J.D. Ojeikere’s flashlights go out
Our author Obidike Okafor pays tribute to legendary photographer J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere.
19. February 2014
J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere never allowed reaching dizzying heights in photography to distort his work ethic, even at 83 he was excited about the images planned for 2014. And even though this devotee of printed pictures has gone to be in the land of his Nigerian ancestors, the vast collection he has left behind is a testament of his dedication that will also enrich following generations with valuable cultural knowledge.
Ojeikere was not ready to go just yet, as he was working on something new for the year. His creative juices had not lost their potency, even after 63 years of taking pictures, his works still had the same energy and innovation they had when he first started taking pictures with a Brownie D camera at the age of 20.
Every Ojeikere loves the camera – J.D. Ojeikere’s iconic images inspired generations of his family to appreciate documenting events and experiences using photography. This love for archiving may stem from one of Ojeikere’s largest projects which he started in 1968, where he documented Nigerian hairstyles.
Starting as a darkroom assistant in 1954 at the Ministry of Information in Ibadan, Ojeikere was taking pictures at a time when no one cared about photographs for their artistic or documentation value.
Apart from the Hairstyle series, after joining the Nigerian Arts Council, Ojeikere began documenting the different cultural nuances peculiar to Nigerians – staying true to his artistic vision, which went beyond thinking of financial gains.
It was later in life that his over 1000 images of hairstyles and some of his other works were shown in galleries and museums across the world, for instance at 2007’s documenta and at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 as part of “Il Palazzo Enciclopedico”, curated by Massimiliano Gioni.
Even after more than 60 years of taking pictures, the keen eye for looking at life in frames was kept fresh by his creative juices that always made him eager to create new work every year.
The lesson any painter, any photographer, anyone who pursues an artistic calling can learn from one of Africa’s greatest shutter masters, is that at the end of the day, patience always pays.
Ojeikere’s family plans to create an archive of all his works – published and unpublished, not only to honour him but also to keep his legacy.
J.D. Ojeikere will be missed not only by photographers or curators, but by everyone who appreciates life as it is.
Obidike Okafor is a content consultant, freelance art journalist and documentary film maker based in Lagos.