Photographer as documentarist… Revisiting pioneering legacy of Moses Adeojo



The history of Photography in Central Nigeria cannot be complete without a mention of Chief Moses Adeojo (Adeojo Photos), who, in the mid 20th century popularised photography in communities within present day Kwara and Kogi States. AYO ADEWUNMI interrogates Moses Adeojo and one of his children, Seyi Adeojo, as part of his research on the History of Photography in Central Nigeria. Here, Adewunmi discusses Adeojo’s contributions to the development of photography in Central Nigeria.

From inception in the 1830s, photography affected the mode of documentation, the methodology of reportage, the knowledge of our environment and also the definition of art. Soon after discovery, photography made its way to different parts of the world, radicalizing visual ideologies and perceptions. Photography arrived the coast of West Africa courtesy of colonial and missionary explorations. Soon after, it penetrated the hinterlands, also through the activities of the colonial explorers. Prior to the invention of movable cameras, the colonial explorers had used drawings, paintings and other artistic means to illustrate their discoveries and file their reports.

With the invention of photography in 1839, a new and dynamic method of illustration was born. Consequently, the era of photography documentation started. Events, objects, people and landscape were documented with ease using photography. Colonialists found new love in photography, which had the capacity to give better and accurate representation of landscapes, architecture, people and objects compared to drawings and engraving, which they had used in the past. However, the colonial explorers used photography for their own selfish advantage; prompted by their skewed worldview about Africans, bias representations of the African people and culture were noticed in many of the colonial images. But as technology improved, newer and cheaper cameras were manufactured, more and more Africans got introduced to photography and the trade rapidly spread within the hinterlands. The growing number of African elite., many of whose activities revolved around the schools and institutions, drove photography patronage. These African Photographers were able to make candid photographs of their people; in this case from the perspective of the inside. One of such photographers is Chief Moses Adeojo.

Adeojo Photos - Naming Ceremony showing long history of asoebi, date- mid 1950s

Adeojo Photos – Naming Ceremony showing long history of asoebi, date- mid 1950s

Adeojo was among the pioneers of photography in North Central Nigeria. He named his studio Adeojo Photos, as was the practice then. Adeojo was born February 2, 1928, at Obbo Aiyegunle in Kwara State. He was one of the most versatile photographers of the zone between the 1950s and 1980s. He attended St. Luke Anglican School, Obbo Aiyegunle, from where he had his first contact with photography. In 1952, Adeojo saw a photographer in his school and got interested. He approached the photographer to express his interest in the fascinating equipment of that time. Interestingly, the photographer accepted to teach him. According to Adeojo, there was no one from his family who was into photography as at that time.

In the mid 20th century, he practiced mainly around Obbo Aiyegunle, Omu – Aran, Egbe and many other communities within the then Kwara State. According to him, for five years he was shuttling between the towns and villages in present day Kwara and Kogi states. Overtime, he focused mainly on Igbomina, Ekiti and Yabga tribes of the Central Nigeria. Adeojo observed that photography in those days was a roving profession; he travelled from one location to another. For the photographer of the period, mobility was essential.

Adeojo, a passionate, creative and prolific photographer took professional practice to its zenith. He brought about photography revolution within the areas he practiced in Central Nigeria.

He directly or indirectly influenced many of the photographers who practiced between 1950s and the 1980s within the same environment. Some who trained under him were authorised to use his franchise (Adeojo Photos).

At that time, the adoption of a successful pro-photographer’s name was indicative one’s apprenticeship status or for the reason of taking advantage of the brand name of one’s former master. Some of Adeojo’s apprentices adopted his trade name temporarily for a period, while others maintained the name throughout their professional practice. Adeojo cannot remember all he has trained, but notable among them were Babalola Aina from Egbe and Titus Adewunmi (Adewunmi Photo House) from Odo Ere, all in present day Kogi State. They trained under him in the 1950s. Adeojo eventually relocated to Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State, where again he became a household name in photography.

Although, photography was viewed as mere trade until the late 20th century, Adeojo photographs revealed that he approached his compositions artistically, displaying good knowledge of the principles and elements of art. His images between 1950 and 1970 were essentially portraiture, group photos and few architectural photography. This is not different from the practice of the era, especially with the constraints of the type of camera and accessories available. Despite these limitations, Adeojo’s images portray aesthetic values.

His composition, objects relationship, rhythm and use of light were comparable to those of the highly celebrated Western Photographers. For Adeojo, photography is both craft and art, because one manually operates the camera and prints, noting further, “in photography, printing is very essential, photography is craft because your skills are utilised in the shooting and printing processes.”

Adeojo believes photography is key to historic documentation. He states, “photography helps in bringing back old and lost memories.”

His photographs between the 1950s and 1960s clearly support this claim; they tell stories of the people and culture of the communities where he practiced.

Moses Adeojo, now 88 years, has since retired from professional practice. Ironically, not much has been documented about this photography expert, whose influence on contemporary photography in Nigeria is remarkable. His impact on photography in Central Nigeria is laudable. His photography documentation of schools and institutions within his area of practice tells a lot about history of education in Central Nigeria. Adeojo’s photography legacy remains largely uncelebrated; nevertheless, his photographs are valuable assets for historical research.

• Ayo Adewunmi is the HOD, Department of Graphic Design Institute of Management & Technology (IMT), Enugu

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