Words Temitayo Ogunbiyi
Nigerian photographer JD 'Okhai Ojeikere has long been a pillar of the Nigerian visual arts scene. He is internationally renowned for his striking black and white photographs – the most famous of which depict Nigerian hairstyles (pictured above). His works double as a historical archive, highlighting the diverse aesthetics and cultures that characterise his country.
Though Ojeikere has been a successful photographer for decades, his perspectives are ever prescient as is his engagement with contemporary times. As part of a wider feature on the contemporary Lagos art scene (published in Issue 13) , ARISE spoke to Ojeikere about visual art in the Nigerian capital, young photographers and embracing new technology.
How has the visual arts scene in Lagos changed over the past few years?
I think that there has been a lot of improvement, compared to what it used to be. The photography side of the visual art was not taken to be part of art but now [curators] incorporate it in anything that they do. In any area they now invite photographers. Before it was not always like that. Just about three years ago, they started recognising photography as part of art. And on the photography side there has been a lot of development between then and now. As you know, almost every photographer uses digital cameras nowadays. When I started photography, there was nothing like even ordinary flash. We would use daylight, the only available light. But now we use studio light, we use flash guns, so it has changed a lot.
Have you started to use some of these new developments in your practice or have you stuck to the ways you worked in the beginning?
I try to use new technology to some extent – I use flashguns now, I use studio light. Only, I don’t use digital cameras at the moment. I have just told [my son] that I would like to buy one digital camera because I see a little advantage over the conventional camera, in that with the digital camera, when you take photographs, you can preview, see what you’ve taken, right on the spot, which was not available with the old technology.
Have you had much interaction with the young photographers working in Lagos today?
Of course, yes. They come here every now and again to ask one question or another. Some people come and ask, "How do I get published?" Then I ask, "How long have you been practicing photography? Take time, take it easy. Three years' experience cannot catapult you up there. You have to have more experience, take more pictures. You will get to the stage of getting published and holding exhibitions." Apart from that, we have trained a few young, new photographers. One is running a photography studio in Lagos and another is practicing his photography in London.
So you’ve worked with a mixture of commercial photographers and contemporary artists?
When [aspiring photographers] come to me, they go through general training. Those people who have an interest in commercial photography, we talk to them on that level. Those who want to be studio photographers, we talk to them on that level.
What are you currently working on?
I have more than enough [material]. You know, I was doing analog photography. Now I’m working on scanning them into digitalised images. There are archives of various subjects. No new projects at the moment. The newest project is the Nigerian ladies’ gele hairstyle, which is a continuous exercise.
What do you think could help to move the arts forward in Lagos?
Whoever wants to pursue the arts has to be very focused and dedicated in his profession. You have to be patient. You cannot be in a hurry. I have over 60 years' experience. You cannot start today and want to compare yourself. You cannot go back to what I did yesterday and want to do it today. You have to take it easy and get really focused and do what you want to do.
And lastly, what do you see for the visual arts in Lagos, all of the visual arts?
Ah. It’s going to explode very soon.
Read Temitayo Ogunbiyi's feature on the Lagos contemporary art scene, Home is Where The Art Is, in Issue 13 of ARISE magazine – out now.