Life according to James Barnor

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French Institute of South Africa

Cultural agency of the Embassy of France in South Africa. Organises artistic events throughout the country all year round.
French Institute of South Africa

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The French Institute of South Africa and the Alliance Française of Johannesburg, in partnership with Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière, are pleased to present some of the best work of Ghanaian photographer James Barnor at the Gerard Sekoto Gallery, from 12 September until 11 October. This exhibition has previously been presented at the Rencontres de Bamako in 2017, and at the Museum of Photography in Saint-Louis, Senegal, in 2018.

Life According to James Barnor offers an interdisciplinary view of the pivotal themes of his work, chosen by the curator Clémentine de la Féronnière. The exhibition aims to go beyond a rhetorical categorization of 40 years of photography and draws inspiration in particular from Barnor’s final photographs in Ghana in the 1970s and 1980s. Relatively unexplored until now, they have emerged as symbols of the accomplishment of his work, characterized by lightness, freedom and a joie de vivre that are shared by the subjects in Barnor’s photographs.

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Born in 1929 in Ghana, James Barnor experienced first-hand his country’s independence as well as the formation of the diaspora to London in the 1960s. In the early 1950s, he opened his famous Ever Young studio in Accra, where he immortalised a nation craving modernity and independence in an ambience that was animated by conversation and highlife music. He was the first photo-journalist to collaborate with the Daily Graphic, a newspaper published in Ghana by the London Daily Mirror Group. Close to Drum, an important lifestyle magazine founded in South Africa in 1951 and symbol of the anti-apartheid movement, he did several assignments for them in a climate of euphoria and celebration. In 1959, two years after Ghana’s independence, Barnor left for London, a city in the throes of becoming a multicultural capital, to further his photographic knowledge. He discovered colour processing at the Medway College of Art and his photos were published on the front cover of Drum. He eloquently caught the zeitgeist of Swinging London and the experiences of the African diaspora in the capital. Towards the end of the 1960s, he was recruited by Agfa-Gevaert and returned to Ghana to set up the country’s first colour laboratory. He stayed in Accra for the next 20 years, working in his new X23 studio as an independent photographer. Today Barnor lives in the UK devoting most of his time to his work, in a spirit of transmission of knowledge.

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