African Photography: Studio Portraiture, Part 1

African Photography: Studio Portraiture, Part 1

Posted in Photography

In the 1930s, photography in Africa was still emerging after its introduction by European photographers a few decades ago. In contrast to European photographers who often represented African as an exotic figure, African photographers tried to capture the cultural characteristics of locals through their lens. Their black-and-white pictures, beyond the aesthetics, recorded a period when Africa was under important political, social, and cultural transformations. So we gathered a list of pioneers whose passion has allowed a wider diffusion of photography in Africa.

Alex Agbaglo Acolatse

Alex Acolatse was born in Kedzi, Togo, in 1880 from an influential family which became prominent during the successive British and French colonial periods. In the 1900s, he was introduced to photography by Freddy Lutterodt – an itinerant photographer established in Gold Coast. Acolatse opened a studio in Lomé shortly after his training with Lutterodt. From 1920 to 1930, Acolatse created a series of postcards presenting people and monuments in the coastal region between Accra and Lagos. As president of Togo’s Association of Professional Photographers, he was one among many others photographers who captured territories via postcards during the German colonial period. Some worked in Lomé while others travelled through West Africa. Acolatse also produced several studio portraits of the Lomé bourgeoisie whose social status is apparent in their pose and their clothing. In 1956, Acolatse retired and transferred his studio to a member of his family. Before his death in 1975, he had become an inspiration for new generations of Togolese photographers, many of whom he had personally trained.

J.K. Bruce Vanderpuije

James Koblah Bruce Vanderpuije was born in 1899 in Accra, Gold Coast (now Ghana) from a wealthy family belonging to the local aristocracy. He studied at Accra Royal School and developed a passion for photography in his youth. In 1919, he became an apprentice in the workshop of J.A.C. Holm, considered a founding father of African Photography. Three years later, he opened his own shop, Deo Gratias Photo Studio that rapidly allows him to establish his reputation. J.K. Vanderpuije covered several official and ceremonial events involving the high society. His portfolio shows no racial boundaries, photographing people from the Ashanti nobility alongside the anglicized native bourgeoisie and Indian traders established locally. Vanderpuije often took pictures in the streets using a portable camera. In 1949, he photographed scenes of police brutality in Accra, during the period of civil unrest. In 1957, after the independence of the Gold Coast, he started to work for the government. He shot advertising photos for oil companies, and worked on advertising campaigns for several international firms. Vanderpuije also trained many photographers including his own sons, John and Isaac, who went to Europe to hone their skills. Upon their return, they work with their father until his death in 1989. The studio was transferred to Isaac, to whom Vanderpuije left a unique collection of negatives on the Ghanaian high society during the British colonial era.

Daniel Amichia

Daniel Attoumo Amichia was born in Beyin, Gold Coast (now Ghana), in 1908. He was introduced to photography in his youth by his older brother. In 1948, he moved to Ivory Coast where he opened a studio in the town of Grand-Bassam. He worked as an itinerant photographer making family and group portraits with his subjects bathed in natural light. He also took individual portraits which then served as passport photos. Amichia gave up photography due to cancer and later died in 1994. After his death, his family – probably ignorant of the value of his work destroyed all his equipment and nearly his entire archive. Today, only a few photos remain and his work has been shown in several group exhibitions in Berlin, Paris, and New York.


Posted in Photography  |  April 04, 2015