Emma Tettey-Fio: raising the bar in a male dominated industry
“Women have been an active part of photography since its inception. Though not credited with the invention of photography, women have played significant roles working alongside the pioneers, often printing for their husbands, and taking photographs themselves. Constance Talbot, the wife of photography pioneer Henry Fox Talbot, and Anna Atkins, an English botanist and friend of the Talbots, were the first female photographers as recorded by historians. They were taking photographs alongside Talbot and his peers as they developed and advanced the earliest photographic methods.”
That was how the London based enterprising photographer, Emma Tettey-Fio, responded to my description of photography being a male dominated industry.
Born and raised in Ghana, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Adonia Media emphasized on the dynamic role of female practitioners in the evolving world of photography and listed the extraordinary works by some female photographers.
As a person, she is committed to working hard and smart to make an impact in the industry and become a reference point.
Recounting her formative years in Ghana, she said: “I grew up in Osu, in the heart of the nation’s capital, Accra. Growing up in Ghana had its challenges but my mother did her best to give my sister and I, a happy childhood.
Despite the challenges and considering the prevalence of abuse and some of the ugly realities of life, we can only be grateful for all the good things that happened to us. At 15, my father decided to send for us. He had been living in Belgium for a number of years. Our brother was already in Canada and so in 2001 my sister and I joined our father.”
Belgium presented a number of cultural shocks for young Emma and her sister Linda. “Belgium was very different from Ghana in several ways. The public displays of affection were quite new to me and I considered it very hilarious in the beginning.
Also, there was the language barrier which sometimes made communication a bit difficult but we tried to get around that. Then, the lack of a pre-existing relationship with my dad prior to our relocation was becoming an issue as I sometimes had to challenge him on certain issues.”
Having been raised by her mother, Emma wasn’t used to living in a patriarchal home which meant answering to her dad in everything she does. “Growing up, there wasn’t a point at which I had to answer to my dad, it was always my mum who I had watched juggle multiple jobs and be fiercely independent.
She had done so much for us and this was the mind set ingrained in me all these years. You had to hustle for everything in life and my mum was a hustler and that was the principle and philosophy we lived by,” she added.
Life in Belgium gave Emma a degree of financial freedom and provided her with an opportunity to travel extensively across Europe and also see other parts of the globe. The exposure to the rest of the world opened her up and shaped her perception about several things in life, from culture to stereotypes and discernments.
“I have always loved challenges and felt like I had a springboard for life. I was never passionate about anything in particular but I have always been naturally creative. I remember taking up school projects for my cousins and was always drawing and playing around with art. I had never thought of it as a passion but I was an artist of a sort, a digital artist - photography, cinematography and editing.”
Emma struggled to learn French and Flemish whilst in Belgium and the language barrier limited her academic pursuits. In 2004, Emma and Linda moved to the United Kingdom to stay with their grandmother who has been residing in London for years.
Emma immediately enrolled at Southfields College where she studied Sociology, History, English Literature and Geography. “I did the equivalent to BECE and continued on to A Levels. Before enrolling into university, I took some time out to reflect on what I wanted to be and do.
My grandmother had given me an extraordinary support and proved she wanted the best for me at all times though living with her had its challenges. In diverse ways, she made us realise the realities of the world and the need to be more logical and rational in doing things. I can only describe her support and guidance as invaluable,” she said.
After developing an interest in television production, Emma applied to a university in Liverpool. She was passionate about being behind the camera but yet confused as to what to do with her life after her education. Also, she had reservations about moving away from family and ended up missing the entrance into the university that year.
To avoid waiting for another year to enter into the university, she applied to pursue Media Studies and Communications at the Brunel University after consulting with family members and close friends.
“It turned out that as the course progressed, I found myself increasingly interested in media and cameras. The ability of a lens to pick up and depict life in detail mesmerised me. I graduated in 2010 and immediately took up employment as I was no longer receiving financial support from my parents or grandmother.
I picked up a job in a retail shop selling cameras and other digital equipment. I am a member of the Potters House Christian Fellowship and I had a ministry opportunity to do the church's end of year video for a number of years after they were impressed with the first one. All these helped me to develop my skills and also serve in my local church. I had the opportunity to work alongside some big companies like 249 Accent.”
On the back of this, Emma decided to get commercial and make the most out of her passion and talent. “I decided it was time to develop my own media company as the corporate media world did not appeal to me. The equipment was second to none as colleagues lived and breathed the work. There seemed to be no work life balance. The pace and nature of the industry means that the demand for news, entertainment and information doesn't stop. We often take the media for granted not fully appreciating the amount of work and the pressure for deadlines.”
She started freelancing doing weddings and conferences but not with a desire of establishing a media company. “Until the latter part of 2015, I had not surrounded myself with people who would propel me in business. I unconsciously fell into the rut of the day to day life and work with a good job but not linked to my ambitions to build my company. As 2016 started, I had a clear plan for my company, Adonai Media and I had a vision and goals that will be realised by the end of the business year in 2018.”
At the moment, Emma has a number of people she looks up to as well as colleagues who are inspirational and ambitious. She is committed to partnering with other entrepreneurs to take Adonai Media to the next level and making it one of the leading media outlets across the United Kingdom focused on photography.
“Another thing is I work with other businesses to promote professional and philanthropic goals across the UK as well as in Ghana. I believe in giving back to society and recently partnered with Landmark with raises money for orphanages around the world. This is the first of many charities that we hope to invest in going forward and I am very optimistic there will be a lot we could do in that space.”
The ultimate vision for Adonia Media, according to Emma, is to expend their operations to Ghana and eventually create employment for thousands of Ghanaians.
“The digital art world is becoming more and more diverse and whilst the majority of companies are owned by men, there is a real respect for talent and the ability to deliver. Gender is not so much a barrier as long as you are creative and hardworking. Ironically, I do get a lot of enquiries where potential clients assume that I am a man and address the email to 'Dear Sir.'
I don't have any personal pictures on my website or social media so unless someone already knows me, it will be easy to assume that it would be a man behind Adonai Media. When I turn up for jobs or respond with my personal email signature it can be quite interesting to see what reaction I get for being a female”.
In her concluding words, Emma said: “the media industry is fast paced and things are consistently changing. It will be great to see more women visible in the industry and whilst I don't suggest that I have arrived, there is a lot of untapped potential in creative women. Changes in technology mean you have to be on top of your game. Be passionate, be focused and go for it would be my advice for any young female entrepreneurs.”