Widely regarded as one of the greatest 20th century African photographers, J.D. Okhai Ojeikere earned international acclaim through his Hairstyle series; a personal project begun in 1968, which grew to encompass 1,000 photographs spanning 40 years.
Ojeikere elevates hair design from fashion to a fine art form through celebrating their intricate patterns, sculptural qualities, and abstraction. In contrast to the variety of complex hairstyles represented, Ojeikere’s photography uses a consistent and understated visual language. In these literally back-to-front portraits, softly-lit hairstyles occupy the majority of the composition without distraction from props or backdrops.
“To watch a ‘hair artist’ going through his precise gestures, like an artist making a sculpture, is fascinating,” Mr. Ojeikere once said. “Hairstyles are an art form.”
The hairstyles Ojeikere presents range from being purely decorative to symbols with precise meanings. Some designs are paraded on social occasions or celebrations such as weddings or birthdays, whilst other styles are worn casually on a regular basis. Hairstyles can be reflective of social status and royalty may have unique family hairstyles passed down through generations. To Ojeikere, the hairstyles celebrate uniqueness and reflect the diversity of cultural traditions within Nigeria.