exhibition, Paris, photography

Seydou Keïta, Fascination & Ambiguity

1 Seydou Keïta, à gauche ST, 1956

Seydou Keïta, Untitled, 1956-1957 (printed 1997), 120x180cm [left]; Untitled, 1958 (printed 1997), 120x180cm [right]

Seydou Keïta’s work (on view at the Grand Palais, March 31 – July 11, 2016), one of the great African photographers, is both fascinating and ambiguous. Fascinating because Keïta’s undeniable talent as a portraitist bestows unparalleled dignity and beauty on his models. He is one of the first to go beyond semi-ethnographic portraits of stereotyped Africans, standing stiffly with their official insignia (whether they were dignitaries or constables – the one pictured above is the latter), and neither inclined nor allowed to demonstrate any sign of individuality. Keïta pushes back against this Eurocentric and colonial gaze, and goes beyond it in letting his models’ personality shine through, in seeing them as human beings in their own right, with their styles, personalities, emotions, with their grace or their pride – like this young woman featured on the exhibition poster (pictured above, left). The contrast between the two portraits displayed side by side is a good indication of the radical change Keïta heralds, an upheaval in the way we look at African men and women. Continue reading