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BA (Hons) Photography graduate qualifies for 94th Academy Awards

A family look at the camera.
  • Written byChloe Murphy
  • Published date 09 December 2021
A family look at the camera.
Image credit: Renee Osubu.

At London College of Communication (LCC), our students develop as creative practitioners who are passionate about engaging with vital contemporary issues – reflecting on the world around them while exploring both our future and our past.

This emphasis on unravelling the threads of society can be found in the work of BA (Hons) Photography graduate, Renee Maria Osubu - a Nigerian artist born and raised in London who has since gained significant acclaim across both portrait and documentary forms.

Exploring the potential offered by both photography and film, her work captures the multiplicity of perspectives in areas stretching from Harare to the United States, with a particular focus on the significance of adolescence, community and representation.

Demonstrating the power of still and moving image, Renee’s celebrated project Dear Philadelphia began as a photographic series before translating into a short film released in 2020. With a focus on the stories of 3 African American fathers, the project considers the intimate truths of life in an often-demonised neighbourhood in North Philadelphia through 3 key lenses of family, friends and faith.

Charting the stories of Josh, Mel and Dot as both individuals and threads within the wider narratives of their community, Dear Philadelphia aims to remind audiences of the hope, beauty and strength that can be found in all things, along with the poignancy of humanity beyond social prejudice or assumption.

Having received critical acclaim from leading organisations including BlackStar Film Festival (where it was named winner of the Vimeo Staff Pick Award), Denver International Film Festival (where it was nominated for Best Short Film), and Sundance Film Festival (where it was nominated for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize), Renee's film continues to make a profound impact on the broader cultural landscape after qualifying for the 94th Academy Awards, which will take place in February 2022.

We caught up with Renee to discuss how her creative practice has developed since her time at LCC, and her approach to exploring the values of love and community that underpin her work.

Dear Philadelphia | Renee Osubu

How has your practice evolved over time?

From as early as I can remember, I was always the friend with a camera. There wasn’t one specific day my interest began; I’ve always been devoted to the idea of archiving moments. As someone who’s always loved photography, I wanted to learn more about it, so I applied to study at UAL.

My creative interests and the kinds of things that excite me have definitely continued to develop. I’m way more interested in the nuances and beauty of the ordinary, and how that can become extraordinary to another.

In the past, I was solely dedicated to photography, but now I can’t imagine not making films. I love the elements that come with working in film such as sound design and music, and can definitely see the foundation that photography has built in my moving image work.

Is there a particular approach or theme that runs through your work?

One of the most important things to me in the process of making is to create an environment that means something to both me and those involved.

I’d also say that the ongoing message of my work always involves community and the feeling of belonging.

A man sits on a horse at a basketball court.
Image credit: Renee Osubu.

What inspired Dear Philadelphia, and what did you aim to express through your film?

Dear Philadelphia was inspired by my ongoing photography project of the same name. For many years, I had the honour of photographing people within North Philly, and I wanted to make a short film that could be a thank you letter to the community.

Over time, I’d learnt, loved, mourned and so much more whilst being there. It felt important to me to make a film that explored the emotional landscape of love and forgiveness amongst a community that had taught me so much about the value of both of those things.

What was your creative process like?

I had the privilege of witnessing beauty in the strength and bonds of those in the neighbourhood, and wanted to share with them what I had been seeing for so many years.

Being invited into another person's world truly requires respect, vulnerability and compassion. I decided that my process of making the film would be as authentic to my original photography process as possible, which consisted of going on daily walks, meeting people in the community, building relationships and documenting their stories.

A man and a child sit together in a car.
Image credit: Renee Osubu.

How did your work come to the attention of the Academy Awards?

Dear Philadelphia had its international premiere at Sundance Film Festival, and won Best Short Documentary at Blackstar Film Festival where it also won the Vimeo Staff Pick Award. As a result, Dear Philadelphia became both Oscar and BAFTA-qualifying.

Why has being recognised by the Academy proven to be such a significant moment in your career journey so far?

There’s something extremely humbling about making a piece of work for the pure love of it and watching it have a life of its own. I believe in my film and what it stands for, but I never imagined that it would get the recognition it’s received.

It’s been a particularly significant moment for me because everyone who gave their time, energy and story are now able to see how that has translated and impacted a much wider audience, which they’ve loved.

What advice would you give to prospective students who are interested in studying creative disciplines?

You don’t have to go to university to be an artist but if you do, believe in your work, learn to value critique, be kind to yourself and have fun!

Oh, and make friends! When you graduate you’ll need those people on your hard days, you’ll need those people to collaborate with, and you’ll be grateful you have them to inspire you.

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