Iconic photographer, Peter Oyeyemi Obe, who brought the swampy gloom of the Nigerian civil war horror to public reality via his troubling and tense images, has passed on. He was 81, born 28 December 1932.
News of Mr. Obe’s passage came mid-day Sunday when his nephew, Taiwo Obe, the renowned editor and promoter of the famous professional social media site on LinkedIn, Everythingjournalism, tweeted, quoting family sources, that the ace cameraman had “died at his residence situated on 31 Alhaji Masha/Moronu Street, Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria” adding, “His first son, Femi, made the official announcement.”
The departed Mr. Obe influenced a whole generation of photojournalists on account of his adventurous and daring coverage of the 30-month Nigerian civil war in the seventies. A different genre of much younger professionals, not necessarily practicing in journalism, was also drawn by this iconoclasm, nurtured by a peculiar drive for intimacy with his subjects that were vividly realised through close-up, and wide-angle shots. Although his war photography was his signature call, he nevertheless worked across a varied landscape of photojournalism, from conflict coverage, through politics and civic life, to sports.
Working mostly in an age of black-and white photography, his peculiar drive ultimately defined an oeuvre of daunting, perhaps mysterious, and sometimes provocative image sense. He would barrel the lens menacingly towards his subjects in a probing hunt always seeking the zero-point of the subject where their soul resides. Thus, the striking individuality of his subjects, their restless search for identity and affirmation, put him ahead of peers in the exploration of the modern moments in Nigerian photography.
He was for years Chief photographer of the Daily Times but had a stint of freelance work for the Agence France Presse (AFP). The media and development group, Panos Institute, also kept some of his stocks in its London archives.
His coverage of the Nigerian civil war for the Daily Times resulted in a coffee-table book, “Civil War Pictures From Nigeria: A Decade of Crisis in Pictures.”
Mr. Taiwo Obe recorded early condolence messages of notable greats in the media showering tributes. Mr Lade Bonuola (aka Ladbone), pioneer editor and now executive consultant at The Guardian (Nigeria) wrote: “As chief cameraman of the Daily Times and I as the chief sub-editor, we worked very closely together. He never failed in supplying me terrific action photographs for the front page. Once I shouted ‘Exclusives’, I trusted he was on the way to the newsroom to supply page 1 photograph.”
Former Photo Editor at the defunct NEXT newspaper Mr Gbile Oshadipe, who currently teaches photojournalism at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, said: “We’ve lost a pioneer in photojournalism at a time novices appropriate media space and pretend to be pros.”
Using the platform of Everythingjournalism on Linkedin, other editors have also been speaking on the passage of the Mr. Obe.
Mr. Lanre Idowu, editor at the defunct ThisWeek Magazine and Democrat newspaper, and one of the most attentive historians of contemporary Nigerian media practice, wrote: “A great star has fallen from the photojournalistic firmament. I remember one of his Civil War shots. It was a great shot of a soldier’s boot. Lying by the roadside, it raised questions on the whereabouts of its owner…his fate and how the boot got there.”
One time editor of the Vanguard newspaper, Ikeddy Isiguzo, testified on how Mr. Obe “became such an institution [and] that there was nobody he could not tell he wanted his shot. Indeed it would be considered an honour if he did.”
He recalled, “One of my most vivid memories of his photos is the one of Brigadier Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Christian Chukwu and Sam Ojebode, captains of their teams, together at the centre of the National Stadium. He got them holding a ball, beaming best smiles, to douse a mounting tension as IICC-Rangers played in the first leg of the final of the 1977 Cup Winners Cup. Pa Obe still continued his art at a time many of his age had retired. He was truly a legend. I am not sure he even got a national honour.”
Iconoclastic writer, and journalist, Maxim Uzuato wrote: “Peter Obe the Great! They no longer make photo greats of your pedigree! Rest in the Lord, Pa!
Lighting up a sombre atmosphere, expressionist painter, writer, and former art editor at the defunct NEXT, Victor Ehikhamenor, who is himself a photographer, commented tersely but in brightness on his twitter handle @sozaboy that Mr. Obe “had a great eye.”
Mr. Obe’s Collection of photographs taken over the period from Independence in October 1960 through to the 30-month civil war represent some of the most honest if even biting records of Nigeria’s post independence history and narratives.