Many of us dream of packing in our day job and pursuing our creative passions. London City Island resident Sokari Higgwe did just that in 2016, leaving his City job after 16 years to become a full-time photographer. It was a life-changing decision for which he has ‘no regrets.’
Largely self-taught, Higgwe has a brilliant eye for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, and uses photography as ‘an art form to capture special moments in time.’ Represented by Saatchi Art, Higgwe is also resident artist at the London Lighthouse Gallery & Studio, where he is currently exhibiting his latest solo show, Pandemic. Lockdown was a difficult time for Higgwe, but like many creatives he made the best of a bad situation and had time to reflect on his work, which is inspired by the light, architecture and atmosphere of London City Island, a development which he was ‘blown away by.’
How did you get into photography?
I have always been a visual person. As a kid I was always drawn to books and magazines with pictures and colours. I would pick a magazine or book and go through the pictures first before I considered reading it. I still find myself doing the same thing now as an adult. I got my first camera at the age of 12 (a Konica Film camera), given to me by my sister, and all I wanted to do was take pictures and I have never stopped.
My father was also a very keen photographer who took lots of photos of the family, and documented our childhood as we grew up – that also influenced my love for photography. Professionally though, my photography journey started as a hobby. I never went to school to train as a photographer. Everything I know today I have learned from trial and error. The more I learned to use the camera, the more I wanted to take pictures. Initially, I used to be embarrassed to show my work to people because I thought they would laugh or not like them, but I joined some photography clubs and through constructive criticism from my peers I was able to improve on my techniques and skills.
East India Dock Basin: ‘Shot in 2016, A reflection of City Island on the East India dock basin.’
Why did you decide to embark on a creative career?
After many years working in the financial industry, I soon realised that I was enjoying taking photographs and processing images more than I enjoyed doing my day job. So, in 2016, an opportunity came up, and I took the bold step to quit my job and make photography my fulltime profession, and I have no regrets.
You specialise in architecture and design. Why are you interested in this subject?
As a child I have always loved and been fascinated by architecture, I am drawn to shapes, textures, forms, spaces, movement, colour and light. I believe that architecture is an expression of the artistic stance of an architect. I try to use my photography to interpret this, by capturing different perspectives and interesting features of buildings and structures. I approach each building as though I am taking a portrait of the building. That way, I feel I am capturing the artistic vision of the architect. I am also a very shy person by nature, and one of the great things about taking pictures of buildings is that you do not have to speak to them or ask their permission, they are always there for you to shoot, night or day (except when security guards chase you away).
“There is a simplicity about the architecture of City Island, and yet it is very bold”
Do you have a dream subject that you would like to photograph one day?
There are so many dream subjects. When it comes to architectural photography, from the top of my head, I will say the one building I would love to photograph is the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Azerbaijan, designed by the late Zaha Hadid. If I could have just one day with that building, it would make me very happy.
What do you like about the architecture of London City Island?
There is a simplicity about the architecture of City Island, and yet it is very bold. I love the shapes and colours of the building, and how they relate to each other. I also love the texture and bricks. Depending on the time of day or type of light, the buildings change and transform. I just love that there is always something new that I can photograph. Every day is different.
Crossing the Red Line by Sokari Higgwe: ‘Shot in 2020, part of my current exhibition, Pandemic.'
Can you recommend any local hidden gems?
It’s amazing the amount of history that surrounds us, there is so much to discover about the maritime history of London. The river walk from City Island to the Olympic Park is something everyone needs to try. The ecology park just opposite the Island is another quiet oasis worth visiting, and the old East India dock basin is a great place for bird watchers. Another secret spot most people don’t know exists, is the Meridian line, which is less than five minutes away from the Island in Virginia Quay.
Rainbow Over the Lea: 'Shot in 2021, the combination of the arch and the colours of London City Island conjures memories of rainbow, over the River Lea.'
“I always have a smile on my face each time I cross the Red Bridge”
Why did you decide to move here?
Having lived and worked in east London for many years, I have been privileged to watch the area transform from historic derelict docks to what you see today. My work as an architectural photographer has been inspired by the area’s industrial past. The architectural style of the Island struck a chord with me, especially its unique design and colours. My first thought when I saw the plans was, “Wow, there is no place like this in London or the world”, and I just wanted to be part of it. I then visited the show homes and was blown away by the vision of the developer to create a place for creatives in this part of east London. I always have a smile on my face each time I cross the Red Bridge.
Mother Lea: 'Shot in 2020. A section of the City Island Pier showing the connection to the River Lea, and how we relate to the river. The Letter “M’ for me means Mother.'
How has lockdown affected your photography?
Lockdown has particularly been very difficult for me as a photographer. The fact that I was not allowed to go out and capture images was very frustrating. I shut down my photography studio and stayed at home like everyone else. However, unlike most people, I was not able to use Zoom to do what I loved doing, because photography involves being physically present. But with so much time on my hands I found myself looking back into my archives and rediscovering images that I had not had time to process and probably would never have seen the light of day. This led to a new body of works which are currently showing in my solo exhibition, Pandemic, in the London Lighthouse Gallery & Studio on the Island.
Welcome Home: 'Shot in 2017. A lone resident returning.'