Posts Tagged ‘James Barnor A group of friends photographed during Mr. And Mrs Sackey’s wedding

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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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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