We are always presented with what’s captured by the camera; The glamorous fashion photography that make the lookbooks of designer collections. This time around, BN takes it back to the roots and focuses on the source; the man behind the lenses!
I vividly remember the first time I met Lawyer/Artist/Photographer, Kelechi Amadi-Obi. It was my first editorial styling stint in Nigeria. He welcomed me with a wide reassuring smile coupled with an easygoing, very down to earth attitude. It was hard to reconcile this with the multiple award winning photographer, I had heard and read about.
Kelechi’s images resemble still life drawings, natural, but still you get a feel of the mood and character. Full of innovative ideas and a huge dollop of raw talent, he is a constant source of awe and inspiration! I spent an easy afternoon with him, trying to get to the crux of what inspires him to create his masterpieces. Dressed in a slouchy t-shirt and black jeans, he answered all my questions after careful thought amidst staccato bursts of raucous laughter….
Ezinne Chinkata: Tell us how it all started.
Kelechi Amadi-Obi:It started from childhood, the usual best artist of the class, drawing Spiderman and incredible hulk images. I have always been fascinated with the power of the visual and its ability to elicit reactions from people. As I was rather obsessed with drawing, gradually I started to hone my skill and got increasingly better than my peers. It was like Alice in Wonderland, you explore an area, more and it keeps opening, It’s never boring .Art was one thing I could use to stamp my authority amongst my peers and there didn’t seem to be an end to what could be explored visually.
EC: What inspires you?
K A: Everything!!! Sometimes it is an idea or visual, an opinion, music, beauty, pain, and even anger. There are questions that need to be answered, such as, why we are so mean to each other, why there is corruption, why many people have to suffer for so few to enjoy? Sometimes I am angry. These feelings and thoughts inspire me. At other times, I do a complete 360 and want to create just for the art and leave the rest to the critics.
EC: How will you classify your photography style?
KA: I don’t know how to classify myself, as I constantly try to get away from stuff I normally do. Classification is a limitation. What I love at this moment may bore me later. I encourage that state of boredom to help inspire variety.
EC: Tell us the first photograph you ever sold?
KA: In University, a friend commissioned me to make a portrait. I was paid N500:00 for the job and remember being surprised at being paid for what I usually did for free. It was at this point that I understood the commercial implication of being an artist. I explored and exploited it henceforth.
EC: How would you place Nigeria/Africa in relation to International Art?
KA: 20 yrs ago, during the military regime, people got strangled out of their creativity. The best film makers, actors and artists had to either find something else to do or leave the country. A society becomes dead or cold if it loses the voice of its creative’s. When I just started, I tried to contact the old veterans to try and get some useful tips. I realised most of them had stopped commercial photography/ art or were downright bitter about the downward spiral of things. I will say we had some kind of Dark Age during that time and all creativity went underground. I believe we are gradually getting out of the dark ages.
EC: Is Photography school important?
KA: It is extremely important. It is also one of the reasons why photography in Nigeria is not up to worldwide standards. In my case, I grew up in an environment of intense study. My mom was the headmistress of my primary school, the library was next to the primary school and my house was next to the school. I developed the habit of personal improvement through study. I would go to the library almost daily, reading voraciously on art and trying to improve on the craft. At the end of secondary school, I could comfortably say I knew all they thought in advanced art school.
EC: Any advice for an aspiring photographer?
KA: Do not like what you do, love it, be obsessed with it, madly passionate about it and enjoy it.
EC: What should we be expecting from Kelechi Amadi Obi?
KA: For me, life is a journey, the only arrival is death. I am quite erratic. A lot of people are shocked that I am currently into photography; they are still waiting for me to pick up my brush and start painting again. Now I have learnt and live for the moment. We make goals just to have something to do, but the present is the most important thing, and funny enough that is what determines the future.
Kelechi’s background as a painter has a deep imprint on the way he views photography. It translates into a more artistic output in terms of looking at all the elements within a photograph. He basks in being proudly Nigerian and portrays all the “third world uniqueness” in our community as raw beauty! His areas of expertise include, advertising photography, creative portraiture, landscape photography, fine-art photography and fashion photography.