February 2: Freedom

2February 2: Freedom’s just another…photograph. Three flavours of ‘freedom’ from three photographers, Jouko Lehtola, Liu Tao and Okhai Ojeikere.

Photographic Gallery Hippolyte & Hippolyte Studio
Yrjönkatu 8–10 courtyard, Helsinki, will announce  YOUNG HERO, the Jouko Lehtola Foundation Award for Young Documentary Photography in connection with an exhibition of Jouko Lehtola pictures that have not yet been exhibited from his Lady Girls series.

Johnson Donatus Aihumekeokhai Ojeikere (J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere) died this day in 2014 aged 83. Born in 1930 in a poor rural village in South Western Nigeria, he pursued the unlikely ideal of becoming a photographer.

Opening 6:30 pm tonight at Galerie Folia, 13 rue de l’Abbaye, Paris, is Liu Tao‘s Ensauvager le monde made in the heart of China, his work represents a personal, youthful quest for freedom.

It continues until 30 March 2017. Three series are presented here present opposing experiences in his great country; the solitude of great spaces opposite the crowded suburbs of Shanghai;  A Weak Road (2012), Hungry Beijing, (2013) and Shanghai Tian Wai (2014). He uses his own body to pose questions of China.

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-10-33-35-pmHis series A Weak Road takes its cue from Ma Liuming who in the 1990s aspired to freedom by walking naked on the Great Wall.

Ma Liuming, b.1969 FEN-MA LIUMING WALKS THE GREAT WALL, 1998. Framed photographs 126 by 219cm

By contrast, Liu Tao’s naked wanderings take place in the suburbs of Shanghai and Beijing, amongst the ruins of the old city, against the background of new high rise blocks and are even more defiant of the taboos of public nakedness. Liu Tao’s is a renewed Romanticism, an elegy to the Chinese cities as they radically mutate, which ask what will become of old cultures and traditions that define China?

LIU TAO 刘涛 (2012) A Weak Road n°10, 40 × 60 cm

The series was awarded the Shanghai Biennial Youth Prize in 2013, while he was making A Hungry Beijing

LIU TAO 刘涛 (2013) A Hungry Beijing n°10, 40 × 60 cm

Liu Tao, born in 1985 in Jiangxi Province, China, now lives in Beijing. He is one of the most promising photographers of his generation. Of his most recent series Shanghai Tian Wai, a work done in 2014 he says:

In Shanghai, the city is transformed. Daily destruction of neighborhoods gave way to modern urban development of which China is so proud.

He says he can walk all day and yet not find a familiar road, everything is so changed…

The city then comes alive, people are everywhere…and I’m there next to them though they care nothing about me, as if I had no self. Like a sleepwalker, I photograph this century of contemporary China where I see people and their behavior, if not identical, in all cases similar to those of the last century. I see the city that is modern ultimately cannot erase all of this energy of the Chinese people who exult in street scenes that I want to keep forever.

Liu Tao  (2014) Shanghai Tian Wai n ° 45, 2014, C-Type print, 40x60cm

Jouko Lehtola (1963–2010) became known in the 1990’s for his work especially in the field of documentary photography, and before his death in 2010 had expressed his wishe for a foundation in his name. In connection to the exhibition of his work at Hippolyte Studio, the Jouko Lehtola Foundation, set up in 2011, presents its first Young Hero award for a Young Documentary Photographer to emerging, talented photographers who are passionate about their work. Like the Shanghai Biennial Youth Prize won by Liu Tao it is an encouragement award and an exhibition at Hippolyte Studio is a part of the prize. The board of the Foundation have invited art historian Asko Mäkelä and Finnish photographer Maija Tammi to choose the awarded photographer to be announced tonight on Thursday 2 February by the chairman of the foundation, photographic artist Jorma Puranen.

Joel Karppanen (2015 or 2016) from series Ukraine Ceasefire

[Postscript: the Young Hero award went to Joel Karppanen, a 23-year-old self-taught photographer from Oulu]

Jouko Lehtola (2008) from Some Girls

Lehtola’s exhibition Some Girls at Hippolyte Studio shows some previously un-exhibited works from his 2008 series on transgender sex workers around the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona and in the red light district of Patpong in Bangkok. In these portraits he returns to his early interest in people after having made conceptual works around interiors, crime weapons and sites, drug use, animal studies, still life and landscape for some time.

It is his images of young people in Finland in the early 1990s that I would like to feature here, as teenagers‘ express desire is for ‘freedom’. The period in which Lohtola photographed them was at a time when the country was in crisis; its economic bubble had burst, unemployment was in the double digits and there was a total lack of faith in the system.

However, the young people, as always, lived for the present, with not much to do, nowhere to go and too much time on their hands. Though out to have fun, to get away from the strictures of home life, as Lehtola shows them they are melancholy.

The series in cites comparisons with Bruce Davidson’s Brooklyn Gang series of teenagers of 1959, especially given the similar age gap between photographer and subjects. Despite that, both Lehtola and Davidson, by dint of sheer perseverance, manage to insert themselves into these activities, perhaps benefitting from the authority that the age difference gave them. Lehtola was also an established photographer of rock bands with record covers to his credit, which gave him opportunities to photograph these youths and their nihilistic lassitude. Innocence somehow remains, despite threats that it will be lost in the brutal realisation of reality that affects people of this age;

I try to capture innocence and rage. Anyone who has been a teenager knows it ain’t fun. It’s not a very nice situation

Jouko Lehtola (1996) ‘Untitled (Under the Tree) from the series ‘Young Heroes’
Jouko Lehtola (1996) Backwards Dancing

Johnson Donatus Aihumekeokhai Ojeikere (J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere) died this day in 2014 aged 83. Born in 1930 in a rural village in South Western Nigeria, Ojeikere attended school up to the primary 6 level before quitting, deciding instead to pursue his dream of being a “professional man”. At 19 he took up an apprenticeship with his uncle at Ibadan as a tailor, but the death of his father forced him to move to Abakaliki to live with his older sister who was married to a policeman. He pursued the unlikely idea of becoming a photographer with a passion, and in 1950 bought a modest Kodak Brownie D camera with no flash, and had a neighbour Mr Albert Anieke, a retired photographer, teach him the fundamentals of photography.  By the age twenty he was one of the only photographers in his region.

Brownie D Box Rollfilm Introduced: 1946, Discontinued: 1957, Film Size: 620 Picture Size: 6 x 9 cm (2¼ X 3¼”) Manufactured: UK, Lens: fixed focus meniscus F/11, 100mm with slide-in Portrait Lens, single blade shutter.


Yoruba head of a queen, from Ita Yemoo, Ife, Nigeria. © Marcelino Botin Foundation

He pestered the  Ministry of Information incessantly in letters, asking them to hire him as an “assistant in the dark room” and his persistence was rewarded. In 1954, he became a photographer in Steve Rhodes studio in 1961, just after Nigeria was decolonised and did work for Television House in Ibadan, then publicity photos for West Africa Publicity in Lagos until 1975.

Having joined the Nigerian Arts Council he began one of his largest projects as he began documenting Nigerian hairstyles from 1968, a remarkable collection of approximately a thousand pictures and spanning 30 years, of different African women’s hair.

An art of centuries that has been immortalized in African sculpture, these hair-dos are sculptures too, ephemeral and meant to last just for the day, the weekend or as long as the wearer can stand to have it.

Traditional arrangements indicated tribe, marital status, wealth and occasion, but in Nigeria in the 50’s, the photographer noticed that the hairdos were being replaced by more convenient glossy wigs and scarfs. Then, just as they started to vanish, they came back in the contemporary language of a new and more wealthy country, with a large middle class;  jazzy towers of braids that mimicked the first skyscrapers in Lagos. There were swirls and spikes, symmetry and asymmetry. Realizing that this evanescent art could vanish again, Ojeikere began documenting it.

J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere (1960s) Onile Gogoro or Akaba

Because of its sheer scale and thoroughness the collection has become a valuable study for ethnographic researchers. Indeed his process of photography from a couple of angles is similar to the approach used in anthropological surveys, but his use of studio lighting, careful illumination of the backdrop for silhouette and more than one light to model the hair, has an aesthetic purpose and his handling of the subjects is more sensitive. These hairstyles demand of the wearer a more stately gait, a more regal disposition, and his imagery accords them due respect.

J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere’s had his first solo exhibition in Nigeria in 1995 and that year he was included in exhibition in Switzerland, the first time his work is shown outside of his country. In 2000 a solo exhibition at the Cartier Foundation in Paris was accompanied by a monograph begins a series of exhibitions throughout Europe, North America and Japan.

J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere (1973 ) Brush Eko Bridge
J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere (1970) Fro Fro

These hair styles are extrovert displays of freedom, just as are his photographs; J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere’s work was entirely unfunded and sustained only by his cultural pride that celebrates Nigerian independence, and a desire to preserve it.

‘Okhai Ojeikere’s work has been widely exhibited in some of the world’s most prestigious museums and galleries including the Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, Tate Modern, London, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. His work also forms part of several important collections like The Walther Collection, The Jean Pigozzi Collection, and the Cartier Foundation, Paris. He has been honoured with the Chobi Mela Life Time Achievement Award in Photography, Bangladesh, 2011 and the Nigerian Photography Award, Life Time Achievement Award, 2011, for his work and outstanding contributions to the development of photography in Nigeria.


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