Arts community recalls Kojo Kamau

Kojo Kamau, the Columbus photographer whose work documented the African-American community in central Ohio and who photographed generations of notable Africa-Americans, including President Barack Obama, has died at age 77.

Kamau's work is included in most significant collections in Columbus, including the Columbus Metropolitan Library and Columbus Museum of Art. His work is prominently featured in the Long Street Cultural Wall that connects downtown with the King-Lincoln District on the near east side.

His work has been exhibited around the world, and he is the winner of numerous awards for his work, including the Ohioana Library Career Award and the Raymond J. Hanley Fellowship Award.

Columbus artist Queen Brooks said Kamau was a "quiet, gentle man" with a "wonderful spirit."

Brooks recalled Kamau's downtown Columbus studio as the place where she, and many other African-American artists, not only created community but were encouraged to pursue their own art.

"I was recovering from a bad accident, and I hadn't been going out. I decided I needed to go out, and I had seen an article in the Columbus Dispatch about his studio, and that he'd been to Africa. I didn't know artists or anything about art. I was maybe 36, 37 at the time. I would walk over and look in the windows. On maybe the third day he came out and invited me in. I would go over every day and just sit and talk. Finally he said I could work for him. That's how I got my start. I had my first exhibit there."

"For more than 50 years, Kojo Kamau's talented photographic eye provided us a unique glimpse of Columbus neighborhoods and people, celebrities and his many travels around world," said Tom Katzenmeyer, President and CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council. "We are deeply saddened to hear that Columbus has lost another extraordinary member of its arts family."

In an interview with Alive almost a year ago to the date, Kamau said "I have always been self-motivated, and I have always been looking to see what's going on around me." He said that, while he did not initially consider what he was doing to be of significance to the community at large, he ultimately embraced his role as a historian.

Kamau's work is currently the featured exhibition at the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. The retrospective, "Kojo: Eyewitness to History," continues through May.