JD 'Okhai Ojeikere: Nigeria's top photographer dies

J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere

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One of Africa's most prominent photographers, JD 'Okhai Ojeikere, has died in Lagos, Nigeria, aged 83.

His family announced that he had passed away on Sunday afternoon, after a brief illness.

He was best known for his series of about 1,000 black and white photos of African hairstyles.

Last year a selection of them was shown at the Venice Biennale. They were also exhibited at Documenta in 2007, and in many galleries and museums.

Works by J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere A selection of Ojeikere's hairstyle photographs was shown at the Venice Biennale in 2013

Ojeikere grew up in a village in south-western Nigeria and started taking pictures with a Brownie D camera when he was 20 years old.

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The state has never really cared about the arts here and, although we have many people who are very rich, we also lack good private institutions for the promotions of the arts”

End Quote JD 'Okhai Ojeikere

In 1954 he began working as a darkroom assistant in the photographic department of Ibadan's Ministry of Information.

Five years later, shortly after Nigeria gained independence, he became a photographer for the Western Nigerian Broadcasting Services, and in 1963 he moved to Lagos.

"We had so many dreams at the time. We thought a country so rich in natural resources could really go ahead on its own. But our dreams were shattered by tribalism," he told the BBC's Manuel Toledo in 2010.

"Then came the military dictatorships, one after another, for so many years. It makes me sad to think that things have not changed much. You see the same elites holding on to power and getting richer and richer," he said.

"The state has never really cared about the arts here and, although we have many people who are very rich, we also lack good private institutions for the promotions of the arts," he lamented.

He began working on his Hairstyle series in the late 1960s after he joined the Nigerian Arts Council and began documenting the country's culture.

At the same time, he was taking hundreds of pictures - many still unpublished - of some of the now iconic buildings of Lagos as they were being built, including the National Theatre.

But he did not forget his village life and in his private album of architectural photos he kept some of ant hills. "For me, they're the first skyscrapers," he joked.

His family said that his burial arrangements will be announced later.

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