James Barnor: Life in colour for Ghana’s first photojournalist

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James Barnor, the 93-year-old Ghanaian photo master, has shot against the shifting tectonic plates of Africa’s colonial liberation and Britain’s Swinging Sixties and Windrush generation: political, sports and media personalities; fashion and album covers; the African diaspora community; and everyday folk. His intimate images possess a formalism in their framing and sumptuousness in their prints - but most of all, there is love.

“I never saw myself as separated from my clients, my subjects,” Barnor explained candidly via video interview from his London home. “I want to be part of them, and I want them to be part of me.” His carefully composed mise en scène - the artist pre-visualises his pictures - is as much about Barnor’s collusion with his subjects as they are about the subjects themselves.

From July 4 until September 22, LUMA Arles, the arts centre, will spotlight James Barnor: Stories. Pictures from the Archive (1947-87), including never-before-seen images and a book of the same title, at the international photo festival Les Rencontres d’Arles, in France. The show runs concurrent with London’s Serpentine Gallery’s exhibition of the artist’s work, James Barnor: Accra/London - a Retrospective, now at Museo d’arte della Svizzera Italiana (MASI Lugano), in Italy, and later travelling to the Detroit Institute of the Arts (opening May 2023).

It has been a long road for Barnor, whose life, in his telling - he is an animated and heartfelt raconteur - is like a feature film, and whose long-overdue recognition did not arrive until he was almost 80.

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