KELECHI AMADI-OBI: FLASHES OF BEAUTY
by Ladun Ogidan
Prominent Nigerian photographer Kelechi Amadi-Obi was born in Owerri, Nigeria in 1969. He obtained his first degree in law from the University of Nigeria Nsukka. After graduating, he pursued a career as a full-time artist with realism as a dominant feature in his photographs and paintings. Since then, Amadi-Obi has earned international recognition for both his photography and paintings, participating in major local and international exhibitions including; Snap Judgment – New Position in Contemporary African Photography, International Centre of Photography, New York, USA (2006); Depth of Field South London Gallery, UK (2005); Lagos, Ifa Gallery, Stuttgart, Germany, (2004) Transferts Africalia, Brussels (2003). In 2004, he won the St.Moritz Style Award for Photography and in 2011, co-founded the fashion and lifestyle magazine Mania.
At what point did you realize that photography is what you wanted to do as a career?
Photography didn’t come to me directly as a career; I started out as an artist, a painter precisely though photography was a major part of my career. As an artist I made high-resolution quality images of my paintings. Then I started learning how to photograph artworks, using the camera to capture the visuals I used as references for my paintings. That was how I got into photography and soon realized that the photographs on their own were finished artworks. I started getting invited to exhibitions outside the country, not for my paintings but for my photographs. So I would say photography chose me and not the other way round. From the first exhibition I had in 2001 in Bamako, I got invited to Italy, from there I formed a group called Depth of Field with, Uche James-Iroha, TY Bello and Amaize Ojeikere, aimed at making creative imagery. Eventually we admitted two more people; Emeka Okereke and Zainab and we became something else but while doing all of these, I was still a painter. After a couple of years going around the world exhibiting, I decided I could do that I could do photography, and established the Kelechi Amadi–Obi Studios.
Who or what are your greatest influences or inspirations?
I have mentors in photography, as well as mentors in life. Though at some point, life itself seemed to be inspiring. I have been influenced by people like Bob Marley have influenced me immensely, he is a good musician! I also listen to Fela quite a bit, Martin Luther King Jnr and Nelson Mandela. These people are not artist but did well and dedicated their lives to what they did. I believe that though some used writing, others music, they were all artistic, so I try to dedicate my life to my craft and make a positive difference on earth.
How would you describe your photographic style?
Photography style is no style; I do not consciously try to define my style. I constantly fight with myself and try to see how I can break away from what people consider to be my style. Now what is the purpose of photography? It’s just a craft; it’s what you do with it that then defines what it becomes. Therefore, what’s the higher purpose of what I am doing, and what do I learn from my mentors? I think Africa or the Black race as a whole has been short-changed in the department of packaging and impressions. I think there is so much misinformation that is being paddled along. I also believe that our people dwell too much on survival; we should dream more, and so I am interested in fantasies. I want to liberate all that despair. Though it’s like a drop in the ocean, but who knows, it might lead to a ripple in the waves and then one man can change the world.
What are the most difficult aspects of professional fashion photography?
If you are going to be a fashion photographer, you have to understand human behaviour as well as how to treat people. As a fashion photographer, you are at the centre of a fashion shoot and will be working with stylists, models, locations, extracts, in fact all sort of human beings, especially in fashion industry. The egos are very big and one has to be quite the leader, more like a choirmaster. You have to command and control all of these people to bring out your composition. Indeed one of the big challenges is to maintain positive energy throughout the shoot because it’s sort of a performance.
Your projects are mostly of a collaborative nature. Tell us what its like to always work with new stylists, models and designers.
Its really fun, everybody brings their own dynamic into the pot. It’s like a big pot that you are cooking and then you are the chef, so when you get a good stylist, you bring out the flavour, same with the models and makeup artist. I like to work with experts, people who know what they are doing; I basically like to work with the best.
Which images would you say have been the most significant for you in your career so far?
I can’t specifically mention any because it’s quite difficult to say. I am constantly trying to make significant images, sometimes I succeed and other times I fail woefully. A few years ago, I posted a picture of a girl with a Nigerian flag on Facebook. It went viral and people are still putting it up. You can’t tell what makes an image strong or significant.
How would you say social media is changing photography, especially fashion photography?
Social media is changing the world and not just photography. It’s changing everything. Social media is a bit like discovering the telephone or electricity. It’s made the world such a small place; people are constantly on their smart phones and live two lives; one life on the social media and the other outside, It’s amazing as the world is now connected in an unbelievable way. I only started to get a good grip on social media last year when I decided to get more active on Instagram, and I tell you it’s been amazing. Instagram has exploded my business beyond Nigeria. It’s quite interesting that it’s a double-edged sword. We are content creators but there are those who consume this content and who are addicted to it. And so it becomes a distraction with so much information on your fingertips, there is an information overload. Now I don’t need to go to the library to search for books, unlike when I was growing up. I only need to rummage through so much information on the same topic to find the one that matters. However, while I am actually trying to read that, I am distracted by entertainment and funny things that one has no business looking at. One could spend hours just absorbing those; non-stop; it’s a waste of life.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am always working on something; presently I am trying to get a masters class workshop on the way, as well as working on Mania online.
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