When photographer Toby Coulson met iconic Senegalese fashion designer Oumou Sy in Dakar, they decided to photograph some of her most distinctive garments. “The city has an amazing energy especially as the sun goes down. I thought it would be an amazing accompaniment to Oumou Sy’s theatrical and outlandish couture pieces,” Coulson shares with Colossal. Together, they observed the area for a few days to chose spots and time the sunlight.
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The result is a captivating series of photographs, which were originally published in Document Journal, that capture the myriad textures and patterns of Sy’s unorthodox designs: A woven accessory envelops a model, lining her arms, head, and torso in circular sculptural forms. Created as a tribute to Issa Samb—a Senegalese painter, sculptor, performance artist, playwright, and poet—the patchwork-style jacket is so large that the wearer appears to be balancing on stilts as he towers above rooftops. While focused on the garments, each photograph also frames the beige architecture and sandy streets of Dakar.
Sy finds inspiration everywhere, opting to see creativity in all aspects of life and to communicate her ideas through the mundane. She explains in an interview:
I take what I can and make it my own. I enjoy working with different materials, things that surround me, that I come across in my everyday life. I’m a self-proclaimed hunter and gatherer of things; I look for natural elements to work with [such] as plants, herbs, barks, and natural dyes, using either traditional or modern techniques. I choose a material and look for a way to highlight it. I’ve never learned to read and write, and so my fashion is the most important vessel for the expression of my creativity.
The designer’s penchant for bold, dramatic fashion is informed by Senegalese culture, which prizes style and clothing as a mode of expression, beauty, and power. Coulson’s photographs translate those traditions and values through visual documentation. “It was very fulfilling to do a fashion shoot that wasn’t about selling the latest clothes and more about celebrating the work and influence on Senegalese culture of Oumou Sy,” he notes.
To follow Coulson’s photographs capturing the lives of people around the world, head to Instagram.