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Kojo Kamau

Photographer Kojo Kamau was born on October 11, 1939 in Columbus Ohio to Robert Jones, a railroad worker and Elizabeth Patterson, a housewife. Kamau grew interested in photography from an early age and bought his first camera when he was a teenager. He graduated from East High School in Columbus, Ohio in 1957 and went on to study at the Columbus Art School (now the Columbus College of Art and Design). In 1960, Kamau joined the United States Air Force where he worked as a information specialist editing the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base newspaper.

After four years of service, Kamau returned to Columbus and began working for the Ohio State University’s School of Medical Professions (now the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences) as a photographer in the medical illustration department. In 1974, Kamau began photographing one of his favorite subjects, the legendary barber and woodcutter Elijah Pierce. Kamau opened the Kojo Photo Art Studio in 1978 with his late wife, Mary Ann Williams. Williams was the host of WOSU’s TV program “Afromation.” On the set, Kamau was able to photograph many local and national celebrities. Disturbed by the negative images of African Americans in the ‘60s and ‘70s, he used his photography to show positive images of African Americans and people of the African Diaspora. Kamau first travelled to Africa in 1978, and has made eleven subsequent trips. In 1979, Kamau and Williams established the Art for Community Expression (ACE) non-profit venture to help promote African American artists. ACE was also able to sponsor trips to Africa for three local artists. In 1986, ACE opened its own gallery in Columbus, Ohio. Kamau retired from his position as chief medical photographer at the Ohio State University in 1994 and became a photography instructor at Columbus State Community College in 1997. Kamau published a book of photographs, entitled Columbus Remembered in 2006. Three years later, the Columbus Museum of Art celebrated Kamau’s seventieth birthday with an exhibition entitled, “Kojo: Fifty Years of Photography.” Kamau’s photographs are in the permanent collections of the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus Metropolitan Library and the Columbus Foundation. His photographs were exhibited throughout the United States, including the Indianapolis Art Center, Dillard University, Bowling Green State University, Northern Kentucky University, Ohio Wesleyan University, Akron University, Ohio University, the Chicago Center of Science and Industry and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. His work was also exhibited internationally at the Gallery 44 Center for Contemporary photography in Toronto, Canada; during Culturefest ‘93 in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa; and the Central Bank of the Bahamas in Nassau, Bahamas.

Kamau was recognized numerous times for his photography and commitment to the community. He received the 2006 Ohioanna Library Career Award and the 2004 Columbus Winterfair Award of Excellence. Kamau was a member of the Columbus Museum of Art and Ohio Designer Craftsmen. He lived in Columbus, Ohio.

Kojo Kamau was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 5, 2012.

Kamau passed away on December 12, 2016 at age 77.

Accession Number

A2012.107

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/5/2012

Last Name

Kamau

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widower

Occupation
Schools

East High School

Columbus College of Art and Design

Garfield Elementary School

Roosevelt Junior High School

Beatty Park Elementary School

Franklin Junior High School

Mt. Vernon Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Kojo

Birth City, State, Country

Columbus

HM ID

KAM03

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Ohio

Favorite Vacation Destination

Africa

Favorite Quote

Always Remember What You Do Today Is Tomorrow's History.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Ohio

Birth Date

10/11/1939

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Columbus

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pudding (Bread)

Death Date

12/12/2016

Short Description

Photographer Kojo Kamau (1939 - 2016 ) opened the Kojo Photo Art Studio in 1978 and founded the Art for Community Expression (ACE) non-profit in 1979.

Employment

United States Air Force

Ohio State University’s School of Allied Medical Professions

Kojo Photo Art Studio

Columbus State Community College

Call and Post

Columbus Children's Hospital

Columbus Symphony Orchestra

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Kojo Kamau's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Kojo Kamau lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Kojo Kamau describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Kojo Kamau describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Kojo Kamau describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Kojo Kamau talks about his family members' professions

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Kojo Kamau talks about his brother and stepfather

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Kojo Kamau remembers his homes in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Kojo Kamau describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Kojo Kamau recalls his childhood pastimes

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Kojo Kamau describes his early interest in photography

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Kojo Kamau remember his early educational experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Kojo Kamau remembers Garfield Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Kojo Kamau describes his early influences

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Kojo Kamau remembers his junior high school experiences in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Kojo Kamau talks about his coursework at East High School in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Kojo Kamau remembers his radio teacher at East High School in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Kojo Kamau remembers his extracurricular activities at East High School in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Kojo Kamau remembers working for the newspaper companies in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Kojo Kamau talks about his employment prospects after high school

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Kojo Kamau remembers his stepfather

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Kojo Kamau recalls his position at the Columbus Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Kojo Kamau talks about his photographs of Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Kojo Kamau recalls the African American photographers in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Kojo Kamau describes his decision to enlist in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Kojo Kamau talks about his newspaper position at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in South Carolina

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Kojo Kamau describes his experiences of racial discrimination in South Carolina

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Kojo Kamau remembers segregation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Kojo Kamau recalls working as medical photographer at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Kojo Kamau talks about his volunteer work at the Call and Post

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Kojo Kamau remembers meeting his wife

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Kojo Kamau talks about his photographs of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Kojo Kamau remembers photographing Roland Kirk

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Kojo Kamau remembers his wife's television show, 'Afromation'

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Kojo Kamau describes Art for Community Expression

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Kojo Kamau talks about the African immigrant community in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Kojo Kamau remembers Elijah Pierce

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Kojo Kamau talks about the black artists in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Kojo Kamau describes his artistic philosophy

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Kojo Kamau talks about digital photography

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Kojo Kamau reflects upon his wife's legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Kojo Kamau talks about the arts community in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Kojo Kamau talks about his exhibit, 'Kojo: Fifty Years in Photographs'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Kojo Kamau reflects upon the response to his photographs

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Kojo Kamau talks about his teaching position at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Kojo Kamau reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Kojo Kamau describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Kojo Kamau shares his advice to future generations

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Kojo Kamau talks about his son

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Kojo Kamau describes The King Arts Complex in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Kojo Kamau describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

2$1

DATitle
Kojo Kamau describes his experiences of racial discrimination in South Carolina
Kojo Kamau describes Art for Community Expression
Transcript
So did, so were you stationed there the whole time in Myrtle Beach [Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, South Carolina]?$$I was, yeah the whole time I was stationed at Myrtle Beach.$$Okay, so that's like a couple of years right and?$$It was three years and ten months.$$Okay, so--$$The base was fine. It was after you left the base that's a whole different experience back in the '60s [1960s].$$Yeah, so this is South Carolina--$$Right.$$--and, okay well tell us, well did you have any incidents when you left the base that you--?$$No, I, I, well yeah I--at the time I didn't know. The, the newspaper, I worked with a civilian printing company okay, and my last day on the job, the last day that I went to, to the printing company, the publisher called me into his office and, and told me how I handled myself very well when his crew walked out on, on me. And I didn't, I did, at the time I didn't understand what had happened, but what he had told me is that, when I first came on the job, which would have been three years and ten months earlier, his crew did not want to work with me, but I wasn't aware of that. I knew what happened was when I walked in, everybody walked out, but I thought maybe I walked in during lunchtime or something (laughter), and I was naive and then, then they came back. So, what had happened was, they, they didn't want to work with me, and well I guess he told them was that, "We have a contract with the [U.S.] Air Force, and if we want this contract we had to work with whoever they send," and they had never worked with anybody that looked like me before. And so, but I wasn't aware of that and I, I off- at the time I was thinking well what if I had known that from the beginning. What I was told that, I was only supposed to deal with one person. I didn't have any problem with that. I didn't come to deal with the whole crew. So, when they said that, that was nothing unusual to me because that's how being in the [U.S.] military, that's how you think anyhow you got one person that you, you know, report to, not everybody. So, that was, that was shocking to me. The last day that I was there I found that out.$$That's interesting that they thought they were insulting you and you didn't know they (laughter)--$$I was, they must have thought I was nuts or something, 'cause I was treating everybody you know like we're all friends (laughter).$$Okay. It just never occurred to you that they would act like that in South Carolina, they would--?$$No. I mean I knew that happened. I mean, it's like the first time--I always remember this one. The first time I went downtown and, and you know about this moving over to let white people pass and stuff and I had my uniform on and, and this older white gentleman was walking towards me and, and I'm thinking am I supposed to get out the, I'm not getting off the sidewalk. So, I just kept on walking, you know, and he spoke to me (laughter). So, it was kind of okay (laughter), how you doing, and so being in the military you were treated a little differently than you know civilian townspeople were treated.$$Okay.$$A little differently.$$Yeah. They would expect anybody that was raised there to follow all those rules and those--$$Yeah. But there were some, at the same time there were some airmen who, they, they would, they got in trouble getting off the bus. You know 'cause they refused to adapt to whatever was going on, and they would get, they would really get kicked out the service before you even got to the base, which wasn't fair, but you know that's the way it was.$Tell us about Elijah Pierce.$$Okay, can, but can I take, are we gonna go back to 1970?$$We can.$$Okay, I think we lo- left off at I opened Kojo Photo Art Studio [Kojo Photo Art Studio, Columbus, Ohio].$$That's '78 [1978] right.$$Seventy-eight, '78 [1978], yeah '78 [1978]. Okay and then when I opened Kojo Photo Arts Studio I had quit the university [The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio], so that gave me time to do some things I wanted to do. And one of the things I wanted to do was go to Africa, and Mary Ann [Kamau's wife, Mary Ann Williams] and I had talked about what we would like to do in the future. My thing was to open up my studio, and her thing was to get her Ph.D. So, she got her Ph.D. and I opened up the studio in June of 1978. We heard about an opportunity to go to Africa shortly after we opened, and so we both wrote proposals to go to Africa, and we both were funded to go to Africa. So, I went to Africa for three weeks. It was a three week study tour. I shot photographs, and I come back and I presented my photographs of the trip to Africa. And because of our experience going to Africa, we felt that any artist who wanted to go to Africa should be able to go to Africa. So, we had a friend, Aminah, and we told Aminah about this trip to Africa and how she needed to go to Africa and that what we wanted to do was raise funds to help her get to Africa because we know it would have an impact on her art, on her artwork. So, we raised enough money to send Aminah to Africa. From that experience, we started a nonprofit organization called Art for Community Expression, which was, the mission was to assist artists, African American artists to get the work into mainstream basically and to go to Africa. And so we sent, we were able to send three artists to Africa, Aminah, Larry Winston Collins, and Charles Dillard all went to Africa and then the following year they exhibited at Art for Community Expression Gallery [Columbus, Ohio] (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Now this is Aminah Robinson we're talking about right?$$Beg your pardon?$$Aminah Robinson we're talking about.$$Yes.$$Okay.$$Yes, Aminah.$$And so where did the money come from for the--$$What?$$Where did the money come from for the trips?$$The money come from the commu- one, the Thomas Foundation [ph.] had funds to help send an artist to Africa, and so we used their funds and we raised money and the artist raised money. So, it was like one third of each of those entities would raise funds to help the artist go to Africa.$$Okay, that's a good--now is the organ- so you were able to send three artists to Africa, but (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Right. We sent three artists to Africa and then our focus kind of changed a little bit, because we had an opportunity to open up a gallery in the Short North [Short North Arts District, Columbus, Ohio], which was a new area for--that was developing up there. So, we were one of the first galleries to open in the building in which we were located, which was 772 North High Street in the Short North and now that's the place to be the first weekend, the first Saturday of every month they have what they call Gallery Hop, and the streets are just full of people every first Saturday.