Seydou Keïta (ca. 1921–1923, Bamako, Mali - 2001, Paris) is regarded the most famous African studio photographer of the 20th century and an important precursor of African photography who traced the changes in urban Malian society during the process of decolonisation.
Keïta started taking photographs in 1935, portraying the people in his closer surroundings like friends and family, neighbours or the clients at the workshop of his father who was a carpenter. In the years to follow, Keïta ran an outdoor studio in his neighbour's courtyard and by 1952 became a locally renowned portrait photographer. All pictures taken between the years of 1949 to 1962 were mostly illuminated by sunlight and captured with a 13 x 18 inch view camera with a broken lens cap which the photographer removed manually for the exact necessary period of time.
The photographer's clientele consisted mainly of the urban upper and middle class whose confident facial expressions and casual postures he underlined by means of perspective and composition. Through the inclusion of props and accessories that were either provided by him or brought along by his sitters, the images often highlight or idealise their socio-economic status. A striking visual element in many of his photographs are richly patterned fabrics in the background or rugs framing the the outdoor setting.
For almost 15 years Keïta operated Bamako's most famous photo studio and further became well known throughout Mali and Western Africa. Shown in important exhibitions for the first time during the 90s, Keïta's works are today represented in renowned institutional collections such as the Museum of Modern Art and the MET Museum in New York or the Guggenheim Collection. #kewenig12rooms
Press release courtesy KEWENIG.