With gratitude to God, we announce the passing away of our father, and an icon of photography, Pa J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere. He died in the afternoon of 2nd February after a brief illness. He was 83 years old. Burial announcements will be announced later.
– Ehiz’ Ojeikere, for the family.
Known for his stunning documentation of hair styles and sculptures, J.D. Okhai Ojeikere was a Nigerian photographer who began his career in 1954 as a darkroom assistant at the Ministry of Information, Ibadan. He was born in 1930 and bought his first camera in 1950, a Brownie D.
A year after Nigeria gained independence, he began working at Television House Ibadan as a studio photographer under Steve Rhodes. He joined the Nigerian Arts Council in 1967, and 1968 saw the start of his documentation of Nigerian hairstyles, a project that would become his trademark. However, his first solo exhibition wasn’t till 1995, when his work showed in Nigeria and was also shown outside the country for the first time, as part of an exhibition in Switzerland.
Watching his interview for the ARS 11 exhibition (6:50-9:38), it’s almost impossible not to like the light in his eyes or the sound of his voice. It sounds like home and resilience- his work went unpublished for thirty years until a French curator chanced upon it during a visit to Nigeria. Pa J.D. Ojeikere’s images embody the preservation of an African (in this case, a Nigerian) aesthetic, recording features of society that were so specific to the time and place he found himself in. His work is our history, regal and rich. In an excerpt from the interview, he spoke simply and eloquently about what he did:
“You know, nature gives every human being a role to play in life. It happened to be that by nature, I am created to be a photographer. And being a photographer does not mean that I have to cover all aspects of photography. I am not a war photographer, I am a civil photographer. And I have an urge to document culture, not wars and civil strife.”
R.I.P to a legendary artist and pioneer. His work will continue to inspire generations of artists to come, and in that, he will always be immortal to us.
You can see more of his work over at Fifty One Fine Art Photography.