How Flo Ngala Prepared to Be the First Black Woman to Take Photos Inside the Met Gala

How Flo Ngala Prepared to Be the First Black Woman to Take Photos Inside the Met Gala

Flo Ngala fully admits to being a crier. Met Gala Monday — she’s already crying for the second time, and it’s only morning. Turns out, causing small drops of boiling water accidentally, causing the first wave of tears. Her mom, Tina, who installed the braids, stood up for her sister Wendy handled her makeup and family friend Altea Kelly crouched below her to apply her nails. Even the commotion of the day could not compare with the warmth of the family’s Harlem apartment, which was a welcome change to the Met Gala preparation. “The theme of this whole day is ‘come as you are,’” she tells me. The sob only lasted a few seconds before the planning of the day, and her glam squad resumed their duties accordingly. The show must go on, after all.

The photographer has had a busy week, starting with a photo shoot for Burna Boy’s sold-out Madison Square Garden show, all while trying to get her belongings out of her apartment to a storage unit. Her hair was intended to flow into faux locs, and she planned to gather her family, friends, and select media in a catered Nigerian food to observe the whole glam process. However, it has not been time to sit in a salon chair, so it has no choice but to return to the place she has called home for many years. “At a point today, I called my mom crying because I didn’t have my hair done. I asked her what she thinks I should do. They said, “Well, cancel your hair appointment and do what you have to do,” Flo recalls. Tina and Flo’s late father owned a braiding salon in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Tina traded in her healthcare scrubs and came out of retirement to install the curved stitched cornrows “The universe was definitely humbling me, but I’m actually happy because of my mom and sister,” she adds. “I’m happy about how you ended up being at home.”

Home is Harlem. Born Florence Ngala in the upper Manhattan neighborhood in 1995, she has always wondered why immigrant parents chose New York over places like Houston or Los Angeles. She discovered the spirit and charm of Harlem as she grew older through many interactions with neighbors, strangers, and at school. “There’s a huge energy here that separates Harlem from the people who live in the surrounding boroughs,” she explains. “You go 125th street, it’s lined up with entrepreneurship. You’ll be trying to sell you a toothpaste or a shampoo or something. When I was younger, entrepreneurship was something I was surrounded by. I was also surrounded by this beautiful artistry and aesthetic of black excellence. Once I got the camera in my early teens, Harlem was the first thing I started documenting — and that’s where the street photography came in. ”

The predominantly white prep school where she studied photography classes from ninth through 12th grades. When the then-aspiring photographer returned to her neighborhood after school, inspiration struck her, and she began capturing street shots of Harlem. She juggled her communications degree at The City College of New York with side jobs as a photographer after that. Then, on the first day of the second semester of her junior year, she got a long break: Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s “All the Way Up” music video and brought her camera along to snap photos whenever she could. Cardi B, Burna Boy, and Gucci Mane were among her early photo subjects, followed by a slew of commercial assignments. Cardi B would become a frequent collaborator.

Harlem is also where he and her neighbor Johnny Nunez, a prominent hip-hop figure known for working as Damon Dash’s personal photographer, who met Flo when she was 13 years old. “It takes a village,” Nunez said as he and his wife, Angelique, entered the crowded apartment. Six hands were crammed around Flo, getting her ready for a 2:30 PM call time, while several others were busy with cameras filming the woman of the hour, scrolling through Spotify door to let the many deliveries in. Flo let out another shriek, this one prompted by the stress of the clock ticking away and her driver fast approaching. In a matter of moments, the first Black woman photographer to shoot inside the Met Gala.

In 2022, attaching the “first Black” label to anything reveals a wider issue, but Flo’s achievement is a cause for even greater celebration. “It means a lot, really,” she says. “In this situation, I think it’s important to know that the Met has been happening for 74 years. It’s not a new thing. But, I don’t think the photography space and industry has normalized women photographers who look like I’m doing work at this level. So it’s important to know in 2022 that this is happening. ” What’s more, celebrities at the Met are not encouraged to use their phones, which allows photographers like Flo to have exclusive images of the festivities. “There are only four photographers that were long, and I’m one of four,” she adds. “So it’s very, very interesting to think about what my lens means to be vetted, and to mean something to such a legacy establishment.”

For the big night, Flo wanted to be doused in Black excellence, from her dress to her accessories and consultants she recruited for styling help. Novella Ford, associate director of public programs and exhibitions at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, who sent a fellow black creature with interior designer Sheila Bridges and, ultimately, a Met Gala dress designed by Mark Ingram for Harlem Toile Archives.

“He pulled out this green dress and we added a bow to it,” Flo said. “He then put some tulle on it, and then he had his seamstress, like, make it a little more like a short because I would be working and still running around.”

Flo teamed the dress with black embellished mules and a gold double knuckle ring by jewelry designer Johnny Nelson. Malcolm X, Shirley Chisholm, Ida B. Wells, and James Baldwin are just a few of his signature styles – a custom piece depicting her parents. “When I found out that theme was gilded glamor, [Nelson] definitely came to mind, because I remember seeing his past, and his jewelry is so amazing, ”she explains. Flo’s friend Anthony Konigbagbe recommended Johnny Nelson jewelry for her Met look. “So I reached out to him to do a custom [piece] because I want to invest something creative that was aligned with who I am. ” She settled on the idea of ​​immortalizing her parents through a piece she can cherish forever. “I love my parents very dearly, and it feels like a very special addition to the overall look. He did have other ones that were available to pull, but [this] it’s just a different level of personal touch. ”

The ensemble was a smash at the Met Gala, with Erykah Badu and Cynthia Erivo complimenting Flo throughout the night. But memorable photography was what she was pursuing, and she got the shots no matter what it took. To do so, Ngala held Teyana Taylor’s Christian Louboutins, Tom Ford’s glass set, and Alicia Keys’s train at the end of the night. Of course, she finally came across the Cardi B, with her Thom Browne Met Gala outfit in 2019. “I asked her take a picture with Kim Kardashian, and Pete Davidson helped me,” Flo says . Mission accomplished.

My sister Wendy prepping my hair.

My mom doing my cornrows. She’s done me and my sister’s hair our whole lives!

Receiving the dress from Mark Ingram’s atelier, so exciting !!!

Baby hairs getting laid by my sis while Altea preps my skin with ice. Altea truly has the best beauty tips.

Mom cleaning up stray ends on the braids.

Here, Wendy is doing my makeup.

On the phone and stressed out while trying to toast (a little) before heading out. This Bleu champagne was from my friends by Luc Belaire.

Taking the plastic protection off the dress for the big reveal.

Attaching the bow to Flo!

Johnny is like my big bro or uncle — he’s known me since I was 13! He’s an iconic photographer in the industry and a dear family friend, so I wanted to make sure he got this big day for me. ❤️

Family first! My mom is from Nigeria, but the flag behind us is from Cameroon, where my late dad was from. He’s kept this in our living room ever since I can remember, so it means a lot. I know he’d be so proud of this moment. (Also, honorable mention to my little bro Abel who’s away at college.)

My dress’s name tag and my boyfriend, Edward, taking a pic.

I got it from my mama! Here she is heading off to work. After coming home from work that morning to my hair, she’s off to another shift. The hardest working woman I know. I literally got it from my mom!

Here’s Johnny and his wife, Dr. Angelique Nunez. I’ve been surrounded by Black excellence! They watched us from teens to young adults.

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