African Photography: Studio Portraiture, Part 2

African Photography: Studio Portraiture, Part 2

Publié dans Photography

In the 1940s, studio photography had increased in popularity among the locals since its introduction by the European at the beginning of the century. With a burgeoning African middle class and a growing number of African photographers, the studios dedicated to portrait started to flourish in several West African cities. Only a dozen of African photographers, mainly from Western Africa, would emerge as pioneers of studio photography.

Meissa Gaye

Meissa Gaye was born in Coyah, Guinea, in 1892 and grew up in Saint-Louis, Senegal. In 1910, he travelled to Congo to work on shipyard and he learned the use of a camera from a European co-worker.  Back to Dakar in 1923, he used his free time to photograph people. Gaye then took a three-year sabbatical to travel through Senegal and photograph on the go. His work was among the first visual testimony of the regions of Senegal. He often retouched his photos by painting some details. In 1933, he returned to work as an itinerant photographer in charge of identification and administrative photos. In 1945, Gaye retired and opened the Tropical Studio in Saint-Louis. His portraits recorded the aspirations as much as the achievements of his subjects. During this period, several photographers from Saint-Louis, such as Mama Casset or Mix Gueye were competing talents for commercial portraits. Even though Casset was the first Senegalese photographer to open a studio, Gaye is recognized as the first Senegalese photographer.

Mix Gueye

Amadou Gueye was born in Saint-Louis, Senegal, in 1906. His mother nicknamed him Mix in memory of her favourite perfume called Mixte. In the 1930s, he worked as the assistant to Tennequin, a Frenchman among the most popular studio photographers of Dakar. Mix quickly became a familiar presence in the entourage of the colonial administrators and soldiers. He gradually became a linchpin of the city’s social life as no event of any importance was complete without his camera that captures it. He will eventually open his own studio in Dakar following his role as the inevitable city’s photographer. In the years that followed the independence, Mix was appointed as the director of photographic services at the Ministry of Information of Senegal. He covered several official events and took thousands of photographs of Senghor – the first president of Senegal. Today, the majority of his work have either been dispersed or destroyed and only a few of his studio photos are still available.

Mama Casset

Mama Casset was born in Saint-Louis, Senegal, in 1908. His family later moved to Dakar where he was introduced to photography at an early age. He acquired his technical skills as an apprentice to a friend of his father, the French photographer Oscar Lataque. In 1925, he joined the French Air Force where he practised aerial photography and travelled extensively across the French West African colonies. In 1942, Casset returned to Dakar after leaving the Air Force. He opened the following year his first photographic studio dedicated to commercial portraits, African Photo. He quickly earned a reputation among varying social strata, from rural folks to urban residents.

Casset had an artistic approach to make unique and attractive pictures. He used curtains as the backdrop for many of his photos. He shot his subjects within a tight framing and from a close angle to bring all attention to them. Casset remained active until his forced retirement in 1983 when he lost sight. A year later, his studio caught fire destroying the bulk of his portfolio, resulting of the scarcity of his work today. Still, his surviving images depict the life of Senegalese from the turn of the twentieth century.

Younger brother of Mama, Salla Casset was born in Saint-Louis in 1910. Salla made his debut in photography in the 1930s, in the studio of Oscar Lataque where he had replaced his brother. He also dedicated his life to portraiture and opened his own studio, Senegal Photo, in the medina quarter of Dakar.

African Photo by Mama Casset

Joseph Agbodjelou

Joseph Moise Agbodjelou was born in Vedo, Dahomey (now Benin) in 1912. In 1935, he learned photography in Perpignan, France while he was part of the French army. He returned to Cotonou where he made its mark by taking portraits of notable families, first as an itinerant photographer, then in his studio called France Photo. In front of his camera, Agbodjelou’s subjects were taking a straight and frozen poses, giving them a certain importance. The formality of his style contrasted with the casual style of other African photographers of his generation such as Mama Casset who used a different technique. With photos covering weddings, funerals, political events, religious ceremonies, and various happenings, Agbodjelou’s work is a testimony of the social changes experienced by the Benin over half a century.


Publié dans Photography  |  juin 27, 2015