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Renowned photographer Ojeikere dead at 83: family

04 February 2014, 20:00

Lagos - Renowned photographer JD 'Okhai Ojeikere, whose images of traditional hairstyles won him plaudits at home and abroad, has died at the age of 83, his family said on Tuesday.

"My father had a brief illness and he died after that," his son, Amaize Ojeikere, who is also a photographer, told AFP.

"It's a big shock for all of us. My brothers were with him on Sunday at the hospital and they left and then soon after he died."

His body will be sent to his native village of Ovbiomu-Emai in the southern state of Edo, where he will be buried, he added.

JD 'Okhai Ojeikere was born in 1930 and began taking pictures with a Brownie D camera after being taught by a neighbour.

From there he worked his way up to be a darkroom assistant at a government photography department.

After Nigeria gained independence in 1960, he worked as a photographer with the Western Nigerian Broadcasting Service and moved to Lagos in 1963, going on to join the Nigerian Arts Council.

It was at the arts body that the work he became famous for took shape when he was given an assignment to document Nigerian culture.

The portfolio of hairstyles -- in black and white, from the back, front or in profile, of intricately braided designs and all manner of shapes and sizes -- became a collection of thousands of images.

Ojeikere added to them over the course of his life, attracting international attention, including that of African contemporary art specialist Andre Magnin.

"Some people knocked at the gate at my father's house in Lagos. It was in 1998," Amaize Ojeikere recalled.

"I recognised the two Nigerian photographers but I didn't know the white gentleman. When he saw my dad's work, Magnin fell on his knees! He said, 'I'm going to make a book on you!'"

Two years later, he exhibited for the first time in Europe at the Cartier foundation in Paris.

French gallery owner Magnin, who was true to his word about the book, described Ojeikere's photographs as a "unique anthropological, ethnographic and documentary national treasure".

Further exhibitions followed across the world.

Ojeikere himself was quoted as saying on Magnin's website that the hairdressers were like artists crafting a sculpture when they worked.

"All these hairstyles are ephemeral. I want my photographs to be noteworthy traces of them," he said.

"I always wanted to record moments of beauty, moments of knowledge. Art is life. Without art, life would be frozen."

Amaize Ojeikere said: "Style, imagination, creativity, ability to work in hard conditions, the need to do personal stuff for myself... my father taught me everything you can think of.

"We travelled together in all his trips. I also took lovely photos of him."




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