Exhibitions

James Barnor
Ever Young

8 October - 21 November 2015

Galerie Clementine de la Feronniere

Paris, France

Free exhibition

In partnership with Autograph ABP, Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière presents an exhibition of a large selection of prints by James Barnor, both vintage and contemporary. An accompanying book will be published for this occasion, focusing primarily on Barnor’s street and studio portraiture from the 1950s to the early 1970s.

Born in 1929 in Accra, James Barnor is considered a pioneer of Ghanaian photography. Barnor’s career covers a remarkable period in history, bridging continents and photographic genres to create a transatlantic narrative marked by his passionate interest in people and cultures.

Through the medium of portraiture, Barnor’s photographs represent societies in transition: Ghana moving towards its independence and London becoming a cosmopolitan, multicultural metropolis.

Along with his contemporaries in other parts of Africa – Seydou Keïta in Mali, Van Leo in Egypt or Rashid Mahdi in Sudan – Barnor started his career by opening a photographic portrait studio frequented by a diverse clientele representing all aspects of society. In the early 1950s Ever Young studio in Jamestown, Accra was visited by civil servants and dignitaries, yoga students, pastors and teachers, performance artists and newlyweds:

Barnor was well-versed in making his clients feel at ease, through vibrant conversation and a background of popular music, creating a unique bond between photographer and sitter. During this period Barnor captured intimate moments of luminaries and key political figures, including Ghana’s first prime minister, Kwame Nkrumah as he pushed for pan-African unity, photographing the future leader on several special occasions.

Not only was James Barnor engaged as the first photojournalist to work with the Daily Graphic – a newspaper brought to Ghana by the British media group, the Daily Mirror – he was also regularly commissioned by Drum magazine – South Africa’s influential anti-apartheid journal for lifestyle and politics – for whom he photographed several news features, including a staged nuclear family breakfast featuring Gold Coast’s champion boxer Roy Ankrah, aka The Black Flash.

In 1959, two years after Ghana became independent from colonial rule, Barnor moved to London, then a bourgeoning multicultural European capital to deepen his photographic knowledge. There, he discovered colour photography and enrolled on a two-year course at Medway College of Art while still shooting for Drum magazine; several of his photographs were published as covers and distributed internationally.

During London’s “swinging sixties”, Barnor eloquently captured the mood of the time, and the African diaspora’s experiences in the city, including BBC radio journalist Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus. He also photographed celebrities, such as Muhammad Ali minutes before his match against Brian London at Earl’s Court.

These years were equally punctuated by Barnor’s first encounters with a multinational cohort of aspiring models and Drum cover girls, who would later pose for him against the backdrop of the city’s most iconic monuments, thus becoming fashion icons at the meeting of cultures. Towards the end of the decade Barnor was recruited and trained as a representative for Agfa-Gavaert, before returning to Ghana in 1969 where he opened the first colour processing laboratory and studio X23 in Accra. For the next two decades, he worked independently as well as for several government agencies in Ghana.

Today Barnor is retired and lives in Brentford, London. In 2009, James Barnor began working with Autograph ABP, who presented a preview of his first major solo exhibition at the former W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, USA, before showcasing the full retrospective curated by Renée Mussai at Autograph ABP’s centre Rivington Place, London, before touring to the South African National Gallery, and other venues. 

Years of research, selection and editing have led to this unique collection, with many photographs now widely regarded as iconic and unique in photography’s diverse history, and represented in major collections internationally.

Past acclaim for James Barnor

Through the research process and retrieval and reassembly, Autograph ABP have unified Barnor's disparate images into a holistic body of work for the first time, and we now have the kind of homecoming in which previously orphaned images are given a second life.

Kobena Mercer

The Ghanain photographer James Barnor is presented in a charming exhibition which shows what well-directed public funding can do.

Francis Hodgson, Financial Times

The colours pop, London shines, and the models are so much more than that: they’re women at the forefront of social change, breaking down racial barriers in a city that’s still finding its feet in a modern world

Isobel Jokl, Dig Yorkshire

[The] strength of these portraits lies in the physical context of the subjects. Where images taken of indigenous African people by colonial photographers tended to stress a false sense of the exotic and hence otherness in the physical context, Barnor presents an accurate backdrop, often within a domestic setting. Members of an aspirational working class brim with the optimism and confidence that the viewer is encouraged to associate with the advent of independence.

Daniel Potts, Aesthetica Magazine

Curated by

James Barnor: Ever Young is curated by Renée Mussai at Autograph ABP.

Renée Mussai is Curator and Head of Archive at Autograph ABP. She is currently a PhD candidate at UCL; her research is concerned with black portraiture, photography and the archive.

Additional Info

Venue
Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière
51 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île, 75004
Paris, France
 
T: +33 6 50 06 98 68
E: mail@galerieclementinedelaferonniere.fr

Website

  • James Barnor, Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London, 1967
  • James Barnor, Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, London, 1966