Toyin Ibidapo: Cult Of Boys

9 February 2012

We recently came across the work of photographer Toyin Ibidapo and immediately fell in love! As we started looking into her work in more detail, and also was lucky enough to do an interview with her - we were quickly drawn to her images, personal story and inspirational nature. She shares the same passion as we do, and to look at her story and work from her perspective, we find an amazingly inspiration.

In our interview with Toyin, we talk to her about what inspires her, why she is drawn to shooting boys and her book "Cult of Boys". Her personal connection with her subjects and fascination of capturing youth and the vulnerability of adolescence, is something we completely recognise ourselves in. Which simply makes her story even more important for us to share with you!

Her book "Cult Of Boys" includes 300 colour photographs and is described as an inspiring exploration of youth and beauty. This spellbinding scrapbook is an artists tribute to androgynous waifs and tomboy dreamers. A fashion photographer for clients like Dazed & Confused and Alexander McQueen, Toyin Ibidapo has recorded her subjects over time in her own home. Each subject is a friend, and as model and artist collaborate in the creative process, the results are intimate and real. With each picture is carefully composed, the mood is uncontrived, as we get to watch these naïve protagonists explore who they are—and who they might become. The result is a beautiful collection of delicate portraits with a sincerity often missing from images of the young and beautiful. Coltish and charming, these mesmerizing photographs capture the raw vulnerability of adolescence.

A fashion photographer for clients like Dazed & Confused and Alexander McQueen, Toyin Ibidapo records her subjects over time in her own home. Each subject is a friend; model and artist collaborate in the creative process. The results are intimate and real. We watch these naïve protagonists explore who they are—and who they might become. Although each picture is carefully composed, the mood is uncontrived. The results: delicate portraits with a sincerity often missing from images of the young and beautiful. Coltish and charming, these mesmerizing photographs capture the raw vulnerability of adolescence.

What inspired you to start photography?
I was on a general art and design course back in 1990 at Kingsway College and although photography wasn't part of that course, I had done a little at my first art school. Mainly photograms which was fun and we had a really nice photography lecturer. I just assumed photography would be part of the curriculum at Kingsway, but it wasn't. However the college did have an evening class which I attended and I really enjoyed it. I took photos of my fellow students, which in the end I liked much more than my artwork. It was just a hobby at the time and I only ever shot b/w in those days. That's how it started, then I applied to Bournemouth and got in.

What inspires your ideas?
When it comes to being inspired it's more to do with the subject's presence. You photograph them because you like the way they look, they're inspiring me but it became apparent that there was something about the personalities, those faces and mannerisms that kept me wanting more. Something inside them is itching for me to document them the way they were forever - youth is fleeting a small window.

Your male work is amazing! Tell us a bit why this is a focus in your work?
The year was 1993. I was on half term break when this film came on BBC2. I remember it well, the film was called 'The Cement Garden'. Suddenly this strange story with a strange family and the exquisiteness and complexity that was Jack's character became vibrant to my creative eye. It was after watching this I became very aware of androgyny. I was intrigued and fascinated by Jack and his rather intense personality, the way he looked, the hair, the clothes and just how his beauty was effortlessly - magnetic and hypnotic. So wrong but so right judging by the films taboo subject matter, but Andrew Robertson who played 'Jack' his look was new to me.

When the new term began I noticed there were a few boys with similar attributes so I began to photograph them. It was both conscious and unconscious. When I came into the fashion industry in 1997 I noticed even more faces that had that same note of beauty and I chased it like a cat chases a mouse.

How do you find working with boys in general?
I enjoyed working with females and had a few muses but it's always easy photographing the same sex as myself. Males interested me because of their personalities. I just found I was more driven and inspired, but all that said is slightly unfair, because the girls who had that same andro thing going on were just as sharply lit by my eye of wanting to record them also. Some industry types weren't too keen on my taste and style, and their words became my fuel. It drove me further into the arms of the boys.

How did the idea of your book "Cult of Boys" come about?
I started it officially in 1999. I had made my mind up that I would work on a project to shoot 100 boys, and also because at the time most of my editorial work was mainly female and I wanted to shoot the faces that haunted me. That I found fascinating and interesting.

What was the process of shooting and putting the book together?
I had always made my own scrapbooks, but the process for Cult was quite stressful because of the volume of work. I had two scrapbooks - they were laced with diary entries and some of the boys had either written or drawn something in them. Those two books are smaller, the first one I put together around 2001 and filled it. As I worked a lot of love went into that book naturally, but when it came to this one it was just harder. I got there in the end and worked on it for about three years.

We at Boys by Girls also like to capture that vulnerability of adolescence. What have your learned from these youngsters during your process of working with them, and how have they inspired you?
I've learned absolutely fuck all!!! lol Joking aside I've learned that boys are just as insecure as girls, venerable, poetic, deep, shy, sexual, provocative, intense, tortured souls, confident, happy, secretive, quiet, funny, sad and underneath it all just beautiful human beings who had something about them and so happened to stumble into an industry based on the way they look. They weren't kings, just simply boys from all walks of life and that's what makes it the most interesting because under normal circumstances our paths would never have crossed. I got to know them, they got to know me. I got to know some of their passions as they were my passion, and the end result is a book which took me more than 15 years complete. To me it's a personal achievement - a goal I'd set and managed to see it through to it's end. The book or scrapbook is chaotic and a head fuck because of the sheer number. It's my record of amazing moments and various chapters in my life as a photographer as well as the faces in this book. They represent themselves and they also represent me because it was my vision and they came into my world, some for years, others just once. But sometimes once is all you need - one photograph to remember a poetic moment forever. Seen through the eyes of the female gaze.

Do you have a muse?
I've had several muses; Luke Price and Dean Jackson were the very first in my student days at Bournemouth. Daniel Tighe was my longest standing muse and close friend. Dominic Brider, who I simply adored. Alistair Coldrey who was the more masculine as apposed to being androgynous. Kez Glozier was the youngest to begin with. Chris Tanner and Finnian Smith were more towards the end of the project. Geoff Owden and Tom Mead were the beginning. Hakan Sezer and Jonathan Black represented the middle, but differently.

What advise do you have for any budding photographers?
Photograph the things you love the most, be single minded in what your trying to accomplish, stay focused and most of all what inspires you will be the thing that drives and pushes you if you believe in it. Believe in it for yourself and not for others. Don't seek anyone else's advice or opinion, just get on with it, no matter how long it takes.

We absolutely adore your work and your focus. What else can we look forward to from you this year and beyond?
I'll be having my first small exhibition at DOORS SHOWCASE.

You can visit Toyin's Exhibition between 24th of February to 24th of March at 20 Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3DU. We will be sure to be there!

Check out more of Toyin's work at
Toyin Ibidapo's book "Cult of Boys", published by teNeues, is available to buy here.

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