June 2nd - July 16th, 2016
Born 1930 in Ovbiomu-Emai, Nigeria – Died February 2, 2014 in Lagos, Nigeria
J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere was born in Ovbiomu-Emai, western Nigeria, in 1930. At age 20, on the advice of a neighbor who taught him the rudiments of photography, he bought a modest Brownie D camera. In 1951, he repeatedly sent the same letter to the Ministry of Information: “I would be very grateful if you would offer me any position in your photographic department.” His persistence paid off when he was hired as a darkroom assistant two years later.
In 1961, J.D. became the first African TV station’s stills photographer. At the dawn of independence, it was an exceptional experience to be part of the proud and motivated young team, headed up by Nigerian jazz musician Steve Rhodes. Hardworking, Ojeikere was contacted by West Africa Publicity, for whom he worked full-time from 1963 until 1975, when he set up his own studio, Foto Ojeikere. In 1967, he joined the Nigerian Arts Council, which organized festivals of visual and performance art. At one such festival, in 1968, using a Rolleiflex 6×6 and working in black & white, he took his first series devoted to Nigerian culture. For the next thirty years, he applied the same thematic approach wherever he worked. Comprising more than 1,000 photographs, the Hairstyles series was his most prolific, vigorous body of work.
“To watch a hair artist’s precise gestures, like an artist at work on a sculpture, is fascinating. Hairstyles are an art form.” He photographed hairstyles systematically, every day, on the street, in offices, at parties, mostly from behind, sometimes in profile, and rarely head-on. “A photo from head-on shows nothing. Those taken from behind are almost abstract and best capture the sculptural aspect of the hairstyle. For Ojeikere, Hairstyles was a never-ending project, since hairstyles evolve with fashion. “All these hairstyles are ephemeral. I want my photographs to be noteworthy traces of them. I always wanted to record moments of beauty, moments of knowledge. Art is life. Without art, life would be frozen.”
J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere by André Magnin, Editions Actes Sud/Fondation Cartier pour l’Art contemporain, 2000.