Lens Spotlight: Interview with Director/Photographer, Jamal Ademola

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Los Angeles, California

When did you become fascinated with Art? Was it a natural talent or a skill you acquired?

When I was a wee young lad, I used to draw in my mother's encyclopedias. I've always been fascinated with art, even before I knew what art was. My mother and father would say it was a natural talent, but being raised in a Nigerian American household meant professional degrees in medicine and law were promoted, so I really wasn't encouraged to pursue art as a career, but I rebelled and worked extremely hard at any artistic practice I have endeavored at to make it viable. Several years ago, I found a way to make a living so now my parents approve.

How did your interest lead to Animation?

I've always been interested in telling stories. A childhood friend and I, his name was Nigel, used to draw characters on every single page of those encyclopedias and flip the pages to watch them move. We'd create whole episodes and narratives in these books. This was before we knew what we were making was called animation. We must have been ten or eleven years old. It was quite cool to be able to draw in high school, but it was much cooler to be an athlete, so I stopped drawing and pursued that. After that didn't work out my passion for art and animation came back to me. Hand-drawn animation is probably one of the most intense and time-consuming art forms. It's very easy to burn out, and over the years I've become interested in other mediums like design, photography and filmmaking and how I can combine them.

What is your workflow process while animating?

It depends on the project. These days I animate and direct a lot of commercials. So that process is very different than something I am doing for myself. For commercial work, I usually work with a production company or an advertising agency, and they provide a treatment or a brief. In this case, I'm bound by an already established idea that I am brought on to execute and embellish. Sometimes, I can steer the concept into new territory, but that's rare. Depending on what state the project is in when I arrive we'll do storyboards, character designs, animation production and then post. Sometimes I'll hire other animators, other times I'll animate the entire piece myself.

What is your favorite project?

Lord, I've animated so many different things, but two spring to mind. There was a project called "Good Books" I animated in 2012 with a design-driven production company called BUCK. Other highlights are a Beatles tribute I did for Google that I created with The Mill. I just finished a campaign I directed with Motion Family for Fanta featuring popular music producer Mike Will Made it. That was fun because I got to hire my friends and had a lot of creative freedom. Shout out to Jean Tanis and David Berngartt at the advertising agency Fitzgerald & Company for really shepherding that project through. It should be released at the top of the year.

You are also an amazing photographer. You capture such stunning editorials with a great use of color. Where do you draw inspiration for your images.

Thank you. I draw inspiration from many different disparate and unlikely things. I get bored easily, so I very much like the cross-pollination of ideas, taking bits and pieces of anomalous things to create something fresh and new. I like clean, well-composed images. I'd say my use of color probably stems from my background in animation and my appreciation for good graphic design. I love black and white photography as well, but I think of color as a spiritual thing. Music is also an immense inspiration to me. When I hear euphonious sounds, I see ambrosial images.

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Editorials are a collaborative process. What is it like to always work with new stylists, models, & designers?

It's really fun. I love getting a bunch of talented people together to make something! When I have an idea, I've been fortunate to have stylists, models, and makeup artists just come by and experiment. Occasionally I may shoot something for a client, but I approach photography as more of my fine art. I'm looking forward to a solo exhibition soon.

You were recently cast in your first feature film, tell us about the project?

Yeah, it's the strangest thing. It's extremely meta and self-referential because I play a photographer. I don't think I am pursuing an acting career, I'm much more of an artist & filmmaker, but I'm not camera shy, and it felt like an opportunity that I could not pass up, mainly since the director Lisbon Okafor wanted to use my photography in the film. Not to mention It's a magical realism narrative film about black mermaids. It's called "Ten Cent Daisy." It's about three sisters who flee the Caribbean to find sanctuary in northern California after the youngest; a mermaid is sexually assaulted by a pastor. It's sort of like "Pan's Labyrinth" meets "Girlhood." I love all things fantastical and otherworldly, so I am excited about the project and the potential it has to inspire young girls and women. I could not see this project being done at a major Hollywood studio. I for one have slave movie fatigue. I think collectively, colonization has inhibited black people's ability to dream, so while I value film projects that explore the realities of life, I find it essential to make cinema that explores life's infinite and magical possibilities. It's why we're all so starved for "Black Panther." These are the things that inspire future generations.

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On risks and sacrifices:

Great question. There is always a palpable struggle between art and commerce. In a capitalistic system, it can be tough for artists to create authentically. The greatest risk I've taken is remaining freelance and steering my ship for almost ten years. I discriminately pick and choose the projects that I take on, and take lots of time off to merely exist and make my art. So in essence, I have sacrificed making a lot more money to be married to my creativity, which is not always easy.

What's next?

I'm working on putting together some pieces for an art exhibition, and I'm writing and directing two films. The first is about African masquerades, specifically Yoruba spirits and what it feels like to live between two worlds. The costumes were created by Mairig Fesshaye, who is a young amazing fashion designer from Eritrea, currently working in Amsterdam. The second is a surrealist experimental narrative film about love and relationships using plants. It's highly conceptual. One part scathing social commentary, the other Idyllic and hopelessly romantic. It's like "the Lobster" meets "40 days of dating". It's a very spiritual film; there's even a plant goddess in it. I'm going to get Tim Hecker to make the music.

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What quote or motto do you live your life by?

Your dreams tell you things, important clues about yourself, learn to listen.

For more on Jamal, please visit jamalademola.com and follow on social media @jamalademola

antonio rainey