James Barnor is one of Africa’s most celebrated photographers. BAND Gallery, in partnership with Autograph ABP, are showcasing the Canadian debut of a wide selection of his portraits and images taken during the 1950s to early 1970s. The exhibit opened on April 28th and ends in the next few days on May 29th. I had the opportunity to visit BAND Gallery a few days ago to see his work for myself.
Born and raised in Accra, Barnor is considered to be a pioneer in the photography industry in Ghana. His studio, Ever Young, was located in Jamestown Accra, in the heart of the city. Every important celebration that went on in Accra passed in front of the Ever Young studio. “My studio was at a spot where everything that happens in Accra passed,” he once said. At that time politics were the talk of the town. It became the perfect place for him to capture some of Ghana’s most iconic moments in the streets. It was a time when Ghana was pushing towards an era of Independence and was coming into it’s own rebirth as its own nation.
He quickly became known for his ability to capture portraiture like nobody else. His portrait studio was frequented by such a diverse clientele. Everyone from politicians, to celebrities, athletes, dignitaries and artists had their photos taken by him. He was the first photojournalist working with the Daily Graphic (one of Ghana’s newspapers) and became regularly commissioned to shoot images for Drum Magazine.
On December 1, 1959 he moved to London and continued with his work capturing African people and the diaspora. Because of his connection with Drum magazine he was able to continue working with them and had opportunities to photograph celebrities including Muhammad Ali. “I felt I was on the stage to fulfil my ambition,” is what he said about seeing his work on magazine covers. Barnor was proud of his work once saying that he knew he had made it when he saw photographs he shot on the cover of magazines being sold alongside those of international publications.
After several years working in London, Barnor moved back to Ghana and was the first to open a colour processing studio in Accra. He was certainly innovative in his time and paved the way for many aspiring photographers who came after him. When looking at his photographs they captured moments in history..
“Photos bring back memories and sometimes tears because of stories attached to them,” he says, “We can depend on photography to document history.”
The exhibit closes this weekend so if you’re in Toronto and haven’t been yet, be sure to make a trip.