Meet Adeyemi Adegbesan
Name: Adeyemi Adegbesan
Current Occupation: Photographer
Brand/Instagram Handle: SoTeeOh
Hometown: Toronto, ON
Education: Ryerson University (Bachelors of Social Work)
Adeyemi is a Toronto-born photographer but you probably know him as @soteeoh on instagram. We love that SoTeeOh captures our city in a way that is effortless and culturally relevant. When he isn’t creating artwork for exhibitions and publications, you can find Adeyemi working with commercial clients to revitalize their visual brand strategies and deliver engaging digital content. He has worked alongside some impressive names; Adidas, RedBull, Toronto Raptors, and Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), to name a few.
If you aren’t familiar with SoTeeOh, check out this video on his work. His solo show, ICON, explored Toronto’s visual identity as the city’s reputation grows.
Adeyemi mentioned that he’s going to ride the SoTeeOh and YungYemi wave for the rest of 2018. Aside from the commercial work, a lot of Adeyemi’s energy is going into YungYemi, his non-photography venture. He’s excited to see what the YungYemi work will look like once it’s fully realized. That being said, he’s reassured us that the SoTeeOh photography isn’t going anywhere.
Adeyemi says we can expect more playfulness in the rest of his 2018 work. He’s making a point to do more experimenting in the coming months. We had the chance to sit down with Adeyemi for our Letter to My Younger Self series.
Influence Digest: Is there a specific age that you could have used some advice from your older self?
Adeyemi: 14-15 years old
Not that you need to have a serious focus at that age, but at that point you’re in high school and the things that you do actually start to matter. In terms of my own experience, that’s where I can see some of the seeds that I planted start to play out down the road.
Influence Digest: What is your take on collaborations? How do you choose which ones you take on?
Adeyemi: Work for free or full price, but never for cheap.
A lot of time, people think about payment when they think about collaborations. I just want my collaborations to be mutually beneficial – and if they truly are, we can collaborate with money aside. We can both invest into something because we both know it’s going to benefit us.
If there is any question around payment and financial compensation, I put it in the “work” category and it’s full price. If it’s not full price, it’s not worth doing. There’s this grey area that I see a lot of artists and creatives getting caught up in, where the project becomes super draining and that usually doesn’t lead to work that anyone is very happy with. I’d say that you should stay away from that and pursue things that are mutually beneficial. If both sides aren’t benefiting, it’s probably not worth doing.
Don’t sell out your own work in order to collaborate. Choose things that you’re really passionate and excited about.
Collaborating on commercial work: you had to be realistic, you want to work with brands that align with your values to an extent. Because when that work goes out, it’s also a reflection of you. If you’re consistently selling out and doing things that don’t align with yourself at all, you’re going to run into a dead end. Your brand will diminish to a point where other groups won’t want to partner with you.
You’re right, lots of companies have a scandal or something like that, but I don’t see a big difference between collaborating with a company creatively that may have done some shady stuff and working a 9-5 job for a company that has done some shady stuff. Everyone that is participating in this capitalist system is compromising to some degree,
I think people might put more pressure on creatives to collaborate responsibly.
But I don’t think that’s a fair expectation. I think you just have to do your best to live virtuously. As long as a brand isn’t overtly promoting something that I’m personally opposed to then that is where I draw the line.
Influence Digest: How do you balance passion projects and paid gigs?
Adeyemi: Passion projects drive everything else.
Nobody is going to pay for your potential and nobody will let you experiment on their own time. You’re responsible for that experimentation and passion projects are like your testing ground. You need a balance because a lot of time passion projects won’t get you paid and we all need money to live.
I see it as a cycle of passion projects and commercial work.
When you put a passion project out, you are investing in it and you push it, then you see what it brings back to you. If you’re doing a good job, it’ll draw attention (and commercial work). I see it as a cycle – you have to keep going back to passion projects because it helps you evolve, otherwise you become outdated.
Whatever you do, see it through.
At 14/15 years old, passion projects are awesome because you probably haven’t mastered any skill – it’s all about experimenting. But don’t just dabble; if you have an idea, see it through – if you finish it and feel like it’s not something you want to do, that’s cool.
Influence Digest: How important has it been for you to explore different art forms?
Adeyemi: I went through a lot of different mediums before I did photography. I did a lot of jumping around and not seeing things through – so I picked up a lot of skills but I didn’t see it accumulate or pay off.
By the time I started photography, I had the maturity to stick with it even when it got tough.
As with anything, you’ll eventually reach a plateau but it’s important to fight through that. It’s been great that I explored all these mediums when I was younger – it gives me a lot of inspiration for the work that I’m doing now. I’m extremely grateful that I did all that experimentation when I was younger – I also think that if you box yourself into one thing, you can be really efficient but it’s hard to grow and evolve. If you’re locked into one box, it’s tough to adapt. You see it happen all the time where people become outdated.
Youtube is the best university in the world right now – that’s how I like to learn.
I really value learning – and as an artist, if you’re opening yourself up to different mediums, it’s an exciting way to continually learn. It keeps your mind fresh, you know? Even if you aren’t fully applying all those new things, it’s good for your mind.
I started YungYemi (publically) about 2 years ago – it was a way to repurpose a lot of ideas that I couldn’t express through the SoTeeOh photography brand.
The ideas can be expressed through photography but I had created a niche within photography. I’m very happy and proud of that, but my next option was to create a new incarnation of what I do – YungYemi is about revisiting the ideas, mediums, and even the people that inspired me when I was younger (while I was on my creative path).
I’ve been very fortunate with photography and I’ve had a lot of success in Toronto – but it’s really cool to see my ideas go out and connect with entirely different communities.
Influence Digest: What are your thoughts on mentorship?
Adeyemi: Mentorship is vital.
A lot of people see this as a linear ascension, where you’re competing with everybody and you’re just trying to strive. I like to look at it as an ecosystem – everything in the ecosystem has multiple purposes and it’s cyclical.
As much as I want to put my work out and be compensated for it, I also want to be part of that experience for other people.
It’s really important for me to go to other people’s art shows and share the knowledge that I’ve gained. At the end of the day, we’re all part of the community – whether that is a physical community or a cultural one, or a community of thought. We’re all part of communities, so if our community flourishes, so do we. It’s really important not to view everyone as competitors but
Toronto music is a great example – it’s not about one person doing well and vanquishing everyone else like they’re enemies. If you do really well and you let others do well, you’re creating an infrastructure that brings money into the city. With the money, way more people can do well and in a few years you’ll have this booming scene where lots of people are thriving. But none of that would happen if you have the “crabs in a bucket” mentality.
Influence Digest: Has your background in social work influenced your work as a photographer?
Adeyemi: One hundred percent – studying social work led me to do youth work, and I did that for ten years here in Toronto. That experience taught me a lot about life and community, and about the different experiences that people go through.
When you’re a photographer, a lot of the time you’re telling stories.
To do that, you have to understand what people are about and what makes them tick. That’s something that I learned a lot from the youth work that I did. To this day, I still do a lot of workshops with young people about photography and life skills – it’s something that’s been consistent through my youth work days to now.
Influence Digest: What would you tell your younger self about Toronto? Any tips on things to appreciate/pay more attention to?
Adeyemi: I always appreciated the scale and views of Toronto, so in terms of the imagery I put out, that’s what clicked for me creatively. But my favourite thing about the city is definitely the people.
There are so many different communities, and not just physical communities but also a diversity of ideas. There are so many things that exist within this city. That’s what makes this place special. A lot of my photography is buildings and cityscapes, but it’s funny because a lot of my time is spent with people, engaging with those communities. That’s really what I’m putting in as my energy, it’s not necessarily what I put out but it’s what’s fueling me.
Say hi first! You’ll end up connecting with people that can really unlock this city in a new way.
I’d tell my younger self to be brave and jump into situations – there are so many events and gatherings going on in this city. Put yourself in those situations and meet people. The returns are huge.
A good example of “saying hi first” would be when I started tattooing. I tattooed for a while and it was completely random – I didn’t have any connections or know anyone doing it. I remember going to buy equipment for the first time – I was talking to the guy at the counter and he quickly realized that I had no experience. He was super skeptical but it’s all about conviction – I just thought, “well fine, I’m still going to give you this money and you’re still going to give me this equipment.” I would go back every couple weeks to buy more stuff and pretty soon he was like, “I guess this guy is really doing this.”
Influence Digest: Is there anything else you’d want to tell your younger self?
Adeyemi: It sounds corny, but have faith that the universe will hold you up. A lot of people struggle with that concept and they’ll say “well why don’t I just lie around all day if they universe works that way” but it’s not like that.
You still have to hustle and grind, but pour yourself into the things that you’re passionate about and trust that the universe will support you.
If you’re consistently putting that effort in, good things happen – you’ll attract good people and over time it starts to build momentum. That’s how the universe supports you. This is something that I didn’t understand until much later in life but I wish I would’ve recognized those patterns earlier.