Sometimes you need to quit nursing school to become who you actually want to be.
For the Nigerian-born Asiyami Gold, the decision to quit nursing school to pursue a career in the arts came as a disappointment to her parents. But that decision also opened up a new door, one that allowed her to travel the globe, create an international community, and achieve prestige in a number of creative fields. The model, designer, photographer, creative director, and storyteller is a jack of all trades, and master of most. Scrolling through her Instagram is akin to flipping through a moodboard, as the tones, landscapes, and intimate portraits tell singular stories. Not to mention, her self portraits and their corresponding captions are so stunning and raw, you’ll find yourself deeply invested in her journey. She leaves ego at the door, and transparently shares her evolution through her art and world view.
Finally, if you find yourself jealous of her style (which, you will), revel in the fact that she founded a fashion label, A.Au. You, too, can attempt to borrow some of that Gold that makes Asiyami so damn cool.
What do you think it takes to make it as a successful photographer today?
Being a successful photographer requires one to have a vision in order to adequately communicate their ideas through visuals. You also have to have the talent for engaging with your subject in a way that allows you to leave knowing more about them and making them trust you to see them the way they see themselves, but even better. Overall, a successful photographer should be able to evoke an emotion by making their work so palpable that it is deeply felt.
You travel the world for your work. What are some of the most memorable trips or projects you’ve made on your adventures?
When I traveled to Colombia several years ago, I played with the idea of leaving something behind with the people who shared their stories and time with me through my lens. I invested in a small Fuji camera and myriads of film packs. After capturing my subjects, I exchanged their time with me with a Polaroid shot of them; that way they would always remember their encounter with me each time they looked at that picture.
Tell us how you got your start as an artist, and how you eventually found your niche.
I strongly believe that we are all born artists, and some are blessed to have parents who recognize these gifts at a tender age and so begin to foster their children’s gifts. I unfortunately did not have that growing up. In the 5th grade, I painted my first canvas that was recognized by my school and awarded for being the best painting by a student at the time. My parent’s response to my award was contrary to my expectation. I grew up in a country where art was respected but not revered which then led me to treat the arts as it had been painted: “Art is a hobby; it doesn’t put food on the table.”
Later on in life in high school, I picked up a $200 Sony camera that allowed me to document moments in my life that I cherished. As the world was heading to digital—such as storing memories on Facebook, I had a deep nostalgia for hard copy photos, and photo albums one could physically flip through. I would document my friends, our outings, my life at the time and journey to CVS pharmacy to print hard copies for memory’s sake.
Although my parents didn’t give much reverence to photography as a career, they loved documenting me and my siblings while we were growing up. The first thing my dad will give to visitors when they stopped by the house was a photo album and some light refreshments to welcome them. Through those photos, he would tell stories, referring back to how he felt and what that particular moment in time meant to him. In my adult life, I found myself doing the same thing. I picked up a camera when I turned 15 and never looked back. I enjoyed documenting life and the beauty that I saw in things that others didn’t deem as beautiful.
As time progressed, I fine-tuned my work, studied what I liked about photography, and executed my vision. I didn’t start out paying attention to my “niche,” and if I’m being completely transparent I wouldn’t say I have even found my niche. What I can say confidently is that I love documenting beautiful things and giving life to things that are often taken for granted. Through my work I’m able to offer a different perspective on how people may perceive their everyday “norm” and that to me is what really makes it all magical.
What do you think is the hardest part of building a career as a creative director?
Meeting other people whose vision align with yours and having clients who are able to communicate their products in a way that allows you to build a storyline that is true to the brand’s identity.
People look to you for inspiration, but where do you go to feel creatively inspired?
As someone who has to constantly seek out a new way of seeing things to feel creatively inspired, I look to the source of it all. I pay attention to my surroundings, I take trips to places that challenge me and also allow me to marvel at the beauty that is Mother Nature.
There are also a handful of people whose work online inspire me. I’ve been a huge fan of Jamie Beck; she was one of the first people I followed on Instagram. It has been interesting following her journey through visuals and seeing how her work has evolved over the years. Adding to that, I am mesmerized by Athena Calderone’s love for creating beauty which oozes through every photo so making it almost contagious. I find the clarity and aesthetic of Alice Gao’s work very inspiring. Nneka Odum’s ability to visually paint her experiences with her subjects both in photo and in words makes the online experience so visceral that it’s deeply felt. All these women feed different parts of me and allow me to engage and see the beauty in all spectrums of photography.
Do you feel that the power of social media has impacted your career as a photographer at all?
Absolutely! Each day I get to share my story with 200k+ people—something that would never would have happened without social media. It has allowed me to connect and seamlessly build on a vision that would have taken years to even get started had I went down the path of being a nurse.
What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?
I feel the most fulfilled when I’m able to conceptualize an idea and birth that idea into something tangible that can be felt. I feel even more fulfilled when one person sees my work and it inspires them to go out in the world and also fulfill what they have been called to do. Being an “influencer” isn’t about the free clothes and the #ad—I’m grateful for those things because they foster other projects and ideas, but in a world where we are all becoming more alike, it is important to remember that someone in my position has a moral obligation to communicate from a voice true to where they are at that particular point in time. We are not acting in service of others when we don’t articulate our failures as much as we do our triumphs. It’s important that people look at what I’ve done and also go in pursuit of their individual callings with vigor.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I get asked from time to time “how do I build a following?” I will always respond with the fact that I didn’t start out worried about the numbers. There’s a misconception that you have to be extremely wealthy to live a certain kind of lifestyle, but I believe in living within one’s means and starting where you are.
What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?
My first feature in a magazine. I was featured in Atlanta magazine as one of the top bloggers in Atlanta. When I brought the magazine home my mother screamed and danced around the living room.
I’m also surprised when people meet me and talk to me about how my work has served as an inspiration for them to also trust their calling and pursue whatever they desire at that moment.
What keeps you up at night?
My legacy. I question: What am I leaving behind? When I’m gone, what will still be here to serve others that I was a part of? The thought of building something greater than me that will serve for generations to come is what keeps me up at night.
What are the common challenges you've seen among female creatives in business?
I think the need for genuine support from other women in the industry. Emphasis on “genuine.”
Being able to dissect our failures & put the pieces back together from a more informed perspective is key to finding true success.
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road + switch gears to find success?
I go back to those bumps and examine where I miscalculated. Once I arrive to a consensus on why things didn’t pan out, I ensure to execute my process differently the next time. Switching roads isn’t always necessary but being able to dissect our failures and putting the pieces back together from a more informed perspective is key to finding true success.
Artists have it tough when it comes to pricing talent/skills. What’s the best advice you have for artists/designers/photographers out there who are working to turn their creative skills into a career?
Know your worth and never settle for anything less than that. The brands that respect you and see your value will always meet you where you are. It’s not always about the money, it’s also about the relationship. I’ll rather secure an ongoing relationship with a brand and get paid less, than get paid a lot once and never hear from them again.
What are you most excited for in 2019?
I’m excited about some projects that I have in store. I think 2019 is about manifesting a lot of things that I have been hesitant to pursue due to my fear of not succeeding or not being to execute my ideas concisely.
I’ve been toying around with the idea of starting my nonprofit for creatives in my hometown Abua Odual. I’m excited about pursuing the things I want to achieve with more vigor and my evolution as an individual.