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African Photography from Bamako to Cape Town

Paris Photo honors the lensmen and culturally rich continent for its 15th anniversary show

by Aaron Kohn in Culture on 07 November 2011

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For its 15th anniversary Paris Photo will celebrate African photography with a unique anthology of emerging and established photographers at the Grand Palais. The sweeping four-day exhibition, dubbed "From Bamako to Capetown," offers real insight into the continent's diverse range of cultures, from fast-growing capitals in the northwest to post-apartheid South Africa.

Curator Okwui Enwezor culled some of Africa's most iconic works from the private collection of Germany's Artur Walther, spanning portraits by 1950s Bamakoise photographer Seydou Keita to the contemporary collages by Congolese photographer Sammy Baloji—whose cousin, the multimedia artist known simply as Baloji, was featured on Cool Hunting last year.

The watershed moment for African photography, the Bamako Encounters Biennial of African Photography in 1994 marked a major event in the gallery world, as the debut of many of the country's now-famous photographers. A portion of the Paris Photo festival floor will be dedicated to continuing the tradition set by the biennial and the emergence of such artists.

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It's not difficult to illustrate the many different backgrounds and experiences of African photographers. One of the most famous was Keita, who came into play among the wealthy set in Bamako, Mali during the '50s. Shooting people's watches, televisions and even cars, Keita's images could be sent back home as proof the person had become "modern." Samuel Fosso, who opened a studio at 13 years old after a traumatic upbringing, would shoot himself dressed up as a musician or a boxer if he had not finished a roll of film on customers. Philip Kwame Apagya had clients post against colorful backdrops in his Ghana studio, depicting them boarding airplanes or sitting in the living room with home entertainment systems.

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Other photographers in Africa have more traditional foundations in photojournalism or attended art school, including David Goldblatt and Pieter Hugo, whose works will also be on display, along with new book releases from Malick Sidibé and Pierrot Men.

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Though some African photographers have become household names and more works are making it into collections around the world, few exhibitions will rival the great breadth of work at Paris Photo 2011. The show runs through 26 November and information about attending is available online in both French and English.

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