“Chroma: An Ode to J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere” is an ongoing series which celebrates women’s hair styles in Lagos, Nigeria through a fanciful, contemporary lens. The images are inspired by hair color trends and by the late Nigerian photographer J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, who photographed over a thousand different hair styles in his lifetime.
Ojeikere’s approach was documentary in nature, as he took inventory of hundreds of hairstyles and amassed an enormous index spanning over 40 years. He began photographing hairstyles in black-and-white, following the re-emergence of traditional hairstyles which became popular again following Nigeria’s independence. Prior to de-colonization, wigs and hair straightening had become a commonplace practice, especially in urban areas of the country.
African hair-braiding methods date back thousands of years, and Nigerian hair culture is a rich and often extensive process which begins in childhood. The methods and variations have been influenced by social and cultural patterns, historical events and globalization. Hairdos range from being purely decorative to conveying deeper, more symbolic meanings, revealing social status and age as well as tribal and family traditions.
The availability of colorful hair extensions and wools in local markets today has led to unique variations on threading and braiding techniques. ”Chroma” is a celebration of traditional and contemporary braiding methods. The series takes more of a conceptual approach to Ojeikere’s documentary style and recontextualizes some of Ojeikere’s (and other) hairstyles to highlight current and imagined hair designs, celebrating the art of Nigerian hair culture.
If you enjoyed this article, you might like these previous features: Natural Red Hair, a series by a Dutch photographer who is captivated by natural redheads; Pray LA, Joe Pugliese’s project featuring the well-dressed members of a Baptist church in Los Angeles; and A Modern Hair Study, portraits of young women that recall nineteenth-century images of the same subject.