not part of the clique that they know.
What I’ve started doing when someone would say, “Oh, you should reach out to this photo editor.” I would say, “No, can you do an intro so they know I’m coming from you. Because if I do it individually, I don’t get responses.” So, now when someone else introduces me, I get a response. And I tested it out twice and it happened. So, it’s still a clique. I just hope that they will be open to newcomers from every continent.
Laura Well, Fati, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
Fati Thank you so much! And I look forward to conversations about Korean drama when you have time. I want to see Korea through your eyes and I hope that one day we go to Seoul together and we eat you know barbecue.
Laura That would be amazing. I don’t eat meat but I will watch you eat barbecue and I’ll get something else.
Fati What?!? Yes, let’s eat something.