A brief encounter with a Port Harcourt-based artist, whose works strikes the harmonious chord between photography and painting, excites Olufunke Adepuji
Against the backdrop of a whitish orb in the red-hued horizon, a man leads a ram (or is a goat?) towards its gory end. Meanwhile, another man – or rather his silhouette – seemingly follows closely on his heels. Something about this obviously manipulated photograph enthrals the viewer.
“That’s ‘Golgotha’,” Kenny Odili explains. This happens to be one of his several works where his photography meets his easel painting. The Port Harcourt-based artist had visited an abattoir when he photographed this scene. Something about the entire setup ignited his interest.
A second look at the photograph, back home from the abattoir, revealed so many things he had not previously seen. Setting to work on it, he soon came up with the end product displayed on his interviewer’s laptop screen.
Of course, there are others. One captures a flock of birds hovering around a telecommunication mast. This could have been an oil painting! A powder-blue sky of varying shades dotted with black smudges of birds in flight and a mast obtruding into it like a finger looks somewhat surreal. Another depicts a procession of men donning white tunics on top of blue patterned wrappers. The whiteness of their tops visually merges with their surroundings. In yet another, the silhouette of a lone toddler walks towards an illuminated horizon, which symbolises a brighter and hopeful future…
“I was able to do all these just with my small digital camera,” he says. “When I get back home with the pictures I have taken, ideas start popping into my head on what I could do with them.”
His life experiences naturally influenced his perceptions. His roots in the Rivers State coastal community of Ndoni should explain his interest in sailing in fishing trawlers. Ditto his many photographs on the coastal community life.
“I wake up every day with an idea in my head but along the line I can stumble upon anything. Sometimes, I just sit down and create new things from my previous photographs. I basically do everything myself, from the framing to the packaging of the material. The only thing not done by me is the printing of the photographs in the laboratory.”
It all began two years ago. Odili wanted to become a professional photographer or, more specifically, an art photographer. He also has an activist cause he seeks to project through the platform of his art. “A photographic artist,” he calls himself.
So how does he win adepts to his unique photographs? His reply: “I’m just trying to create what I love, doing everything possible and I’m not in competition with anybody. Of course, I have friends on Facebook based abroad who seemingly do the same thing I do with photography but I’m yet to see anyone like that in Nigeria.”
Even with his apparent success, he still believes he has a long way to go with the medium. To this end, he consults his artist friends and urges them to criticise his works. He acknowledges a Lagos-based female artist, Victoria Udondian, for her constructive input into his creative process.
Even so, he affirms that he has attained the stage in his practice where no one can really decipher his creative process. True, the medium he works with is accessible to everyone but he doubts anyone could manipulate it exactly the same way he does it. He had learnt to work with Photoshop but not without nourishing another concept at the back of his mind.
“It is a passion I wish to use to impact on others,” he continues. “I also impart the knowledge of what I do on interested students. I do have the plans to package the works and move them around but my main challenge borders on finance.”
Creativity is Odili’s passion. And this is evident in the originality of his photographs. He traces what he calls his “quest for extraordinary creativity” back to those years when he worked in Lagos nightclubs. Loved by both his employers and clients, he remained resilient in his quest for the astonishing. Even becoming a club manager while he was still in his early 20s was not enough to douse the creative fervour burning in him. Publicising his club’s events brought him in contact with several artists through whom he began to reflect on crystallising his creative visions as visual realities. Amazed at the outcome of this cross-fertilisation of ideas, he decided to take a headlong plunge into the realm of the arts with a view to putting the concepts and ideas out by himself. “I found the camera a very helpful tool for my kind of art,” he reminisces.
This was how his Photoflex Studio was born. His practice soon became a confluence of his experiences in modelling, show promotion, sailing, restaurant management and catering. Adding extra effects to his photographs, they tend to look more like innovative paintings. “With photographs as a medium of expression, I have been able to share my perception of life and how it has affected me as an individual, as well as the enormous creativity embedded in the works I churn out every now and then.”
His life’s philosophy is embedded in his artist’s statement. “What will happen to the earth and its people, animals, plants, lands and oceans, if we fail to successfully address environmental issues such as air quality, human health, global population, food supply, drinking water and wildlife and habitat?” he writes.
Obviously, this Port Harcourt-based artist is the proverbial light hidden under a bushel. His participation in an exhibition (organised by International Institute for Creative Development, Abuja) held this year in May at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja to mark the World Environment Day is probably his only major foray into the limelight.