Artist's portrait... Accra and London through the eyes of Ghanaian photography pioneer, James Barnor

James Barnor sur Kelen, African Art event manager
James Barnor

James Barnor, born in Accra in 1929, has an incredible career. During his career, covering a fascinating historical period, James Barnor has worked in Accra and London, thus linking continents, cultures and genres. His portraits are a testimony of a society in transition, with Ghana marching towards independence and London becoming a cosmopolitan and multicultural metropolis.

He began with the realization of portraits to meet, above all, the demand of his customers. In his studio, "Ever Young" in Jamestown, the historic district of Accra, officials and dignitaries, yoga students and university professors, acrobats and newlyweds come one after the others. Barnor masters the art of putting his clients at ease: through lively conversations against the backdrop of popular music, a unique bond is created between the photographer and the subject.

James Barnor sur Kelen, African Art manager
Mr Crabbe's family portrait, Accra, Jamestown, Studio Ever Young, c. 1954

During this period, he has been trained in press photography for the Daily Graphic. He is, thus, the first photojournalist to collaborate with the Daily Graphic (the daily newspaper published in Ghana by the London Daily Mirror Group), but he also often works for the magazine Drum (an influential news and fashion newspaper, anti-apartheid, founded in South Africa and distributed internationally). There he made many portraits of African women.

He also captures important historical events, such as the rise to power of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, the country's independence in 1957, politics, sports. He will also immortalize Mohamed Ali minutes before his fight against Brian London, at Earls Court, and BBC journalist Mike Eghan, at Piccadilly Circus.

James Barnor sur Kelen, African Art manager
Mohammed Ali, getting ready for his fight against Brian London, London, 1966

From 1959 he lived in England to further his training as a photographer, to work as a technician in laboratories and to learn the art of color photography.

In 1969, he returned to Ghana to found the country's first color laboratory and to open a second studio, X23, still in Accra. For twenty years, he used to work as a freelance photographer in Accra, for a few news agencies, the United States Embassy or President Jerry John Rawlings.

Barnor returned to England in 1994 where he struggled to find work until his images were first shown in 2004 at the Acton Arts Festival and at the Ghana @ 50 exhibition in 2007.

James Barnor sur Kelen, African Art manager

Photo legend: the images he took in England made up an alternative vision of the Swinging Sixties, documenting the black British experience. His covers for Drum were instrumental in bringing black models into the mainstream British media.

Since his retrospective exhibition at Autograph ABP in London in 2010, Barnor's photos have attracted the international attention of curators, collectors, researchers, galleries and museums. Autograph ABP recently published a book entitled “James Barnor: Ever Young” in partnership with Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière.

James Barnor sur Kelen, African Art manager

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