Contemporary African photography

hyena handlersHyena handlers of Nigeria, Pieter Hugo

Contemporary African photography is an area where African artists have long expressed their individuality as far back as the 1840's and today it is still a very established and dynamic form of artistic manifestation. 

Modern Studio Portraiture in Africa

Seydou Keita, b Mali 1921-2001

Seydou was born in Bamako in 1921. He learnt his trade firstly from a French photographic supply store owner and then from his mentor, Mountaga Traore. 

He set up his first studio in 1948, retiring in 1977 but only after spending 15 years in service to the Socialist government who installed him as official photographer. 

seydou keita 2

Keita's work provides us with a chronological peep hole into the make-up of Bamako society in all its transitions. He used props in the studio, like radios and sewing machines, which give us insight into the cultural changes Mali was experiencing. 

His eloquent work is characterized by an exquisite sense of gesture and skillfull posing which reflect the intimacy he managed to capture with his subjects. 

seydou keita 3

He often used fabric backgrounds so that his compositions had layers of pattern upon pattern conveying a sense of richness.

There is sheer joy to be found in studying a Keita studio portrait; the innovative and competent technical aspects of light, framing and composition counterpoint the fascination of the subject at hand; the costumes, the props, the accessories, managing to convey at once his client's social identity and status while enthusiastically embracing modernity.

An archive of over 10 000 prints entered world vision in the 1990's achieving Keita world recognition. 

Malik Sadibe, b Mali, 1935-2016

Malick Sadibe took mesmerizing photos of his community members during the decade before independence and after. Compared to Keita, his subjects are more engaging and have a more active role in constructing the image of themselves that they would like portrayed. A likeness could be obtained and captured for eternity.


The photo opposite is from a fashion show in New York where Sadibe is involved in a more light hearted manner to assist the launch of a new range. 


Samuel Fosso, b 1962, Cameroon

samuel fossoSelf portrait, Samuel Fosso

There are many indigenous African photographers who have also made significant contributions to image-making in Africa, blending Western technology with African perspectives. 

J.D. Ojeikere, b Nigeria 1930-2014

J.D. Ojeikere started capturing images of Nigerian culture in the 50's. For 35 years he has captured a record of the fabulously ornamental, almost sculptural hairstyles of African women, revealing them as an art form. Never digressing from his subject, he has provided us with a fascinating catalogue, a unique ethnographic body of work that must be considered a national treasure. 

Other esteemed photographers from the African continent

  • Basto, Luis b 1969, Mozambique
  • Cole, Ernest b 1940-1990, South Africa
  • Depara, Jean b 1928-1997, Angola/DRC
  • Fosso, Samuel b 1962, Cameroon
  • Goldblatt, David b 1930, South Africa
  • Rotimi, Fani-Kayode 1955-1989, Nigeria
  • Tillim, Guy b 1962, South Africa
  • Tshabangu, Andrew b 1966, South Africa
  • Uche Okpa-Iroha b 1972, Nigeria
  • Baloji, Sammy b 1978, DRC
  • Hugo, Pieter b 1976, South Africa
  • Iroha, Uche Okpa b 1972, Nigeria
  • Muholi, Zanele b 1972, S Africa
  • Mukwazhi, Tsvangirayi, Zimbabwe
  • Nkanga, Otobong b 1974, Nigeria
  • Okereke, Emeka b 1980, Nigeria
  • Subotsky, Michael b 1981, South Africa
  • Veleko, Nontsikelelo b 1977, South Africa

Uche Okpa-Iroha hails from Nigeria where he currently works in Lagos. He has been awarded the Seydou Keita prize twice and is a very involved and motivated artist who is a member of more than one collective, aiming to elevate photography as an art form across borders. He actively pursues making photography accessible and affordable for all in his home country.

Zwelethu Mthethwa... can be accredited with being the photographer having the most current impact on the Western art world. He has had over 35 international solo exhibitions and as many group shows. Born in 1960 into apartheid years, he had to get special permission to attend his school of art in Cape Town. He received a scholarship that enabled him to live in the United States strengthening his career.

His candid pictorial representation of South Africa's life after apartheid presents dignified subjects who appear defiant even under the stress of social and economic hardship. He challenges pictorially in powerful and sustaining images, issues of agricultural labor, rural industries and the effects thereof on the environment. 



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