Posts Tagged ‘African photographer

17
Oct
21

Exhibition: ‘James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective’ at the Serpentine North Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 19th May – 24th October 2021

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Portrait of James Barnor in front of some of his photographs, Accra' 1957

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Portrait of James Barnor in front of some of his photographs, Accra
1957
Courtesy Autograph

 

 

It’s late, but it’s better late than never

After a life of giving – putting his photographs out into the world, generous of his energy and spirit – this ‘Ever Young’ artist is, finally, getting the recognition that he so richly deserves.

In the tradition of Black African photographers such as Malick Sidibé, Seydou Keïta and Sanlé Sory, Barnor’s photographs present people of all ages and all walks of life – whether in Accra, Ghana or in the suburbs of London, England – through direct and honest studio portraits or in more candid documents of the communities that surrounded him. Barnor’s work “is the intimate documentation of African and Afro-diasporic lives across time and space. Whether taking family snapshots, commissioned portraits or commercial assignments, Barnor approaches the photographic process as a collaborative venture, a conversation with the sitter, and these images are a testament to a lifetime of encounters.”

In all of Barnor’s work their is a sensitivity to subject matter. Noticeably, in the work from the 1960s onwards there is a freeing up of the picture plane, a playfulness and freshness in these images, which capture the spirit which is naturally embedded within African culture. I look at his photographs and they make me smile. For example, the glorious presence of the women in Family members at the occasion of the engagement of James’ cousin (late 1970s, below) or the radiant women with the Christmas tree on top of the television in At Ataa Quarcoopome, family members at the occasion of the engagement of James cousin (c. 1970-71, below). People at ease in front of the camera, with no overt acting up, no pretension. His Afro-modernist colour photographs of people in Accra in the 1970s are magnificent for their refined use of limited colour palettes and the relaxed ease of the subjects. As the press release states, “These images are drawn from a long lifetime of capturing people and places with the camera, a lifetime in which Barnor acts as witness, maker, interpreter and storyteller.” As he says, the story is the picture.

But what pushes Barnor’s photographs further than other Black African photographers is that he ventured to another, foreign land to photograph Afro-diasporic lives across time and space. Imagine arriving in London in 1959 where you couldn’t get work as a Black photographer, and all the racism that this statement entails, to then continue to photograph for Drum magazine the vibrant and growing Afro diasporic community. In the ‘Swinging Sixties’ where ‘Black was Beautiful’, Barnor’s photographs were “affirming the place of black bodies in public and encouraging the active mixing of multinational cultural markers… Bridging between the world of Africa and Europe gave Barnor a unique perspective, and the best of his photographs simmer with cross-cultural style and verve.”1 This can be seen particularly in his personal images from parties, weddings, and family outings and in his cover work for Drum, where his models are in public – happy, proud and free. It is wonderful for me to see pictures such as A group of friends photographed during Mr. And Mrs Sackey’s wedding, London (c. 1966, below) for its depiction of a world where skin colour does not matter, should never matter. For too long has this world been ruled by hatred and division.

Barnor’s photographs plant the seed of equality and happiness as a way of transmitting this knowledge to others. “He is a living archive, a link between the birth of photography in West Africa and the development of the discipline for the modern era.”2 It is his passion and feeling for the practice of photography, the stories that it tells and his engagement with the spirit of the people that he encounters – as a conversation between equals – that intuitively ground his work in the history of photography and the history of Black culture and makes them forever young. As the article on the L’Officiel website by Kleaver Cruz observes, “… it is his calling to connect with his subjects, to create space for them to be free, and to capture their essence for the record, for the sake of our existence as Black and African peoples, and for what has become an important archive of the lives he has interacted with over the course of his own long and rich life.”

Lives across time and space, across this life and the next.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Loring Knoblauch. “James Barnor, The Roadmaker,” on the Collector Daily website, June 18, 2021 [Online] Cited 17/10/2021
  2. Kleaver Cruz. “Legends Deserve Flowers: The Legacy of James Barnor,” on the L’Officiel website 19th May 2021 [Online] Cited 10th July 2021.
  3. Ibid.,

.
Many thankx to the Serpentine Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I came across a magazine with an inscription that said: “A civilisation flourishes when men plant trees under which they themselves will never sit.” But to me it’s not only plants – putting something in somebody’s life, a young person’s life, is the same as planting a tree that you will not cut and sell during your lifetime. That has helped me a lot in my work. Sometimes the more you give, the more you get.”

.
James Barnor

 

“I wish the recognition that I’m getting now had come to me when I was about 65. And I wish when I was 60, 65, 70, my work was regarded as ‘iconic,’ or whatever people call it now. Then I would have had the chance to approach people for assignments and I would not have been taken for granted. And I’d have been able to buy the type of equipment I needed or wanted, and sold pictures at places that understood my work. It’s late, but it’s better late than never.”

.
James Barnor

 

“It took me a long time to understand the art of photography. There is a big difference between doing art and doing photography. I have come to realise that, when you get an education, as soon as you see a picture, you already know this should be here, that should be there. You form the story before you take the pictures: you take two or three, and you are on the way.”

.
James Barnor, ‘Frieze Magazine’, May 2021

 

“You can google all the technical stuff. It’s the ideas that you have that’re important. The community development, the self-involvement. Go and learn and be knowledgeable and take the camera. The story is the picture.”

.
James Barnor

 

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Mr. Blavo and friends at a Youth Development Club party, Scout Headquarters, Accra' 1953

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Mr. Blavo and friends at a Youth Development Club party, Scout Headquarters, Accra
1953
© James Barnor/Autograph ABP, London

 

 

As a young person, Barnor was active in Youth Development Clubs and other social activities organised for young people in Accra. In this image, he captured some new and old friends during a camping-style party hosted at the Boy Scout Headquarters in the capital city. At the centre of the group is someone Barnor was less familiar with, but remembered as a classmate and one of the first trained health workers in the country; on her left is E. Quarshie Blavo, a prominent Scout and youth leader who was “always coming up with ideas to get the youth united and to learn and do things and give service;” to her right is another friend of Barnor’s, Mr. Kitson-Mills who worked as a Tax Controller. Barnor was also part of developing the youth hostel system in Ghana, which offered affordable options for young Ghanaians who wanted to travel and get better acquainted with all their home country had to offer.

Extract from Kleaver Cruz. “Legends Deserve Flowers: The Legacy of James Barnor,” on the L’Officiel website 19th May 2021 [Online] Cited 10th July 2021.

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Eva, London' 1960s, printed 2010

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Eva, London
1960s, printed 2010
© James Barnor/Autograph ABP, London

 

 

A celebration of the great Ghanaian photographer, who established his Ever Young studio in Accra in the early 1950s, and documented London during the swinging 60s as a photojournalist for Drum magazine. Capturing the mood of Ghana as it transitioned to independence in the 1950s, Barnor’s work remains an important reference for painters, photographers and film-makers.

The Serpentine presents a major survey of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor, whose career spans six decades, two continents and numerous photographic genres through his work with studio portraiture, photojournalism, editorial commissions and wider social commentary.

Born in 1929 in Ghana, James Barnor established his famous Ever Young studio in Accra in the early 1950s, capturing a nation on the cusp of independence in an ambiance animated by conversation and highlife music. In 1959 he arrived in London, furthering his studies and continuing assignments for influential South African magazine Drum which reflected the spirit of the era and the experiences of London’s burgeoning African diaspora. He returned to Ghana in the early 1970s to establish the country’s first colour processing lab while continuing his work as a portrait photographer and embedding himself in the music scene. He returned to London in 1994.

Central to Barnor’s work is the intimate documentation of African and Afro-diasporic lives across time and space. Whether taking family snapshots, commissioned portraits or commercial assignments, Barnor approaches the photographic process as a collaborative venture, a conversation with the sitter, and these images are a testament to a lifetime of encounters. Barnor’s desire to bring communities with him along his journey extends to his lifelong passion for education, not just as a means of furthering his own skills but also as a way of transmitting his knowledge to others. The recent digitisation of his archive of 32,000 images has enabled him to adopt the daily practice of revisiting his pictures with fresh eyes and memories to share his extraordinary life and work with a new generation.

Organised in broadly chronological order, James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective moves between the two countries, and includes portraits taken at his first studio, Ever Young; images taken in and around the independence movement in Ghana; Barnor’s era-defining work for South African anti-apartheid / Black lifestyle publication Drum and extensive photography of life in 1960s London; plus work from his time managing the first colour-processing laboratory in 1970s Ghana.

Text from the Serpentine North Gallery website

 

 

 

James Barnor at Serpentine 2021

 

'James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective' (Installation view, 19 May - 24 October 2021, Serpentine)

 

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective (Installation view, 19 May – 24 October 2021, Serpentine) showing at centre, Beatrice with trademark figurine, Ever Young Studio, Accra (c. 1953, below), and at left The Pastor (Oscar Lamptey), Mamprobi, Accra (1955, below)
Photo: Zoe Maxwell

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Beatrice with trademark figurine, Ever Young Studio, Accra' c. 1953

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Beatrice with trademark figurine, Ever Young Studio, Accra
c. 1953
Courtesy of Autograph

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'The Pastor (Oscar Lamptey), Mamprobi, Accra' 1955

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
The Pastor (Oscar Lamptey), Mamprobi, Accra
1955
Courtesy of Autograph

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Roy Ankrah and an unknown boxer in a remote area of Ghana' 1952

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Roy Ankrah and an unknown boxer in a remote area of Ghana
1952
James Barnor/Courtesy Autograph ABP

 

 

John Theophilus Oti Ankrah (25 December 1925 – 28 May 1995), better known as Roy Ankrah, was a Ghanaian featherweight contender during the 1950s. He was given the nicknames “The Black Flash” and “Mr. Perpetual Motion” because of his fast hands and crafty footwork. Ankrah held the Commonwealth featherweight title from 1951 to 1952 and had his biggest fight against then-reigning NBA, NYSAC, and The Ring bantamweight world champion in a non-title fight as both fighters weighed above the 118lbs limit of bantamweight.

 

'James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective' (Installation view, 19 May - 24 October 2021, Serpentine)

 

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective (Installation view, 19 May – 24 October 2021, Serpentine) showing at right Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London (1966, below)
Photo: Zoe Maxwell

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London' 1966, printed 2010

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London
1966, printed 2010
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) ''Drum' magazine cover with Constance Mulondo, East Africa edition' August 1967

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
‘Drum’ magazine cover with Constance Mulondo, East Africa edition
August 1967

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Marie Hallowi, 'Drum' covergirl, Kent' 1966

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Marie Hallowi, ‘Drum’ covergirl, Kent
1966

 

'James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective' (Installation view, 19 May - 24 October 2021, Serpentine)

 

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective (Installation views, 19 May – 24 October 2021, Serpentine), the bottom image showing Barnor cover photographs for the magazine Drum
Photo: Zoe Maxwell

 

 

“There weren’t magazines or newspapers showing Black models – Drum started it,” he said. “Any time I saw a Drum cover in London, side by side with international magazines, I felt really satisfied. I knew I was recording something. I knew I had to take care of my negatives.” ~ James Barnor

 

'James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective' (Installation view, 19 May - 24 October 2021, Serpentine)

'James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective' (Installation view, 19 May - 24 October 2021, Serpentine)

 

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective (Installation view, 19 May – 24 October 2021, Serpentine) showing at third right Mohammed Ali preparing for his fight against Brian London, London (1966, below)
Photo: Zoe Maxwell

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Mohammed Ali preparing for his fight against Brian London, London' 1966

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Mohammed Ali preparing for his fight against Brian London, London
1966

 

 

At 24 years old, Muhammad Ali, then the heavyweight champion of the world, was scheduled to defend his title against Brian London in the UK’s capital in 1966. Barnor was commissioned by Drum to capture Ali during his preparation for the big fight. “I didn’t talk to him at all. I should have asked him to do this or that for me. I’m sure that he would have done anything I asked him to do – ‘turn this way’ or ‘you do that,’ he would have done it. But he was so fascinating,” Barnor says of photographing the young star. Consistent with his intuitive spirit, Barnor chose to focus on the icon’s back rather than his face. “Nobody would have thought of photographing somebody’s back,” he recalls. Barnor shot this image with a Mamiya he had acquired from trading the camera he came to London with following the completion of his studies at Medway College of Art in Kent.

Extract from Kleaver Cruz. “Legends Deserve Flowers: The Legacy of James Barnor,” on the L’Officiel website 19th May 2021 [Online] Cited 10th July 2021.

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Self Portrait with Nkrumah, Roy Ankrah and his Wife, Rebecca, Accra' Nd

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Self Portrait with Nkrumah, Roy Ankrah and his Wife, Rebecca, Accra
Nd
Courtesy Autograph, London

 

 

James Barnor’s career as a studio portraitist, photojournalist and Black lifestyle photographer spans six decades, recording major social and political changes in Accra and London. His pioneering, resolutely modern work has influenced generations of photographers in Africa and around the world. James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective, focuses on the period 1950-1980, selected from more than 32,000available images.

Central to Barnor’s work is the intimate documentation of African and Afro-diasporic lives across time and space. Whether making family snapshots, commissioned portraits or commercial assignments, Barnor approaches the photographic process as a collaborative venture, a conversation with the sitter, and his images are a testament to a lifetime of encounters.

Organised in broadly chronological order, James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective moves between the two countries, and includes portraits taken at his first studio, Ever Young; images taken in and around the independence movement in Ghana; Barnor’s era-defining work for South African anti-apartheid / Black lifestyle publication Drum and extensive photography of life in 1960s London; plus work from his time managing the first colour-processing laboratory in 1970s Ghana. His life-long passion for music is visible through portraits of musicians and performers.

“James Barnor’s work reminds us how thrillingly expansive life is; his photographs offer the possibility of connection and exchange across continents and through time. These images are drawn from a long lifetime of capturing people and places with the camera, a lifetime in which Barnor acts as witness, maker, interpreter and storyteller. We are immensely proud to be able to present this show atSerpentine this summer. We are so grateful to James Barnor for his vision, his unfailing energy and for sharing his memories so generously.”

Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director, and Bettina Korek, Chief Executive, Serpentine

This exhibition is part of Serpentine’s commitment to programming pioneering artists achieving wider recognition later in their careers, including exhibitions in recent years by Rose Wylie (2017), Luchita Hurtado and Faith Ringgold (both 2019).

 

About James Barnor

Born in 1929 in Accra, Ghana, Barnor came from a family of photographers. He initially trained under a photographic apprenticeship with his cousin J. P. D. Dodoo, before establishing Ever Young, his first studio, in the early 1950s. Barnor likened Ever Young to a community centre, and it was there that he captured a nation on the cusp of independence in an environment of lively conversation and music. During this time, he also undertook assignments for the Daily Graphic newspaper, documenting key events and figures in the lead-up to Ghana’s independence in 1957, which established him as the first photojournalist in the country. Enticed by a friend’s promise that ‘London was the place for him’, Barnor left Accra in 1959 and spent the next decade furthering his studies, continuing assignments for Drum, and photographing his ever-growing circle of family and friends. He returned to Accra a decade later to establish the first colour-processing laboratory in Ghana. Barnor settled permanently in the UK in 1994 and lives in West London.

On the occasion of the exhibition Serpentine is publishing a catalogue, Accra/London –A Retrospective, with Koenig Books, which is co-produced with MASI Lugano and Detroit Institute of Arts. Richly illustrated and designed by Mark El-khatib, it includes contributions by head of the photographic collection at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris, Christine Barthe; architect Sir David Adjaye OBE; artist David Hartt; curator Alicia Knock, and a personal recollection from former Drum magazine model, Erlin Ibreck, who worked with Barnor on numerous shoots during the 1960s in London. The catalogue also includes a conversation between Barnor and Serpentine Artistic Director Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Press release from the Serpentine North Gallery website

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Revolution in the public transport ticketing system, Accra' c. 1950s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Revolution in the public transport ticketing system, Accra
c. 1950s
Courtesy Autograph, London

 

 

On March 6, 1957, the nation known today as Ghana gained its independence from British colonial rule, marking a growing tide of independence movements across the continent. In the capital city of Accra, where Barnor grew up, many waves of change occurred, including an upgraded bus system. Recalling today, Barnor describes the busyness of the capital city and how the municipal bus system transported people throughout the metropolitan area and its suburbs, as well as the enhancement of its technology, evidence of which we see in the suited conductor issuing paper tickets detailing the price and distance which each passenger was travelling. Barnor also notes elements of interaction between different classes, which is apparent in the dress and accessories of the woman on the far right in contrast to the other passengers. In regard to the people looking directly into the lens, Barnor recalls the excitement and curiosity when he showed up with a camera; after all, Barnor was the nation’s first newspaper photographer and, when people saw him, many understood that their image could potentially appear in the next day’s publication. “Oh yes… somebody with a camera coming, you know, people would ask, ‘What are you shooting for?’ By all means, everybody looks at you,” he says.

Extract from Kleaver Cruz. “Legends Deserve Flowers: The Legacy of James Barnor,” on the L’Officiel website 19th May 2021 [Online] Cited 10th July 2021.

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Naa Jacobson as Ballroom Queen, Ever Queen Studio, Accra' 1955

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Naa Jacobson as Ballroom Queen, Ever Queen Studio, Accra
1955

 

 

There are so many stories here;
I have a special relationship with many of my models.
This is my comfort zone because I am inspired:
distracted and also attracted by so many details!
These are some of the people I enjoyed photographing most,
But there are so many more stories to tell.

~ James Barnor

 

James Barnor (born 1929) 'Four Nurses (graduates of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital), Ever Young Studio, Accra' c. 1957

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Four Nurses (graduates of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital), Ever Young Studio, Accra
c. 1957
Courtesy Autograph

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Nigerian Superman. Old Polo Ground, Mantse Agbona Park, Accra' 1958

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Nigerian Superman. Old Polo Ground, Mantse Agbona Park, Accra
1958
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'A car accident outside Accra Brewery' Nd

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
A car accident outside Accra Brewery
Nd
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929). 'Untitled, Studio X23, Accra' 1975

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Untitled, Studio X23, Accra
1975
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Family members at the occasion of the engagement of James' cousin. Amanomo, Accra' Late 1970s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Family members at the occasion of the engagement of James’ cousin, Amanomo, Accra
Late 1970s
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Ghanaian traditional hairstyle at Studio X23, Accra' c. 1970s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Ghanaian traditional hairstyle at Studio X23, Accra
c. 1970s, modern print
Inkjet print
© James Barnor, courtesy galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

 

In 1973 Barnor converted a small storeroom given to him by his cousin Albert M. Quarcoopome into a darkroom before expanding into a building. This became his second studio Studio X23 (1973-1994) where alongside a multifaceted commission practice he continued working as a portrait photographer for twenty years.

 

Ever Young Studio, Jamestown, Accra

 

Ever Young Studio, Jamestown, Accra
Credit: James Barnor

 

 

Barnor’s studio was like a “community center,” he remembers, and he made “people feel at home,” by talking to and getting to know them. “Young men would come by to have a chat and have their photograph taken,” he said. “Most people had confidence in me already. Everybody knew me in Ghana as a successful photographer – they knew they would be satisfied.”

Barnor says he believes the photographs he took during this time showed a different, stylish view of his home country – one that belied assumptions. “When I had my studio in Ghana people thought we (Ghanaians) didn’t dress up,” he said. “But all my sitters, my friends, were fashion conscious – women would often request full-length photos with shoes, a handbag and their accessories.”

Emma Firth. “From Accra to London, how photographer James Barnor captured decades of style,” on the CNN style website 20th June 2020 [Online] Cited 10/07/2021

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'AGIP with Graphic Designer' 1974

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
AGIP with Graphic Designer
1974

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Print in progress, Studio X23. Accra' 1972

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Print in progress, Studio X23, Accra
1972
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Kids dressed in identical suits. Accra' 1970s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Kids dressed in identical suits, Accra
1970s
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Ever Young studio. Accra' 1954

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Ever Young studio, Accra
1954
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'J Peter Dodoo Jnr., Yoga student of "Mr Strong", Ever Young Studio, Accra' c. 1955

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
J Peter Dodoo Jnr., Yoga student of “Mr Strong”, Ever Young Studio, Accra
c. 1955, modern print
Inkjet print
© James Barnor, courtesy galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

 

Accra in the 1950s was a decade marked by the significant transformation of nation building and the rise of cosmopolitanism. Photography served as an important medium for sitters to articulate their own self-actualisation. Barnor described his first studio Ever Young (1953-1959), in the Jamestown district of the city, as a community centre filled with music and conversation, a drop-in space that embodied precisely this spirit of reinvention through the frame.

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Evelyn Abbew, Ever Young Studio, Accra' 1954

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Evelyn Abbew, Ever Young Studio, Accra
1954
© James Barnor/Autograph ABP, London

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Emma Christiana Bruce Annan, Drum Party, Chorkor Beach, Accra' 1954-56

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Emma Christiana Bruce Annan, Drum Party, Chorkor Beach, Accra
1954-56
Courtesy Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

 

Introduction

Throughout his career, British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor has captured images of societies in transition and transformation. Moving between Accra and London to cultivate a practice that encompasses the genres of studio portraiture, photojournalism and social documentary photography, Barnor witnessed and recorded major social and political changes during a career that spans over six decades and two continents. This exhibition, the largest survey of his work to date, is drawn from his extensive archive and focuses on the decades 1950-80.

Born in 1929 in Accra, Ghana, Barnor came from a family of photographers. He initially trained under a photographic apprenticeship with his cousin J. P. D. Dodoo, before establishing Ever Young, his first studio, in the early 1950s. Barnor likened Ever Young to a community centre, and it was there that he captured a nation on the cusp of independence in an environment of lively conversation and music. During this time, he also undertook assignments for the Daily Graphic newspaper, owned by the Mirror Group, documenting key events and figures in the lead-up to Ghana’s independence in 1957, which established him as the first photojournalist in the country. Enticed by a friend’s promise that ‘London was the place for him’, Barnor arrived in London in December 1959 and spent the next decade furthering his studies, continuing assignments for the influential South African magazine Drum, and photographing his ever-growing circle of family and friends. He returned to Accra a decade later to establish the first colour-processing laboratory in Ghana. Barnor settled permanently in the UK in 1994 and now lives in West London.

Central to Barnor’s work is the intimate documentation of African and Afro-diasporic lives across time and space. Whether taking family snapshots, commissioned portraits or commercial assignments, Barnor approaches the photographic process as a collaborative venture, a conversation with the sitter, and these images are a testament to a lifetime of encounters. Barnor’s desire to bring communities with him along his journey extends to his lifelong passion for education, not just as a means of furthering his own skills but also as a way of transmitting his knowledge to others. The recent digitisation of his archive of 32,000 images has enabled him to adopt the daily practice of revisiting his pictures with fresh eyes and memories to share his extraordinary life and work with a new generation.

 

Ever Young Studio

Barnor first developed his photographic skills while serving an apprenticeship under his cousin J. P. D. Dodoo before going out on his own to establish Ever Young Studio in the early 1950s. Initially a modest, outdoor set-up with a darkroom in his aunt’s vacant room, the studio later moved to the Jamestown district of Accra in 953. Ever Young was a hive of activity, a drop-in space for people of all ages and all walks of life: ‘My studio was at a spot where everything happened in Accra, where young and old people met from various backgrounds, free to talk about everything and anything.’

Barnor took the name Ever Young from the story of Iduna’s Grove that he learned in school as a child. In the myth ‘Iduna, the beautiful young goddess of the Norsemen, lived in a pretty grove called Ever Young. She had a golden casket full of the most beautiful apples. A hero might come, tired and weary to Iduna’s Grove, feeling that he was growing old. Then Iduna would give him an apple and as soon as he had eaten it he would feel fresh and young again. It is not surprising that Iduna’s Grove was never lonely. As soon as the last rosy fruit had been given away, the casket was filled again by an invisible hand.’

The ethos of the name Ever Young can be felt in Barnor’s youthful energy and commitment to inspiring younger generations. The name also refers to his photographic training and process: ‘The essence of my studio profession is retouching, that’s the training I had, even though I wasn’t perfect. I thought that if someone came in, I’d make them look younger. So, if I open a studio, what should I call it? Ever Young.’

 

Accra Life

Barnor’s early work depicting life in and around Accra in the 1950s resisted the formal quality and rigid structure associated with large-format studio portraiture, becoming progressively more candid as he documented the communities around him using a small camera.

‘For me it was like living in two worlds: there was the careful handling of a sitter in my “studio” with a big camera on a heavy tripod, and then running around town chasing news and sports! … If I needed a picture, or a new story, I would rush to the Makola market, where people behave most like themselves. I enjoyed this more than studio photography. I would use a small camera. It was good for finding stories.’

Barnor became great friends with Drum magazine’s energetic proprietor, Jim Bailey. Drum was an influential South African politics and lifestyle magazine that also served as an anti-apartheid platform. When visiting Ghana, Bailey would host impromptu, often legendary, parties for the Drum community. One gathering was organised by Barnor at his studio, with another taking place on the beach, where he recounts that ‘people were swimming under the moon’.

 

Independence

In 1957, Ghana became the first West African country to gain independence from British colonial rule when Dr Kwame Nkrumah was elected its Prime Minister. Nkrumah’s political trajectory compounded by ‘philosophical consciencism’, an ideology for decolonisation to enable social revolution, saw him organising extensively with scholars and activists such as George Padmore and W.E.B Du Bois, who all resided in the country. Barnor was there to capture it all.

After gaining attention after one of his photographs was published in the Telegraph, Barnor was commissioned by UK-based Black Star Picture Agency and Drum magazine to photograph this time of significant historic transformation for a new nation, and the subsequent celebrations that drew people from all over the world.

‘I was the first newspaper photographer in Ghana, and I’m proud of that. Newspaper photography changed people’s lives and it changed journalism in Ghana. I was part of this moment.’

 

London

‘My friend and mentor, A. Q. A. Archampong, who had been my class teacher, had decided to go to England to study. We always kept in touch. Before he left, I said to him: “If the place is alright, write to me.” So, in his first letter to me, he wrote: “London is the place for you”.’

In 1959, two years after Ghana’s independence, Barnor arrived in London. After initially lodging in Peckham, he was introduced to Dennis Kemp by the Ghanaian Embassy, a lecturer in visual education working for the Kodak Lecture Service, who was researching Africa in preparation for a trip to document the forthcoming Nigerian independence celebrations. Kemp shared Barnor’s passion for photography and the two toured schools around the country where Kemp gave lectures using his archive of images on subjects that interested him, such as his travels, climbing and pot-holing, in order to demonstrate Kodak products as visual teaching aids. Barnor also joined Kemp on his trip to Nigeria in October 1960, and lodged at his flat in Holborn, eventually receiving a grant from the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board to support his training. Barnor and Kemp would often host coffee evenings with friends discussing approaches to photography and shared interests in African cultures and philosophies.

 

Drum

‘When I saw Drum with my photos on the cover, alongside other magazines at the newsstands, I felt like I was in heaven.’

In London, Barnor continued assignments for Drum. He captured the experiences of a vibrant and growing Afro diasporic community for the magazine, playing a key role in placing models of African descent, such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, on the cover. Through his work for Drum, Barnor combined studio portraiture and street photography, capturing a singular vision of a diasporic ‘Swinging Sixties’ in London. Whether picturing Hallowi gazing seductively from a convertible car, or Mike Eghan joyously floating down the steps at Piccadilly Circus, these pictorial narratives articulate the Afro-diasporic reclaiming of space and agency in self-expression.

‘You couldn’t get work in the 1960s as a Black photographer. It wouldn’t happen that a Black photographer would instruct white sitters […] If you worked for a studio in London, you worked behind the scenes in the darkroom doing odd jobs. Drum though, where I did freelance work, was different. They let me photograph the cover girls, Muhammad Ali, Mike Eghan (the BBC presenter). Drum was my home in London, my office, I got everything done there.’

 

UK 1960s

In 1960, Barnor moved to Kent, where he learned about colour photography at the Colour Processing Laboratories (CPL) in Edenbridge, the UK’s leading lab at the time. With Kemp’s encouragement he enrolled in a three-year course at Medway College of Art in Rochester. At Medway, he learned the technical aspects of colour photography, while continuing to work during the holidays at CPL. After graduating he was employed as a technician at the college before he was hired as a photographer in the design section of Centre for Educational Television Overseas (CETO).

During this period Barnor became close to Kemp’s family, who lived in Southwick, West Sussex, spending his free time rock climbing with Kemp and going on weekly outings with the Tunbridge Wells Overseas Club, a community group that fostered friendships between people who had recently settled in West Kent. Barnor was offered full-time employment as a colour printer by CPL in 1968.

 

Colour in Ghana

Driven by a desire to share the experience and kills he acquired while working with colour photography in the UK, Barnor returned to Ghana in 1970 as a trained manager for Sick-Hagemayer, a subdivision of the photographic equipment and materials manufacturer Agfa-Gevaert, to establish the first colour-processing laboratory in the country, where he worked until 1973 before establishing his own studio. Prior to the introduction of colour film-processing labs in West Africa in the 1970s, photographers had to improvise or send films for processing abroad. With a local colour processing lab in Accra, under Barnor’s leadership, came a greater demand and wider access to colour photography. People wanted their photographs to depict the range of vibrant life and Ghanaian fashion around them. Barnor excelled in this regard, using his knowledge of colour and singular aesthetic to capture popular dress and create a new style of portraiture.

‘Colour really changed people’s ideas about photography. Kente is Ghanaian woven fabric with many different colours, and people wanted their photographs taken after church or in town wearing this cloth, so the news spread quickly.’

 

Accra Life and Studio X23

[Barnor] established his second studio, Studio X23 in 1973. Barnor initially converted a small storeroom given to him by his cousin Albert M. Quarcoopome into a darkroom before expanding into other parts of the building. Although he returned to Ghana with little intention of continuing a studio practice, it nevertheless found him again and for the next twenty years Barnor continued his practice as a portrait photographer.

 

Commissions

Alongside his studio practice Barnor regularly took on commercial commissions, many of which were passed on to him by his friend the graphic designer Emmanuel Odartey Lamptey. Barnor shot images for clients including a promotional calendar for the Italian oil company AGIP, and publicity shots and record sleeve images for musicians like E. K. Nyame. ‘I was close to the music fraternity too. I knew E.T. Mensah, who played the trumpet and the sax and spearheaded high-life music before all the others. I knew all the musicians. I was taking their pictures.’

 

Music

While continuing to run Studio X23 and working at the United States Information Service throughout the 1970s and 80s Barnor’s attention became increasingly focussed on pursuing his passion for music through the management of children’s troupe Ebaahi Gbiko (All Will Be Well One Day), later renamed Fee Hi (All is Well). The group rehearsed in the yard of the studio every day with the understanding that they had to attend school. He felt that practising together after school kept the group out of trouble and focused on their education: ‘I don’t play drums, write music or sing, but I took them in like my own children.’ The troupe became an important part of Barnor’s life, and he accompanied them on a tour of Italy in 1983 as part of an anti-apartheid campaign focusing on the living conditions of South African children for which they had been officially nominated.

As a result of the early 1980s global economic recession, by the middle of the decade Ghana’s economy collapsed, leading to a debt crisis that spread across the African continent. This made conditions difficult for Barnor to continue his photographic practice, the troupe disbanded and in 1994 he returned to the UK. Barnor enrolled in business-management classes in the evening and secured a rehearsal space with the hope of reforming the troupe and bringing them to London but was unable to arrange work permits and relinquished the idea. Today, former members of Fee Hi are, as Barnor notes: ‘All over the diaspora. They have since joined other groups, and I feel very pleased. The memory of them will never leave me.’

Text from the Serpentine North Gallery

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Drum cover girl Erlin Ibreck at Trafalgar Square, London' 1966

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Drum cover girl Erlin Ibreck at Trafalgar Square, London
1966, modern print
C-Type Print
© James Barnor, courtesy galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

 

Throughout the 1960s James Barnor shot six covers for Drum, a leading lifestyle, culture and politics magazine on the African continent that also served as anti-apartheid platform. By combining studio portraiture and street photography, Barnor’s lens captured the experiences of a vibrant and growing Afro diasporic community in London, playing a key role in placing models of African descent such as Erlin Ibreck on the cover of Drum. Here he captured the experiences of another growing and vibrant ‘Swinging Sixties’ as articulated by the Afro diasporic community in their self-expression thus reclaiming of space and agency.

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Model playing drums: Constance Mulondo, 'Drum' cover, at London University Weekend with the band The Millionaires, London' 1967

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Model playing drums: Constance Mulondo, Drum cover, at London University Weekend with the band The Millionaires, London
1967
© James Barnor, courtesy galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London' 1967

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London
1967
© James Barnor/Autograph ABP, London

 

 

As part of his work with Drum, Barnor captured the BBC’s first Black broadcaster, Mike Eghan, on the steps of the famous Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus, central London. Another photo shows street-scouted cover girl, 19-year-old Erlin Ibreck – whom he met waiting for a bus – feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Coffee night at Theobald's Road, London' 1960

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Coffee night at Theobald’s Road, London
1960
James Barnor/Courtesy Autograph ABP

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Pearly King, Petticoat Lane Market, London' 1960s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Pearly King, Petticoat Lane Market, London
1960s
Courtesy Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Early morning in Covent Garden market in 1960s London' 1960s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Early morning in Covent Garden market in 1960s London
1960s
Courtesy Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Drum cover girl Rosemarie Thompson, London' 1967

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Drum cover girl Rosemarie Thompson, London
1967
Courtesy of Autograph

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Wedding guests, London' 1960s

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Wedding guests, London
1960s
Courtesy of Autograph

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'A group of friends photographed during Mr. And Mrs Sackey's wedding, London' c. 1966

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
A group of friends photographed during Mr. And Mrs Sackey’s wedding, London
c. 1966
Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'At Ataa Quarcoopome, family members at the occasion of the engagement of James cousin, Amanomo, Accra' c. 1970-71

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
At Ataa Quarcoopome, family members at the occasion of the engagement of James cousin, Amanomo, Accra
c. 1970-71
Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) Wedding Portrait, Nii Ayi, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Accra 1970-1980

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Wedding Portrait, Nii Ayi, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Accra
1970-1980
Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'E. K. Nyame, the legendary Ghanaian musician, photographed for a record cover, Accra' c. 1975

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
E. K. Nyame, the legendary Ghanaian musician, photographed for a record cover, Accra
c. 1975
Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Sister holding Brother, Accra' 1979

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Sister holding Brother, Accra
1979
Courtesy Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) ''Drum' cover model Marie Hallowi at Charing Cross Station, London' 1966

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Drum cover model Marie Hallowi at Charing Cross Station, London

1966
Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Members of the Tunbridge Wells Overseas Club, Relaxing after a Hot Summer Sunday Walk, Kent' c. 1968

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Members of the Tunbridge Wells Overseas Club, Relaxing after a Hot Summer Sunday Walk, Kent
c. 1968
Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Two friends dressed for a church celebration with James' car, Accra' 1970

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Two friends dressed for a church celebration with James’ car, Accra
1970

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'James Barnor at the studio Agfa-Gevaert in Mortsel, Belgium' 1969

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
James Barnor at the studio Agfa-Gevaert in Mortsel, Belgium
1969
© James Barnor Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Mavis and Mary Barnor with an Agfa advertising ball' 1970

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Mavis and Mary Barnor with an Agfa advertising ball
1970
© James Barnor/Autograph ABP, London

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Miss Sophia Salomon, Kokomlemle, Accra' c. 1972

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Miss Sophia Salomon, Kokomlemle, Accra
c. 1972
Courtesy of Autograph

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Salah Day, Kokomlemle, Accra' 1973

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Salah Day, Kokomlemle, Accra
1973
© James Barnor/Autograph ABP, London

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'A shop assistant at the Sick-Hagemeyer store. Accra' 1971

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
A shop assistant at the Sick-Hagemeyer store. Accra
1971
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'A store assistant on Station Road, Accra' 1971

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
A store assistant on Station Road, Accra
1971
© James Barnor courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'AGIP calendar model' 1974

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
AGIP calendar model
1974
October Gallery, London

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Model posing for Agip 1 Calendar, Accra' c. 1974-1975

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Model posing for Agip 1 Calendar, Accra
c. 1974-1975
© James Barnor Courtesy of Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929) 'Fee Hii Cultural troupe' c. 1983-1984

 

James Barnor (Ghanian, b. 1929)
Fee Hii Cultural troupe
c. 1983-1984

 

'James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective' book cover

 

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective book cover

 

 

Serpentine Gallery
Kensington Gardens
London W2 3XA
Phone: 020 7402 6075

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm

Serpentine Gallery website

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27
May
19

Exhibition: ‘Sanlé Sory: Peuple de la Nuit’ at David Hill Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 5th April – 31st May 2019

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Le plein chez Total, route de Banfora' 1974

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Le plein chez Total, route de Banfora (Full at Total, Banfora Road)
1974
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

 

The Equilibrist

I love these photographs. They are so direct, so honest.

The use of flash is magnificent. The square format perfect.

The players, that is the subjects, are characters on the stage of life. They know exactly what they are doing, self directing, directed by the photographer (using his commercial studio experience) into – pow! – that pose. They show off, they goof for the camera, they wear their best clothes, they lean on their cars. Here there is an innate balance between the photographer and his subjects.

There are intimate moments and moments of pure fun (such as Les Trois Cowboys de la Brousse (The Three Cowboys of the Bush), 1971 below), kitsch even. There is an immense pride and joy that emanates from these images – of human stories, of friendship, of dance and music. People escaping their ordinary lives. The people and their world are beautiful.

Unlike the close intimacy (the camera up close and personal), unexpected moments, and in motion photographs of Studio 54 and the New York City nightclub scene by Larry Fink –  “where Fink’s subjects are caught off-guard by his camera, and their expressions provide windows into their weariness or giddy party euphoria” – here the photographer stands off at a mid-length distance allowing the surrounding context to add texture to the portraits. Doors, walls (with attached photographs), vegetation, cars and the night background his incisive “flash”, that recognition of just the right moment to take the photograph – even though, and perhaps because, the subjects are in on the act. To capture not just an image, but a feeling.

These people of the night are crystallised in these crystalline tableaux (“he writes a crystalline prose”), spectacular images that make you want to love them all the more. Oh, what it is to be human!

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to David Hill Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. There are more ecstatic photographs from this photographer from the book Sory Sanlé – Volta Photo 1965-1985 (2017) on the British Journal of Photography website.

 

 

“We fulfilled people’s fantasies. We gave them a chance to experiment, to escape their ordinary lives”

.
Sanlé Sory

 

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Les jeunes danseurs de Sikasso Sira' 1972

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Les jeunes danseurs de Sikasso Sira (The young dancers of Sikasso Sira)
1972
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Valse a Bobo' 1968

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Valse a Bobo (Waltz a Bobo)
1968
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'A la mode Bobolaise' 1983

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
A la mode Bobolaise (Bobolaise fashion)
1983
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Ali et Sita en soiree' 1974

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Ali et Sita en soiree (Ali and Sita in the evening)
1974
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Bobo a gogo' 1975

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Bobo a gogo
1975
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'D’Adamo aux Beatles' 1969

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
D’Adamo aux Beatles (From Adamo to the Beatles)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Deux couples dansant le blues' 1979

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Deux couples dansant le blues (Two couples dancing the blues)
1979
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Fete au Volta dancing' 1982

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Fete au Volta dancing
1982
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Ford Fairlane decapotable' 1966

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Ford Fairlane decapotable (Ford Fairlane convertible)
1966
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'La 4L et son maitre' 1970

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
La 4L et son maitre (The 4L and his master)
1970
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'La cliente de la Calebasse d'or' 1969

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
La cliente de la Calebasse d’or (The client of the Golden Calabash)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Laissez-moi entrer' 1967

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Laissez-moi entrer (Let me in)
1967
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Le diable noir' 1975

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Le diable noir (The black devil)
1975
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Le Malien et ses chaussures a la mode' 1975

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Le Malien et ses chaussures a la mode (Malian and his fashionable shoes)
1975
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

 

Sanlé Sory’s Peuple de la Nuit portraits capture the vibrant youth culture, dance parties and flourishing music scene of his home city, a Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, West Africa. This expansive collection of images, taken between the years 1960-1985 have been unveiled for the first time in a stunning exhibition and book.

Recently unearthed from Sanlé’s personal archive, Peuple de la Nuit is an evocative tribute to the nightlife of a distant era. This collection of black-and-white photographs the carefree spirit of Sanlé’s subjects, including the musicians, dancers and lovers that graced some of Bobo’s hippest venues – Volta Dancing, Calebasse d’Or, Normandie and Dafra Bar.

Eager to portray the region’s unique energy and passion, Sory would set off towards the remote villages along the Kou Valley, north West of Bobo. Driving in his Volta Photo Citroen 2CV van carrying a few lights and a home-made sound system, Sanlé would stage his own Bals Poussière (dustball parties) which often lasted until well after sunrise – at which point the farmers and herders would head straight back to tend their fields and cattle.

Born in 1943 in Burkina Faso, back when it was still a French colony known as Republique de HauteVolta, Sanlé Sory began to take photographs in 1960 – the year the country regained independence. After cutting his teeth working as an apprentice to a Ghanian photographer for several years, by 1960 Sanlé had established his own studio, Volta Photo, in his hometown, Bobo-Dioulasso, which instantly became a cultural hub for the city’s most stylish residents – young and old, rich and poor.

After working long days there, Sory would often go out and shoot the vibrant nightlife of his hometown and surrounding areas, amassing hundreds of photos spanning several decades which remained undiscovered until well into his 70s.

Now exhibited for the very first time at the David Hill Gallery in London and coinciding with a book of the same name published by Stanley / Barker, Peuple de Nuit is a fascinating portrait of youth culture and the enigmatic night-time scene during the first decades of African independence.

 

SANLÉ SORY was born in 1943 in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Sanlé began to take photographs in 1960 and learnt his trade working as an apprentice to a Ghanaian photographer, where he was taught how to process and print photographs and how to use a Rolleiflex twin lens camera. Whilst working as a freelance reporter and shooting record covers, Sanlé decided studio photography was his calling and in 1960 had opened the Volta Photo studio in his hometown, Bobo-Dioulasso, which became an instant hit with locals. It was only at the age of 74 while living in obscurity that his work was discovered by the French record producer and archivist Florent Mazzoleni, who came across him while researching a project on West African music. A fan of Sory’s album covers, Mazzoleni went to meet his at his studio – only to find the photographer burning his vintage negatives. In 2013 he was given a solo show at the Institut Français du Burkina Faso in both Ouagadougou and Bobo Dioulasso. 2017 saw the release of his first book Volta Photo 1960-1985 with an accompanying exhibition at David Hill Gallery. In 2018, his work was shown at the Art Institute of Chicago, when he became the first African photographer to have a solo exhibition at an American museum. The was also an exhibition at the Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, and his work was part of the Autophoto at the Fondation Cartier, Paris.

Text from the David Hill Gallery website [Online] Cited 21 April 2019

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Le musicien' 1967

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Le musicien (The musician)
1967
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Le quart d’heure rumba a la soiree privee' 1977

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Le quart d’heure rumba à la soirée privée (The quarter of an hour rumba at the private party)
1977
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Le repos des danseurs' 1978

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Le repos des danseurs (The rest of the dancers)
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'L'equilibriste' 1972

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
L’equilibriste (The Equilibrist)
1972
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Les deux AMI 8' 1975

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Les deux AMI 8
1975
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Les deux amourex de Dogona' 1972

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Les deux amourex de Dogona (The two lovers of Dogona)
1972
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Les noceurs de Banzon' 1972

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Les noceurs de Banzon (Banzon’s swingers)
1972
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Les sans soucis de Dogona' 1980

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Les sans soucis de Dogona (The carefree Dogona)
1980
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Les Trois Cowboys de la Brousse' 1971

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Les Trois Cowboys de la Brousse (The Three Cowboys of the Bush)
1971
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Posons maintenant!' 1976

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Posons maintenant! (Let’s pose now!)
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Sapeurs mossi de nuit' 1975

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Sapeurs mossi de nuit (Mossi Sapeurs of the night)
1975
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Surprise party en ville' 1974

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Surprise party en ville (Surprise party in town)
1974
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Yacouba Zero' 1970

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Yacouba Zero
1970
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Yeye le dur' 1973

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Yeye le dur (Yeye the hard)
1973
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Soirée dansante à la maison' 1968

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Soirée dansante à la maison (Dancing party at home)
1968
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943) 'Une biere pour moi' 1980

 

Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943)
Une biere pour moi (A beer for me)
1980
Gelatin silver print
© Sanlé Sory

 

 

David Hill Gallery
345 Ladbroke Grove, North Kensington,
London W10 6HA, UK

Opening hours:
Friday 11 – 5pm
Saturday 11 – 5pm
Other times by appointment

David Hill Gallery website

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16
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 24th August 2015 – 3rd January 2016

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Template for digging graves, Pomfret' 2013

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Template for digging graves, Pomfret
2013
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The photograph as unoccupied land

To be frank, I am not enamoured of these photographs. They seem to be conceptual ideas masquerading as documentary photographs that evidence a lazy way of seeing the world, one in which the untold narrative has become an empty spectacle. The story, such as it is, is only narrativised by the accompanying text. If an image cannot stand on its own two feet in and of itself without lines of text to support its supposition, then it is not doing its job properly.

The framing is sloppy and the focus of the images is poor. For example, the focus of Template for digging graves, Pomfret (above) is the shadow at the front of the photograph, where the real focus should have been the template and the graves beyond with their horizontals and verticals. This would have made for a much stronger photograph because the foreground and the background are extraneous to the image.

Ractliffe really needs to look at the documentary photographers of the 19th century to see how it is done. The aftermath of conflict photographs of the American Civil War by photographers such as Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan (and here I am not talking about the battlefield photographs) have a robust narrative quality that this artist could only ever hope to achieve. Their photographs possess a clear and consistent vision, a deep aesthetic that is emergent, based on transparence, a ruddy darkness and textural ambience – rather than an aesthetic that is superficially descriptive of surfaces.

This lack of understanding of the depth of contested place/disputed histories can be no better illustrated than in the diptych The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale (2009, below) whose photographs really say nothing about what went on here. The photographs are prescriptive (relating to the imposition or enforcement of a rule or method) statements constructed by the artist, with no emotion and little ambience or feeling for subject matter. They are not even very good descriptive photographs of the landscape. Photographs such as Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (2009, below) and Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa (2007, below) are worse, recording inarticulate artefacts at a level best reserved for student work.

By far the most interesting and powerful photograph is Roadside stall on the way to Viana (2007, below). This photograph is memorable as so many of the other are not, because it possesses a sense of disposition, of alienation, ambience and the weight of history all bound up in those hanging bodies.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Vacant plot near Atlantico Sul' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Vacant plot near Atlantico Sul
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

This coarse, grassy landscape appears at first glance to be empty, yet the billboard declaring “Terreno Ocupado” – Portuguese for “occupied land” – reveals this site in Luanda as both active and politically charged. It points to Angola’s long history of occupation and territorial turmoil, from the arrival of Portuguese explorers in 1483 through to the tangled twentieth-century conflicts that spilled over into neighbouring countries. It also points to the contested terrain that is today’s Luanda. With this image, the opening photograph of the first series, Ractliffe sets the scene for her exploration of land, borders, and displacement, themes which thread through all the works featured here.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Woman and her baby, Roque Santeiro market' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Woman and her baby, Roque Santeiro market
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Conflict between Luanda’s population and its governing elites forms an undercurrent to this photograph of a young woman carrying a baby across litter-strewn ground, observed by a man wearing a military beret. In September 2010, three years after Ractliffe took these photographs and following a protracted dispute between the government and the local community, the Luandan authorities closed down Roque Santeiro and relocated it to a new Chinese-built facility at Panguila, some twelve miles to the north. Although the government cited concerns over insanitary conditions and organised crime, critics argued that the relocation had more to do with repossessing prime real estate for new luxury apartments.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Woman on the footpath from Boa Vista to Roque Santeiro market' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Woman on the footpath from Boa Vista to Roque Santeiro market
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Apparently out of breath and clutching a plastic bag, the woman in the foreground of this photograph is making her way up a faintly visible footpath and out of Ractliffe’s field of vision. A digger perches on the cliff top above her, and in the middle distance, a cluster of dwellings clings precariously to the litter-strewn side of the ravine. Boa Vista – “good view” – is one of Luanda’s largest shanty towns, and at the time of this photograph was home to over 50,000 people. Following landslides in 2001 which killed several residents, parts of the neighbourhood were bulldozed and over 4,000 families were evicted from their homes and relocated to tents in other parts of the city while awaiting the construction of their new accommodation.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Video club, Roque Santeiro market' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Video club, Roque Santeiro market
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Before its closure in 2010, Roque Santeiro was renowned as the biggest open-air market in sub-Saharan Africa, and the centre of Angola’s informal economy. Established in the 1980s and named after a popular Brazilian soap opera, it flourished during the Angolan Civil War as streams of refugees fled the countryside and came to Luanda, searching for new livelihoods. Everything was for sale in its makeshift stalls, from household items, food, and clothes, to contraband alcohol, cars, and livestock. In this photograph Ractliffe focuses on one of the market’s many video clubs, which were housed in military-style tents and screened action movies on televisions powered by generators.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) ''God with us', Pomfret' 2011

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
‘God with us’, Pomfret
2011
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 17 11/16 in. (45cm) Width: 22 1/16 in. (56cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The abandoned mining town of Pomfret is located in the far north of South Africa, near the border with Botswana. After the closure of its asbestos mine, the town was converted into a military base and used to accommodate 32 Battalion, an elite Special Forces unit made up of Angolan soldiers. When the unit was disbanded in 1993, most of the veterans and their families stayed in Pomfret, living in abject conditions without basic services and under constant threat of eviction. Ractliffe has spoken of finding graves there marked only with “Born Angola”; for the veterans whose paths ended here, death in Pomfret was “the final displacement”.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Unidentified memorial in the desert, south of Namibe I' 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Unidentified memorial in the desert, south of Namibe I
2009
From the series As Terras do Fim do Mundo
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph, an assemblage of objects perches on a stony outcrop, surrounded by a barren expanse of desert. The long pole protruding from the pile is topped with a ragged banner, announcing the presence of this unusual memorial, but giving little away about its exact significance. Ractliffe took this photograph close to the Cuban base at Namibe on Angola’s southwestern coast, where an extensive network of trenches, bunkers, and anti-aircraft defences is located. As Ractliffe has remarked: “there are some very poignant things in the landscape, like these markers, that seem to say ‘I have been here, people have been here.'”

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale' (diptych left) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale' (diptych right) 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale (diptych left and right)
2009
From the series As Terras do Fim do Mundo
Inkjet prints, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Reflecting on this diptych, Ractliffe has observed that “Quite often, sites of significance don’t evidence their historical weight.” It is true that the calm landscape – muddy riverbanks weaving through a marsh – together with the small size of these prints belies the huge historical importance of their subject. In 1987-88, during the Angolan Civil War, Cuito Cuanavale was the site of the biggest battle in Africa since World War II. On one side was the armed wing of Agostinho Neto’s government, supported by their Cuban allies; on the other side was the rebel group UNITA, supported by the South African Defence Force. The outcome of the battle is still widely disputed, with both sides claiming victory.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Thorn tree, Platfontein' 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Thorn tree, Platfontein
2012
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph and the next one, “Playing soccer with marbles, Platfontein”, the placement of personal objects in a seemingly unforgiving setting hints at the tension between resilience and vulnerability negotiated by the resident community. The settlement of Platfontein is now home to veterans of 31/201 Battalion, a South African Special Forces unit made up of Angolan and Namibian San trackers who became tied up in the independence conflicts in Angola and Namibia. After the conflicts ended, many of the San veterans were relocated to Schmidtsdrift, but had to live in tents for 14 years because of a competing claim on the land from local communities. The veterans ultimately accepted financial compensation, which enabled them to buy land at Platfontein, pictured here.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Playing soccer with marbles, Platfontein' 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Playing soccer with marbles, Platfontein
2012
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 10 1/4 in. (26cm) Width: 12 13/16 in. (32.5cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph and the previous one, “Thorn tree, Platfontein”, the placement of personal objects in a seemingly unforgiving setting hints at the tension between resilience and vulnerability negotiated by the resident community. The settlement of Platfontein is now home to veterans of 31/201 Battalion, a South African Special Forces unit made up of Angolan and Namibian San trackers who became tied up in the independence conflicts in Angola and Namibia. After the conflicts ended, many of the San veterans were relocated to Schmidtsdrift, but had to live in tents for 14 years because of a competing claim on the land from local communities. The veterans ultimately accepted financial compensation, which enabled them to buy land at Platfontein, pictured here.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Veteran soldiers of 'Omega' 31/201 Battalion, Paulo Cassanga and Automover Kakenge, Schmidtsdrift (portrait under instruction)' 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Veteran soldiers of ‘Omega’ 31/201 Battalion, Paulo Cassanga and Automover Kakenge, Schmidtsdrift (portrait under instruction)
2012
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The veterans’ experiences are given added poignancy in this portrait, in which they stand in front of a tarpaulin hanging untidily from a derelict building. Automover Kakenge, standing on the right, is the leader of a group of San veterans who refused to move to Platfontein after their land claim at Schmidtsdrift was unsuccessful. Kakenge has stated that “Schmidtsdrift was the ending for us […]. When we were relocated from Namibia, we had to swear, “South Africa is our land, and our house is here in Schmidtsdrift.” This attachment to the land and buildings at Schmidtsdrift is the endpoint of what Ractliffe refers to as an “epic narrative of displacement”.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'On the Road to Cuito Cuanavale I' 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
On the Road to Cuito Cuanavale I
2009
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Donkey, Pomfret Asbestos Mine' 2011

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Donkey, Pomfret Asbestos Mine
2011
From the series The Borderlands
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning August 24 features 23 works produced over the past 10 years by South African artist Jo Ractliffe (born 1961). The photographs examine the landscapes of Angola and South Africa as sites of conflict and contention. Focusing on the aftermath of the Angolan Civil War and the intertwined conflict known in South Africa as the “Border War,” her photographs address themes of dispossession, history, memory, and erasure. The exhibition highlights Ractliffe’s engagement with the land and structures of Angola’s capital, Luanda, as well as with places in the Angolan and South African countryside where unmarked mass graves, minefields, and former military testing sites reveal the complex traces of the past in the present.

The 23 works on loan from the artist include single images, diptychs, and triptychs selected from three photographic series: Terreno Ocupado (2007), As Terras do Fim do Mundo (2010), and The Borderlands (2013). In Terreno Ocupado, Ractliffe establishes the city of Luanda as a multilayered place of both historical dispute and present-day struggle. Photographs highlighting the Portuguese colonial occupation of Angola and its imprint on the built environment appear alongside works depicting the often harsh economic conditions of Luanda today. By focusing on the structural instability of the city’s shanty towns, as well as the longer history of political instability threading through their foundations, these photographs question what it means for land to be occupied, abandoned, and struggled over.

The works selected from 2010’s As Terras do Fim do Mundo highlight traces of the Border War, a conflict fought in rural Angola and present-day Namibia between South Africa and its allies on one side and, on the other, the exiled Namibian liberation movement, the Angolan government, and their allies. For this series, Ractliffe traveled alongside ex-soldiers returning to the desolate places where they had fought. The images produced on these trips include photographs of unmarked mass graves, minefields, and other often-inconspicuous signs of past conflict, showing how landscape can function as a repository of histories and memories and yet not be apparent at first glance. Most of the photographs in this series appear devoid of human presence, but in a triptych featuring mural representations of the conflict’s three key political leaders – Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto, and Leonid Brezhnev – Ractliffe points more directly to notions of individual agency, culpability, and experience.

For her most recent series, The Borderlands, Ractliffe sought out sites in South Africa that were intricately connected to the history of the Border War and photographed their inhabitants amid their surroundings. The people she photographed, often the subjects of forced relocation and living in precarious conditions, exist at the intersection of the region’s troubled history and challenging present. Works from this series show how histories of violence and dispossession under apartheid intersect with these militarised landscapes.

The Aftermath of Conflict has been organised to coincide with the special exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty, which focuses on works created by artists in present-day Angola between the 16th and 19th centuries (on view at the Metropolitan Museum September 17, 2015 – January 3, 2016). The landscapes captured by Ractliffe consider a more recent chapter of Angola’s history. The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa is curated by Yaëlle Biro, Associate Curator in the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum, together with Dr Evelyn Owen, the 2013-2015 Mellon Curatorial Fellow at The Africa Center, New York, in collaboration with the Museum’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art and Department of Photographs.

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Man maintaining the lawn of the Monumento de Agostinho Neto' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Man maintaining the lawn of the Monumento de Agostinho Neto
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 13 3/4 in. (35cm) Width: 13 3/4 in. (35cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

This monument to Angola’s first president Agostinho Neto (1922-79) was erected in 2001-2 as a gift from North Korea. Neto, a doctor and poet, was a founder of the MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and led the party during Angola’s struggle for independence from Portugal. When the Portuguese withdrew from Angola on November 11, 1975, with help from Cuba and in the face of competing anti-colonial factions, the MPLA seized control of Luanda and Neto became president. He went on to cultivate closer ties with the Soviet Union and other communist states. In this photograph, Ractliffe contrasts the heroic figure symbolising freedom from colonialism shown on the monument’s pedestal with the everyday heroism of a man pushing a heavy lawnmower.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Banco Nacional de Angola (diptych left) 2007

Ractliffe-banco-nacional-RIGHT-WEB

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Banco Nacional de Angola (diptych left and right)
2007
Inkjet prints, 2015
Height: 17 11/16 in. (45cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The National Bank of Angola building was designed by Portuguese architect Vasco Regaleira and inaugurated in 1956 by Portuguese president Francisco Lopes. The building’s pink exterior, with its imposing dome and colonnade, was intended to fit in with other colonial-style buildings in Luanda. The bank’s lavish décor provides a dramatic contrast to many of Ractliffe’s other photographs of the city, especially the marble atrium, which features tiled murals portraying the arrival of the Portuguese in Angola. In the image to the right (bottom above), Portuguese explorers are depicted disembarking from their ship and erecting a padrão; these large limestone markers were inscribed with the Portuguese coat of arms and positioned at key locations along the coast by Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão in 1483. An original padrão is currently on view in the exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Roadside stall on the way to Viana' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Roadside stall on the way to Viana
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph and the next one, “Wreck of a Chinese ship at Ilha”, stretches of bare ground in and around Luanda form the backdrop to ghostly signs of economic activity. Workmen’s overalls dangle from a tree at a roadside stall next to a taxi rank, and a grounded ship basks on a deserted beach while other vessels float offshore. Before it capsized in the mid-2000s, this ship transported and housed Chinese workers drawn to Angola by the many Chinese-run infrastructure projects in the country. These images reflect Angola’s diverse economy where a globalised workforce and the informal sector both play important roles, yet the absence of the workers themselves is striking.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 2' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 2
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 13 3/4 in. (35cm) Width: 13 3/4 in. (35cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 4' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 4
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 13 3/4 in. (35cm) Width: 13 3/4 in. (35cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

This photograph and the previous one were taken inside the Fortaleza de São Miguel, a fort originally built in 1576 by Paulo Dias de Novais, the explorer who “founded” Luanda. It later became the administrative heart of the Portuguese colony of Angola in its important role as a trading centre and slaving hub. In 1938 the fort was transformed into the home of the Museum of Angola, and the tiled murals shown here were commissioned at this time. Depicting the flora, fauna and history of Angola, these cobalt-blue 18th-century style tiles were inspired by early modern European prints depicting the Kongo and Angola kingdoms, and represented an attempt to legitimise the ongoing Portuguese presence in the country. Sources included Olfert Dapper’s 1668 “Description of Africa” from which the map fragment shown here is drawn.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych left) 2012

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych middle) 2012

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych right) 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych left, middle and right)
2012
From the series The Borderlands
Inkjet prints, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this triptych, Ractliffe’s focal point is a ghostly ensemble of deserted military buildings. Schmidtsdrift’s original inhabitants were forcibly relocated in the 1950s-70s under the apartheid regime’s policy of racial segregation. From 1974 the emptied settlement was used as a military training base by the South African Defence Force, which was fighting against the exiled Namibian liberation movement and the Angolan army in a conflict later referred to in South Africa as the “Border War”. Now that the war is over, the decommissioned buildings remain, testifying to the region’s past conflicts and histories of forced relocation.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (detail) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (detail) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (detail) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo' 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, b. 1961)
Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (details)
2009
Inkjet prints, 2015
Height: 15 3/4 in. (40cm) Width: 19 11/16 in. (50cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The central figure of Agostinho Neto, Angola’s anti-colonial leader and president from 1975-79, is flanked by Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro on the left, and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on the right. This mural personifies the threats of African Nationalism and Communism that propelled South Africa to become involved in the Border War. It highlights the fact that the Angolan Civil War was also a Cold War battleground, with Cuba and the Soviet Union on the side of Neto’s party, the MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola), and South Africa and the United States supporting UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola). Here, all three men still command a presence despite their faded, cartoon-like rendering.

 

 

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04
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Pieter Hugo: This Must Be The Place – Selected Works 2003-2012’ at the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

Exhibition dates: 24th May – 11th August 2013

 

Pieter Hugo. 'The Hyena Men of Abuja, Nigeria' 2005

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
The Hyena Men of Abuja, Nigeria
2005
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

 

 

I have not seen enough of the other series of Pieter Hugo to make an informed decision, but work from the The Hyena & Other Men (2005-2007) and Permanent Error (2009-2010) series, the most often reproduced, is certainly strong. Whether I am fully convinced by his singular frontality is another matter…

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Aissah Salifu, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana' 2010

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Aissah Salifu, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana
2010
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Escort Kama. Enugu, Nigeria' 2008

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Escort Kama. Enugu, Nigeria
2008
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Chris Nkulo and Patience Umeh. Enugu, Nigeria' 2008

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Chris Nkulo and Patience Umeh. Enugu, Nigeria
2008
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

 

 

Pieter Hugo’s (b. Johannesburg, 1976) career is quite young, yet his photography is already so comprehensive that we can rightly speak of a consistent oeuvre. Since 2003 Hugo has photographed people and themes exclusively in sub-Saharan Africa. Daily life in post-colonial Africa, the complex conditions after the end of apartheid in his own land and the impact of global trade and commerce are themes that circulate throughout his intriguing series.

Pieter Hugo spends long periods of time photographing his extensive series in order to capture intimate and often bizarre moments. His use of a large-format camera requires patience and trust between photographer and subject, which is visible in straightforward expressions and candid interactions. There is a moment of calm and even timelessness in these works that allows the viewer to engage more fully with the subject matter.

The political diversity of a continent that is rapidly transforming – some note that Africa will be a global economic power of the future – is portrayed by Pieter Hugo with the clarity of familiar painting genres such as landscape, portraiture, group portraiture and still life. The subjects of his photography: the elderly, the poor, the blind, street artists, soap actors, close family and friends – form a social tableau that is at once personalised while also presenting a more universal image of Africa at the beginning of the twenty first century.

The initial motivation for the series The Hyena & Other Men (2005-2007) comes from a cell phone camera image Pieter Hugo discovered on the internet. The image concerns a group of performers who travel throughout Nigeria with tamed hyenas and other wild animals and collect money from their choreographed public performances. Hugo embarked on two separate trips to document this remarkable nomadic group up close. Hugo presents the complex relationship between animal and owner, capturing moments of calm and tenderness amidst situations full of drama and spectacle.

The Agbogbloshie market on the outskirts of Accra (Ghana) is the thematic of the Permanent Error series (2009-2010), which is mainly a dumping site for the technological waste of the western world. Here computers and other electronic equipment are collected and burned by inhabitants, often children, to extract precious raw materials. These machines formerly representing prosperity and progress are here transformed into only noxious and life threatening vapours. The charred ground, grey sky and scattered groups of foragers and cattle seem isolated from the world, but are in fact one of the last links in a chain of global commerce. Despite the harsh surroundings, the subjects stand tall, identified by full name and framed in the style of classical portraiture.

Nollywood (2008-2009) is the third largest film industry in the world, releasing between 500 and 1,000 movies each year. It produces movies on its own terms, telling stories that appeal to and reflect the lives of its public: it is a rare instance of self-representation on such a scale in Africa. The continent has a rich tradition of story-telling that has been expressed abundantly through oral and written fiction, but has never been conveyed through the popular media before. Stars are local actors; plots confront the public with familiar situations of romance, comedy, witchcraft, bribery, prostitution. The narrative is overdramatic, deprived of happy endings, tragic. The aesthetic is loud, violent, excessive; nothing is said, everything is shouted.

At a morgue in the township of Khayelitsha in Cape Town, Pieter Hugo turns his camera to individuals who have died of AIDS related illnesses. In The Bereaved (2005) as with many of his other series, Hugo gives first and last names of his subjects. Such a personal statement challenges the anonymity of AIDS statistics in South Africa. Ten years after the Rwandan Genocide, Pieter Hugo captures the unimaginable violence of these events through leftover fragments (Vestiges of a Genocide, 2004). The absence of human life is disturbingly present in the images. Bones are preserved with lime so as not to disintegrate. Heavy dust and dirt create an organic seal over the remains. While these substances often signify what is past and forgotten, the items in the photographs are preserved artificially and naturally for all to remember.

The series entitled Messina / Musina (2006) deals with the inhabitants of a small town on the border of Zimbabwe in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. The title reflects the correction of an earlier colonial misspelling of the town’s name (Messina), as well as the transition taking place at this geographical and social periphery.

In Pieter Hugo’s studio portraits of the elderly, the blind and people with albinism – Looking Aside, 2003-2006 – there is a direct and confrontational engagement between the viewer and the subjects. The viewer is made to feel uncomfortable and immobilised by the subject’s gaze. In There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends (2011) – a recent series of portraits realised in the same spirit and adopting a stripped back, close-up and confrontationally direct approach – Hugo explores similar territory [to his earlier series Looking Aside] but from practically the opposite angle. In this case, the subjects are simply the photographer and his friends, who represent an array of ethnicities but are not particularly atypical, abnormal or ‘unusual’ in a genetic sense. Instead they are rendered unusually, portrayed in a heightened monotone with their skin transformed into a range of exaggerated black spots and dark tones.

With Kin (2011), his most autobiographical series to date, Pieter Hugo reflects on his own family and deep ambivalence towards the notion of home. Personal moments such as the pregnancy of his wife, the birth of their child and an operation of his mother are interspersed with national icons: open landscapes, anthropological museums and references to historical places and figures in South Africa. The recent and historical, private and public, rich and poor, ugly and beautiful interact closely in this series and represent the social complexities of post-apartheid South Africa.

Press release from the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Naasra Yeti, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana' 2009

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Naasra Yeti, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana
2009
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

 

Pieter Hugo. 'John Kwesi, Wild Honey Collector, Techiman District, Ghana' 2005

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
John Kwesi, Wild Honey Collector, Techiman District, Ghana
2005
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

 

Pieter Hugo. 'The Honourable Justice Unity Dow' 2005

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
The Honourable Justice Unity Dow
2005
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Steven Mohapi, Johannesburg' 2003

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Steven Mohapi, Johannesburg
2003
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Ashleigh McLean' 2011

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Ashleigh McLean
2011
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

 

 

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art
1095 Budapest Komor Marcell Street 1
Hungary 06 1 555-3444

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday: 10.00 – 2 0.00
Closed on Mondays

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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13
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive Part III: Poetics and Politics’ at The Walther Collection Project Space, New York: Part 2

Exhibition dates: 22nd March – 18th May 2013

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Dressing hair. Women of the E. Coast. Africa' Tanzania, early twentieth century

 

Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Dressing hair. Women of the E. Coast. Africa
Tanzania, early twentieth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print mounted on album page

 

 

“Distance invokes travel, geographic dichotomies, estrangement, otherness, and separation in time. Whereas desire implies proximity, closeness, affect, and unfulfilled longing.”

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Part 2 of the posting about the exhibition Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive Part III. I have added notes under some of the photographs to give context to the tribes, the people and the titles of the photographs. For more information see The New Yorker: Photo Booth’s interview with curator South African scholar Tamar Garb.

Marcus

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS PHOTOGRAPHS OF FEMALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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Many thankx to The Walther Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard. 'Damara Servant Girl, S. Africa' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard (English, 1841-1916), inscribed:
Damara Servant Girl, S. Africa
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Photograph of a young woman' East Africa, Early twentieth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Photograph of a young woman
East Africa, Early twentieth century
Gelatin-silver developed-out print

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard. 'Zulu Kaffir' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard (English, 1841-1916), inscribed:
Zulu Kaffir
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Studio photograph of a man' East Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Studio photograph of a man
East Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

 

 

This man is from the Hadendowa tribe, eastern Sudan.

Hadendoa (or Hadendowa) is the name of a nomadic subdivision of the Beja people, known for their support of the Mahdiyyah rebellion during the 1880s to 1890s. The area historically inhabited by the Hadendoa is today parts of Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea.

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Monsiga Chief of Mafeking' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Monsiga Chief of Mafeking
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print mounted on album page

 

 

Mahikeng – formerly, and still commonly, known as Mafikeng and historically Mafeking in English – is the capital city of the North-West Province of South Africa. It is best known internationally for the Siege of Mafeking, the most famous engagement of the Second Boer War.

Located close to South Africa’s border with Botswana, Mahikeng is 1,400 km (870 mi) northeast of Cape Town and 260 km (160 mi) west of Johannesburg. In 2001, it had a population of 49,300. In 2007, Mafikeng was reported to have a population of 250,000 of which the CBD constitutes between 69,000 and 75,000. It is built on the open veld at an elevation of 1,500 m (4,921 ft), by the banks of the Upper Molopo River. TheMadibi goldfields are some 15 km (9.3 mi) south of the town.

 

A. James Gribble. 'Masupa. Kaffir Chief & sons. Basutoland' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

A. James Gribble, inscribed:
Masupa. Kaffir Chief & sons. Basutoland
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

 

 

Basutoland or officially the Territory of Basutoland, was a British Crown colony established in 1884 after the Cape Colony’s inability to control the territory. It was divided into seven administrative districts; Berea, Leribe, Maseru, Mohales Hoek, Mafeteng, Qacha’s Nek and Quthing.

Basutoland was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho upon independence from the United Kingdom on October 4, 1966.

 

W. Rausch. 'Indaba of Induna Chiefs, Buluwayo' Zimbabwe, 1890s

 

W. Rausch (South African, 1862-1900), inscribed:
Indaba of Induna Chiefs, Buluwayo
Zimbabwe, 1890s
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print mounted on card

 

 

InDuna (plural: izinDuna) is a Zulu title meaning advisor, great leader, ambassador, headman, or commander of group of warriors. It can also mean spokesperson or mediator as the izinDuna often acted as a bridge between the people and the king. The title was reserved for senior officials appointed by the king or chief, and was awarded to individuals held in high esteem for their qualities of leadership, bravery or service to the community. The izinDuna would regularly gather for an indaba to discuss important issues. An indaba is an important conference held by the izinDuna (principal men) of the Zulu or Xhosa peoples of South Africa. (Text from Wikipedia)

William Rausch was born in Cape Colony, South Africa in 1862. Eventually he made his way to Bulawayo where established himself as a photographer. His earliest photos date from 1895. He is one of four photographers listed in Matabeleland during this time: C. Hines, C. H. Newberry, J. Parkin, and W. Rausch. The Rhodesia Scientific Association (1899) lists Rausch as having won a prize for his Rhodesian photographs. He died of pneumonia at Memorial Hospital on 24 September, 1900. H. A. de Beers was appointed as executor and his estate was finalised 24 January 1901.

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Studio photograph of a man' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Studio photograph of a man
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Carte de visite

 

Gray Brothers (Diamond Fields). 'Zulu / Young Warrior in fighting order, and in skin Kaross. Armed with hatchet and assegai' South Africa. c. 1870s

 

Gray Brothers (Diamond Fields), inscribed:
Zulu / Young Warrior in fighting order, and in skin Kaross. Armed with hatchet and assegai
South Africa. c. 1870s
Carte de visite

 

G. F. Williams. 'Studio photograph of two women' South Africa, c. 1870s

 

G. F. Williams
Studio photograph of two women
South Africa, c. 1870s
Carte de visite

 

Lawrence Brothers, Cape Town (attr.). 'Kaffir girl' South Africa, c. 1870s

 

Lawrence Brothers, Cape Town (attr.), inscribed:
Kaffir girl
South Africa, c. 1870s
Carte de visite

 

 

The partners of Lawrence Bros. were James Lawrence and Colin Gibb Lawrence and they were doing business from Ashley street, Cape Town in 1864. Left for England in 1865. James employed his brothers Alexander and Colin Gibb as his assistants and later joined with Colin in a partnership.

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Portrait of King Khama III' South Africa, early twentieth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Portrait of King Khama III
South Africa, early twentieth century

 

 

Khama III (1837?-1923), also known as Khama the Good, was the kgosi (meaning chief or king) of the Bamangwato people of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), who made his country a protectorate of the United Kingdom to ensure its survival against Boer and Ndebele encroachments.

After Khama became king in 1875, after overthrowing his father Sekgoma and elbowing away his brother Kgamane his ascension came at a time of great dangers and opportunities. Ndebele incursions from the north (from what is now Zimbabwe), Boer and “mixed” trekkers from the south, and German colonialists from the West, all hoping to the seize his territory and its hinterlands. He answered these challenges by aligning his state with the administrative aims of the British, which provided him with cover and support, and, relatedly, by energetically expanding his own control over a much wider area than any “kgosi” before him. Khama converted to Christianity, which moved him to criminalise sectarianism and to deprecate the institutions favoured by traditionalists. At Khama’s request stringent laws were passed against the importation of alcohol. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

G. T. Ferneyhough (attr.) and unidentified photographers. 'Albumen prints mounted to album page' South Africa, last third of the nineteenth century

 

G. T. Ferneyhough (attr.) and unidentified photographers
Albumen prints mounted to album page
South Africa, last third of the nineteenth century

 

G. T. Ferneyhough (attr.), Crewes & Van Laun (attr.), H. F. Gros (attr.), and unidentified photographers. 'Album page with photographs of Cetshwayo and his family, Chief Sekhukhune, and unidentified persons' South Africa, last third of the nineteenth century

 

G. T. Ferneyhough (attr.), Crewes & Van Laun (attr.), H. F. Gros (attr.), and unidentified photographers
Album page with photographs of Cetshwayo and his family, Chief Sekhukhune, and unidentified persons
South Africa, last third of the nineteenth century

 

 

The bottom right hand text says, “Cetshwayo’s wives who came to England.” Obviously on the ship that took the King to England in 1882 (see below)

 

Invading Zululand

Lieutenant-General Sir Frederic Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford, led the invasion of Zululand on 11 January, with British centre column crossing at Rorke’s Drift. Additional British forces massed at Lower Drift on the Thukela River, near the coast, and on the north-western border near Utrecht.

Isandlawana and Rorke’s Drift

Despite an early success at Isandlwana (22 January) where 24,000 Zulu warriors overran the British camp of 1,700 – over 1,300 British and Imperial troops were annihilated (only 60 of the survivors were Europeans). That evening the small garrison at Rorke’s Drift regained British self-respect by defending the (hospital) station against a force of more than 3,000 Zulu warriors.

Defeat at Ulundi

Cetshwayo’s army was finally defeated at oNdini (Ulundi) on 4 July 1879 and his royal homestead burnt to the ground. Although Cetshwayo escaped from oNdini, he was soon captured in the Ngome Forest by British dragoons (28 August). He was informed by Shepstone that he was to be exiled from Zululand and that the nation would be divided into 13 independent chiefdoms under the authority of the British.

Exile

On 15 September 1879 Cetshwayo was dispatched to Cape Town. He was held as a prisoner of war until February 1881 when he was transferred from the castle to Oude Molen, a farm on the Cape Flats.

“In 1882 Cetshwayo was permitted to travel to England for audience with Queen Victoria – he petitioned for his return to Zululand as ruler. He was a hit amongst London society and became a favourite of the public.”

Cetshwayo was returned in secret to Zululand on 10 January 1883. He was met at Port Durnford by Sir Theophilus Shepstone (who was brought out of retirement for the process). Shepstone arranged the details of Cetshwayo’s restoration (29 January), but he was not permitted an army to defend his somewhat reduced ‘nation’ – part of the arrangement was that the north of Zululand was to be put under the control of his rival, Zibhebhu kaMaphitha.

Defeat and Retreat

By March 1883 Zibhebhu was moving against Cetshwayo’s supporters in his assigned northern territory and Cetshwayo’s uSuthu marched against him. The uSuthu were defeated and driven into Transvaal and back south to oNdini. The civil war between Cetshwayo and Zibhebhu ranged across the Mahlabathini plain and the uSuthu was once again defeated. Whilst Cetshwayo and his 15-year old heir, Dinizulu, were able to escape the capital of oNdini and hide out in the Nkandla forest, theuSuthu leadership was decimated. Cetshwayo was escorted to Eshowe by Henry Francis Fynn jr, the British Resident in Zululand, on the 15 October 1883.

A Disputed Cause of Death

On the afternoon of 8 February 1884 Cetshwayo died. Although officially recorded as a heart attack (Surgeon Scott, the resident military medical officer, was refused permission to do an autopsy and so could record no other cause). However an abortive assassination attempt (by poison) was made against Mnyamana kaNgqengelele, chief of the Buthelezi and Cetshwayo’s chief inDuna, around the same so time it seems likely that Cetshwayo was also poisoned.

Text from the African History website [Online] Cited 11/05/2013 no longer available online

 

Unidentified photographers. 'Albumen prints mounted to album page' South Africa, late nineteen century

 

Unidentified photographers
Albumen prints mounted to album page
South Africa, late nineteen century

 

Unidentified Photographer. 'Native Policemen' South Africa, late nineteen century

 

Unidentified photographer
Native Policemen
South Africa, late nineteen century
from Albumen prints mounted to album page

 

Unidentified Photographer. 'Portrait of a Man' (detail) South Africa, late nineteen century

 

Unidentified Photographer
Portrait of a Man (detail)
South Africa, late nineteen century
from Albumen prints mounted to album page

 

Notice how the white spots have been painted on by the photographer after exposure, presumably to “exoticise” the noble savage.

 

Unidentified photographers. 'Album page' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographers
Album page
South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

 

The Walther Collection Project Space

Suite 718, 508-526 West 26th Street
New York
Phone: +1 212 352 0683

Opening hours:
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The Walther Collection website

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11
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive Part III: Poetics and Politics’ at The Walther Collection Project Space, New York: Part 1

Exhibition dates: 22nd March – 18th May 2013

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Photograph of a man' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Photograph of a man
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print

 

 

Undertaking research in to the work of South African photographer Ernest Cole, I wanted to know more about “South African colonial photography” pre-Apartheid. If you type the phrase into Google images there is absolutely nothing online about this historical archive. So it is a great privilege that The Walther Collection has allowed me to publish nearly 40 photographs over two postings on Art Blart. What a honour to be the first online space to promote this important historical record.

It is vital that colonial photographs such as these are visible in contemporary society for they bare witness to the conditions of the past and provide a visual language to textualise our experience and thereby make it available for interpretation and closure – for people of all colours and races. This is particularly true for a post-colonial country such as South Africa where the history of the nation must be examined impartially no matter how painful the subject matter in order to understand how the actions of the past influence the present and will continue to be re/sighted in the future. Through continual re/citation by being present in the public sphere for all to see (not hidden away offline) these images will become a source of pride (for person, family, tribe, country) – for these were strong human beings that survived the vicissitudes of colonialism to form the history and lineage of a nation.

We must thank numerous private collectors that have saved many of these photographs from the rubbish tip when no public institution was interested in collecting them. Interesting books about the South African archive include Surviving the Lens: Photographic Studies of South and East African People, 1870-1920 by Michael Graham Stewart (2001) and Contemporary African Photography from the Walther Collection. Events of the Self, Portraiture and Social Identity by Okwui Enwezor (ed.) Göttingen, Steidl, 2010.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to The Walther Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Caney Brothers, inscribed: 'Ordinary & Fighting Dresses.' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Caney Brothers, inscribed:
Ordinary & Fighting Dresses.
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

 

Henri Noyer (attr.), inscribed: 'Taisaka Spearsmen No. 2' Madagascar, early twentieth century

 

Henri Noyer (attr.), inscribed:
Taisaka Spearsmen No. 2
Madagascar, early twentieth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print

 

The Taisaka come from the South-East coast of the island of Madagascar.

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Mouv, Nthaka warrior' East Africa, early twentieth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Mouv, Nthaka warrior
East Africa, early twentieth century
Gelatin or collodion developed out print

 

 

The Ameru had an age set system which provided the community with warriors for defence. Boys are circumcised and become Nthaka (warriors). They stay in a Gaaru and learn to defend the community and take care of their families. The warriors were called Nthaka and were isolated from the community for military training

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Studio photograph of a man' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Studio photograph of a man
South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Studio photograph of a man' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Studio photograph of a man
South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

J. E. Middlebrook (attr.), inscribed: 'A Zulu girl. Hair strung with beads' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

J. E. Middlebrook (South African, active 1870s-1900s) (attr.), inscribed:
A Zulu girl. Hair strung with beads
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin-silver printed-out print

 

 

The Zulu (Zulu: amaZulu) are the largest South African ethnic group, with an estimated 10-11 million people living mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Small numbers also live in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. Their language, Zulu, is a Bantu language; more specifically, part of the Nguni subgroup. The Zulu Kingdom played a major role in South African history during the 19th and 20th centuries. Under apartheid, Zulu people were classed as third-class citizens and suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination. They remain today the most numerous ethnic group in South Africa, and now have equal rights along with all other citizens.

J. E. Middlebrook. Late 19th-century South African photographer. The flourishing diamond mines in Kimberley brought hundreds of workers and photographers to the area beginning in 1867. J. E. Middlebrook followed soon thereafter in the early 1870s, and set up his photography studio, The Premier Studio, on West Street West ; he had a second studio in Durban, “Opposite the Club.” Middlebrook photographed the landscape, farms, cities, and people of South Africa. His photographs of the Zulu people are considered to be theatrical, deliberating portraying the native people in an idyllic, romantic, and exotic light. He took photographs during the South African war (1899-1902). A number of well-known photographers were based at the studio, including C. Evans, Wunsch, Atkinson and Dyer, who documented Kimberley’s early days. By 1906, Middlebrook’s was bought by Frank Hancox and when German, Charles Seidenstucker, arrived in South Africa, he promptly became the studio’s new owner.

 

A. James Gribble, inscribed: 'Kaffer woman' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

A. James Gribble (South African, 1863-1943), inscribed:
Kaffer woman
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

 

 

The word kaffer is a word that is used widely in South Africa and is a derogatory word for a black person. Used mainly by Afrikaans people. In old Dutch it means unbeliever (in God), so should not necessarily mean black, but just unholy or non-Christian. Boers gave the name in early South African history as native Africans did not believe in Jesus. Name came after Bantu – which means the same thing, but was banned as it was discriminatory.

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Zulu mothers' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Zulu mothers
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin-silver printed out print

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard. 'Hottentott S. Africa [Portait of /A!kunta]' South Africa, early 1870s

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard (English, 1841-1916), inscribed
Hottentott S. Africa [Portait of /A!kunta]
South Africa, early 1870s
Albumen print

 

 

The word ‘Hottentots’ was a name disparagingly used to refer to the Khoikhoi people that lived in the southern parts of the African continent as early as the 5th century AD and continued to live till the first colonists arrived in the middle of the seventeenth century. The Dutch colonists called them Hottentots. It means ‘stammerer’ in Dutch. Khoikhoi means ‘people people’. The word Hottentot is no longer used to describe the people.

 

 

The Walther Collection is pleased to announce Poetics and Politics, the third and last exhibition in the series Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive, curated by Tamar Garb. Poetics and Politics presents an extraordinary range of previously unseen vintage portraits, cartes de visite, postcards, and album pages from Southern and Eastern Africa, produced from the 1870s to the early twentieth century. The exhibition makes visible both the ideological frameworks that prevailed during the colonial period in Africa and the exceptional skill of photographers working in the studio and landscape.

The culmination of Distance and DesirePoetics and Politics offers a remarkable opportunity to view the narratives that emerge from this African photographic archive, describing in particular the experience of the studio – the curiosity between subject and photographer, the negotiations of costume and pose, and the will for self-representation. The exhibition investigates typical European depictions of Africans, from scenes in nature, to sexualised images of semi-nude models, to modern sitters posing in elaborate studios, critically addressing the politics of colonialism and the complex issues of gender and identity.

Among over 75 vintage prints, Poetics and Politics includes a selection of elegant studio portraits by Samuel Baylis Barnard, one of Cape Town’s most prominent nineteenth century photographers. Original album pages of landscapes and ethnographic imagery are displayed alongside a series of carte de visite portraits of Africans, created in the 1870s in the Diamond Fields of Kimberley, South Africa. The exhibition also features several double-sided displays of album pages, showing striking combinations of personal and stock images, and the juxtapositions of prominent figures in both African and Western contexts.

Distance and Desire is accompanied by an extensive catalogue, published by The Walther Collection and Steidl, and edited by Tamar Garb. Including twelve original essays, the catalogue offers new perspectives by contemporary artists and scholars on the African archive, reimagining its diverse histories and changing meanings. On June 8, 2013 the expanded exhibition incorporating all three parts of Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive will open at The Walther Collection in Neu-Ulm, Germany. The Walther Collection is a private non-profit foundation dedicated to researching, collecting, exhibiting, and publishing modern and contemporary photography and video art, based in Neu-Ulm, Germany and New York. Distance and Desire is part of the collection’s multi-year investigation of African photography and video.

Press release from the Walther Collection website

 

Unidentified photographe. 'Native Police' South Africa, Late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Native Police
South Africa, Late nineteenth century
Albumen print mounted on album page

 

Kimberley Studio (New Rush, Diamond Fields). 'Zulu / Warrior in skin kaross, armed with assegais' and 'Guerrier Zulu a manteau de fourrure et armé de piques' South Africa, c. 1870s

 

Kimberley Studio (New Rush, Diamond Fields), inscribed:
Zulu / Warrior in skin kaross, armed with assegais and Guerrier Zulu a manteau de fourrure et armé de piques
South Africa, c. 1870s
Carte de visite

 

John Salmon. 'Basuto' South Africa, c. 1870s

 

John Salmon, inscribed:
Basuto
South Africa, c. 1870s
Carte de visite

 

See Sotho people on Wikipedia

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard. 'Photograph of a woman' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard (English, 1841-1916)
Photograph of a woman
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Carte de visite

 

William Moore (attr.), 'Macomo and his chief wife [Portrait of Maqoma and his wife Katyi]' South Africa, c. 1869

 

William Moore (attr.), inscribed:
Macomo and his chief wife [Portrait of Maqoma and his wife Katyi]
South Africa, c. 1869
Albumen print

 

G. F. Williams. 'Studio photograph of a man' South Africa South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

G. F. Williams
Studio photograph of a man, South Africa
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Carte de visite

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Fingo swells' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Fingo swells
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print

 

 

The Fengu (plural amaFengu) are a Bantu people; originally closely related to the Zulu people, but now often considered to have assimilated to the Xhosa people whose language they now speak. Historically they achieved considerable renown for their military ability in the frontier wars. They were previously known in English as the “Fingo” people, and they gave their name to the district of Fingoland (Mfenguland), the South West portion of the Transkei division, in the Cape Province.

 

M. Veniery. 'Choubouk' Sudan, early twentieth century

 

M. Veniery, inscribed:
Choubouk
Sudan, early twentieth century
Gelatin or collodion printedout print mounted on card

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Bushman' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Bushman
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print

 

 

The San peoples, also known as the Bushmen, are members of various Khoe, Tuu, or Kx’a-speaking indigenous hunter-gatherer groups that are the first nations of Southern Africa, and whose territories span Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa. In 2017, Botswana was home to approximately 63,500 San people, which is roughly 2.8% of the country’s population, making it the country with the highest population of San people. “Bushmen” is now considered derogatory by many South Africans.

 

A.C. Gomes & Son. 'Views in Zanzibar – Natives Hairdressing' Tanzania Late nineteenth century

 

A.C. Gomes & Son, inscribed:
Views in Zanzibar – Natives Hairdressing, Tanzania
Late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print mounted to album page

 

 

A. C. Gomes established a photo studio in Zanzibar perhaps as early as 1868. He had a brief partnership with J. B. Coutinho in the 1890s. His son P. F. Gomes continued the family business in Zanzibar for many years, he died in 1932. Over those years both have left us with some marvellous images.

 

 

The Walther Collection Project Space
Suite 718, 508-526 West 26th Street
New York
Phone: +1 212 352 0683

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Saturday from 12pm – 6pm

The Walther Collection website

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16
May
12

Exhibition: ‘Pieter Hugo: This must be the place’ at The Hague Museum of Photography, The Netherlands

Exhibition dates: 3rd March – 20th May 2012

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Abuja' From the series 'The Hyena & Other Men' 2005-2007

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Abuja
2005 – 2007 
From the series The Hyena & Other Men
© Courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Kaapstad / Yossi Milo, New York

 

 

Sexy, scary and very sad.

The hand of the monkey Clear on the thigh of Dayaba Usman (see second photograph below) – and the look on his face – makes one wonder who is really in chains.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Hague Museum of Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Dayaba Usman with the monkey Clear, Abuja' From the series 'The Hyena & Other Men' 2005-2007

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Dayaba Usman with the monkey Clear, Abuja
2005 – 2007
From the series The Hyena & Other Men
© Courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Kaapstad / Yossi Milo, New York

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Mummy Ahmadu and a snake charmer with a rock python, Abuja' From the series 'The Hyena & Other Men' 2005-2007

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Mummy Ahmadu and  a snake charmer with a rock python, Abuja
2005 – 2007
From the series The Hyena & Other Men
© Courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Kaapstad / Yossi Milo, New York

 

 

The South African photographer Pieter Hugo’s (1976) monumental photographs, centred around contemporary Africa, are now well known around the world. He has already won numerous awards including the KLM Paul Huf award in 2008 and was recently nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2012. The Hague Museum of Photography will be the first museum to exhibit a comprehensive survey of Hugo’s work from 2002 – 2011. Together with many previously unseen works, the exhibition will include a curated selection of his most well-known series: The Hyena & Other Men, the bizarre Nollywood and the striking Permanent Error. His impressive portraits tell personal stories about recurring themes throughout his oeuvre, namely those people who inhabit the margins of society in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

The differences between the West and Africa, rich and poor, white and black are confronted in Hugo’s vivid compositions. Many of his series are prompted by newspaper articles, or radio and television pieces, which he finds compelling. He came in contact, for instance with the group of men who travel around Nigeria with hyenas and pythons, through an image sent via cell phone camera by a friend. He decided to accompany the group on their travels, and the outcome of this experience is The Hyena & Other Men (2005 – 2007), a series of portraits from a travelling group of street performers, who together with their – sometimes forcefully – tamed animals earn money to continue travelling.

In the series Permanent Error (2009-2010) he offers portraits of young men and woman who live amidst an immense waste dump of broken computers, mother boards and keyboards. To earn money these young people burn the computers dumped here as a means to extract valuable metals. The dangerous and poisonous vapours produce a hell on earth, where the quality of life is already challenging. The people who pose for Hugo stand in front of the camera with a defiant self-confidence.

From a different perspective comes his series about Nollywood (2008-2009) in Nigeria, the biggest film industry in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood. Here, stories that have for centuries been part of an oral tradition are told in dramatic films in which a central role is reserved for themes such as romance, witchcraft, bribery and prostitution. It is this world, where the everyday and the surreal exist simultaneously, that Hugo finds fascinating. In this series Hugo depicts actors and assistants posing in the role of movie characters. The result is an absurd tableau such as a photo of a half-naked woman sitting on a bed with a bloody knife stuck between her breasts. All the while she stares blankly at the camera. In another image, a woman well-dressed in Nigerian clothing sits completely unfazed by the man next to her made-up as the devil.

Press release from The Hague Museum of Photography website

 

 Pieter Hugo. 'Escort Kama, Enugu' From the series 'Nollywood' 2008-2009

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Escort Kama, Enugu
2008 – 2009
From the series Nollywood
© Courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Kaapstad / Yossi Milo, New York

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Obechukwu Nwoye, Enugu' From the series 'Nollywood' 2008-2009

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Obechukwu Nwoye, Enugu
2008 – 2009
From the series Nollywood
© Courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Kaapstad / Yossi Milo, New York

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Abdulai Yahaya, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra' From the series 'Permanent Error', 2009-2010

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Abdulai Yahaya, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra
2009 – 2010
From the series Permanent Error
© Courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Kaapstad / Yossi Milo, New York

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Abdulai Yahaya, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra' 2009-2010 From the series 'Permanent Error'

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Abdulai Yahaya, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra
2009 – 2010
From the series Permanent Error
© Courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Kaapstad / Yossi Milo, New York

 

Pieter Hugo. 'David Akore, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra' 2009-2010 From the series 'Permanent Error'

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
David Akore, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra
2009 – 2010
From the series Permanent Error
© Courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Kaapstad / Yossi Milo, New York

 

 

The Hague Museum of Photography
Stadhouderslaan 43
2517 HV Den Haag
Phone: 31 (0)70 – 33 811 44

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 12 – 6pm

The Hague Museum of Photography website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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