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Meet Teanna Woods Okojie of T.Woods Photography LLC. in Eastlake, Chula Vista

Today we’d like to introduce you to Teanna Woods Okojie.

Teanna, before we jump into specific questions about your work, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Art has always played a significant role in my life. I started photography at the age of 15, taking my first photography course in high school as a sophomore. That was the first time I was exposed to all the elements of photography. It was a traditional black-and-white darkroom course. I learned how to develop a roll of film, how to shoot images using a manual film camera, how to develop my images in the darkroom, and all the basics of photography. Sort of a photography 101 course, I started in the beginning course and by my senior year, I was the top student in the advanced course. I remember spending some of my lunch hours in the darkroom developing prints.

My photography instructor Mr. Reyes was truly the one who encouraged my newly discovered artistic gift. Before taking photography as a formal course, I had always just done art on my own and was deeply expressive. I had such a deep interest in the art world. Mr. Reyes was blown away by how great my first roll of film was and he even asked me if I was the one who took the images. He helped foster confidence in my work. He was initially the one who encouraged me to take photography seriously and take on photography as a career. Which was something I had never thought about before. In my junior year in high school, typically the time you start applying for colleges, I had a completely different plan. Becoming a professional photographer was not apart of that plan. Once again my photography teacher encouraged me to look into a specific school which was, Brooks Institute of Photography, at the time it was one of the top photography schools in the United States. One Saturday morning, my family and I drove up north for a tour of the campus. I fell in love with Brooks and ended up moving forward with applying. I was accepted.

The semester before graduating from Brooks Institute of Photography, I did an independent study in Cape Town, South Africa. The experience was incredible and life changing. I was able to intern for two photographers, a fashion photographer and a still life photographer. I also volunteered at a street orphanage in the community for children ages 3-15. I truly had an incredible time, that’s when I felt a deep passion for wanting to incorporate my love for children through photography. When I returned to the US to graduate with my class, everyone was very captivated by my experience in Africa and drawn to the images I created while there. I was also the first female student of color to establish connections in South Africa and create my internship course.

After graduating from Brooks, I was dead set on moving to New York. I spent a little over a year saving and working in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I graduated during the recession, it was a huge challenge for myself and my peers to find work in our field. That’s when I began to develop my teaching skills. I started teaching art, photography, and multimedia design, as supplementary income. While pursuing freelance work. Which honestly is what I’ve done throughout my entire career. I love working with children and helping foster their creative voice.

After moving from L.A. to New York, I felt my work completely come alive. I hit the ground running. I established new connections, got involved in a lot of art shows, and my work was featured at the MOCADA museum, in Brooklyn. I connected with so many incredible artists and discovered a new part of myself I never expected to find. One of my first jobs as a freelancer was for {Vogue Bambini} magazine, which is an Italian Vogue publication for kids and teens fashion. At the time I was pursuing my career in children and teens fashion, so you can understand my excitement landing those first gigs with the magazine.

Throughout my time in NYC, I continued to explore different areas of photography. In 2013 I felt myself wondering what was next, wanting to revamp my work. I wanted to start traveling again and my spirit felt lead to explore humanitarian and documentary photography, with a focus on children and families. In 2015, I was a professional photographer for a mission trip to India, focused on survivors of Human Trafficking. From India, I once again returned to Africa. This time West Africa, Lagos Nigeria. Since then I’ve been traveling extensively throughout Africa, continuing humanitarian and documentary projects. I can say that this journey feels very full circle for me. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.

What were you like growing up? Personality wise, interest wise, etc.
Growing up I was a free spirit, very creative, curious, adventurous and global minded. I’ve always felt very comfortable in my skin. I’ve been told by my parents that I’ve always been very artistic and was often creating something. I loved World Geography in school and was very curious about other people’s cultures and life experiences. Very thoughtful and empathetic towards others as well. Often friends would tell me their deepest secrets, I think knowing I wouldn’t tell anyone, I never did. I also remember being described by others as shy, which was not how I felt at all. I was just very observant and very cautious of who I would share things with and would talk to. Being a deep thinker, I believe went hand-in-hand with my faith and spirituality as well. My personality has always been funny and witty and way too heavy on the sarcasm as a teenager.

I was often very interested in different forms of art and wanted to experiment/explore them on my own. At a young age, I was allowed to dress myself. So I would create my outfits {which I loved to do}. I used to sketch designs all the time in High School, I still have an image of myself in the first dress I created at four years old. I’ve always been in love with vintage photographs. When I was a child I loved old images of singers. Donna Summer, Dolly Parton, Diana Ross and Cher, to name a few were extremely fascinating to me. I remember taking my first panoramic image during 6th grade camp. The mountains reminded me of an old photograph of my mother and sisters in the 70’s. I was a daydreamer, often very moved by music, captivated by stained glass windows, kaleidoscopes, rainbows and butterflies. Those magical elements of life resonated with me.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I am the first full-time artist in my family. When I decided at such a young age to pursue photography, I had no idea about the sacrifice and struggles that small business owners experience. Through trial and error, I’ve gained massive knowledge both personally and professionally and of course, am still learning. No, the road has not been smooth, but I’ve had wonderful and great opportunities and great challenges. I can say, I started to feel those challenges more intensely as I’ve matured in my career.

While in New York, like any other artist. I had a very specific idea of where I wanted to be in my career. It has honestly taken much longer than what I anticipated, to be more, “recognized in my field.” The ongoing obstacles that I’ve faced, have more to do with how the industry is shaped and not necessarily the quality of my work or work ethic. As a woman, and a woman of color, I’ve faced very different challenges that have nothing to do with my talent. From misogynistic bosses & clients to being completely overlooked for opportunities solely based on my gender and race. Recently, while on Twitter, a well established magazine publication posted something along the lines of congratulating a black photographer they hired to shoot their cover story. They hadn’t hired a person of color in over 33 years. Someone right underneath that tweet replied with something like this, “Think about that for a moment, for over 33 years not one single black person was hired as a photographer for this publication.”

As I continue to go forward in my photography career, another ongoing struggle is being paid for your work and having your worth honored. Being a full-time artist and wanting to earn money for the art that you’re creating is a significant obstacle. I am so grateful to have very supportive mentors, artist community, and family while navigating through this complicated industry.

Please tell us about your work.
I’m a professional portrait, documentary and humanitarian photographer, producer and arts educator. I’ll work with an organization directly, establishing their needs and creating content/campaigns for their specific cause. I also instruct photography seminars, where I teach a full course in photography 101 {for children, youth, individuals and/or large groups}. Last September 2018, I launched, T.WOODS PHOTO ARTIST SHOP, powered by Threadless. My online e-commerce store where I sell my photographic images and inspirational mantras, imprinted on apparel and more.

Integrity and ethics are the fundamentals of all the work that I do. I can say I am most proud of the ethical storytelling I’ve created. Ensuring that I’m telling an accurate story of the individual at hand. Whether it’s a family portrait session or I’m working for a nonprofit organization, it’s key that I’m capturing the essence of who my client is. I can say that is consistently conveyed through the images created. Integrity and ethics are what my company stands for throughout the years.

As I mentioned before I am very observant and extremely detail oriented. My attention to detail and my warm personality set me apart. I’m very personable, so I want to ensure that I am delivering the desired outcome that my client is asking for. I love developing healthy working relationships with my clients. I want them to feel as if we are now connected through that specific time that we’ve spent together creating something meaningful and impactful.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
One of the proudest moments of my career was my first art show in New York City. I connected with someone at a networking event and they later asked if I wanted to be apart of a group show highlighting young black artists. The African American Art Collective. I accepted of course and was so excited about showcasing my work in a New York art gallery space. The Collective was a huge success, me and the other artists were covered by media outlets, bloggers and a substantial amount of photography agents came to view the show. On opening night, there were so many attendees, the elevator broke and there was a massive line around the block, in the middle of winter.

It was the first time I’d ever been apart of something so massive and impactful. Also the first time I was asked insightful questions about my work and myself as an artist.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
@T.Woods Photography LLC.

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