Photo: Daniele Tamagni, Playboys of Bacongo,2008. Lambda c-print , 74.2 x 126.5 cm. Courtesy October Gallery London.
Photographer James Barnor is a national treasure of his native Ghana, with a career that spans six decades and defines style with effortless perfection. Born into a family of photographers in Accra in 1929, Barnor first picked up the camera at the age of 17 and never set it down.
He first began working as a police photographer then transitioned into freelance work, setting up his Ever Young Studio in 1953. Located near the then-famous Seaview Hotel, the studio drew a distinctive mix of party people and dignitaries, including Ghana’s first future president Kwame Nkrumah, the last British governor of the Gold Coast Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, and Richard Nixon, when, as then Vice President, he attended Ghana’s Independence ceremony in 1957.
Barnor went on to become the first staff photographer of the Daily Graphic newspaper in 1950, and sold his photos to other publications, including Drum, the leading African magazine, which brought his work international fame. He spent the 1960s in England, documenting Africans on the scene, photographing black models against London backdrops, which became some of his most famous photographs to date. Barnor returned to Ghana in 1970, and stayed there for 24 years, before circling back to the UK in 1994, where he currently lives.
At the age of 87, James Barnor remains “Ever Young,” as a new exhibition of photographs on view alongside Italian photographer Daniele Tamagni (b. 1975) so brilliantly reveals. Now on view at October Gallery through September 30, 2016, Daniele Tamagni and James Barnor provides a glorious look at glamour, African style.
Tamagni rose to fame with the publication of Gentlemen of Bacongo (Trolley Books, 2009), documenting the vibrant street style of “Sapeurs,” the dandies of the Congo. They belong to La SAPE (Societe des Ambiances et des Personnes Elegants), one of the world’s most exclusive clubs, which requires members to operate under a code of honor, professional conduct, and morality—all of which are flawlessly reflected in their glorious style and personality.
Tamiagni followed up his success with Fashion Tribes (Abrams, 2015), which documents fashion subcultures in Brazzaville, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Dakar, and beyond. The photographs on view are taken from this body of work, and when paired with Barnor’s work, we are given a sumptuous view of the continuing legacy of African style.
Barnor and Tamiagni’s photographs are about more than just fashion and art—they are about the joys of individuality expressed from the heart. We all must rise, groom, and clothe ourselves. Some see this as mere routine while others understand it is deeper than this. It is a personal ritual that speaks to the soul, for we what we see is what we behold. It is in the very act of looking that understanding comes. You may not know the whys or hows, but you certainly recognize the whats and whos, and to them we bow. For not everyone has it in them to handle this level of attention and recognition, but for those who do, we say, thank you for the pleasures you have given.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.