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The Portrait Photographs of Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé

Michelle Lamunière

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Out of Print

Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, two important and widely known commercial photographers from Mali, took mesmerizing photographs of members of their communities during the decades before and after the country’s independence from France in 1960. This book presents a range of these portraits, as well as excerpts of recent interviews with the artists and an essay placing the photographers within the context of the history of portrait photography in West Africa since its beginnings in the 1840s.

In contrast to the early photographs of Africans produced by Western colonial powers, Keïta and Sidibé’s photographs represent the work of Africans controlling the camera to create images of African subjects for an African audience. Keïta combined formulas of Western portrait photography with local aesthetics to create images that reflect both his clients’ social identity and status within the community and an enthusiastic embrace of modernity. Later, as portrait conventions and societal roles became more flexible, Sidibé’s subjects took a more active part in constructing the images of themselves that they wanted to convey.

Africans have valued photography for its unique ability to capture a person’s likeness, which, says Sidibé, was regarded as more eternal than the subjects themselves. This book is a striking collection of such likenesses.

Michelle Lamunière is in the department of photographs, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums.

“Lamuniére . . . includes an essay on the history of West African portrait photography and portions of recent interviews with the two artists. The 79 images—ranging from people in strictly traditional dress to friends in hip Westernized get-ups to men posed in a boxing scene—are striking for their subjects’ arresting gazes and poses as well as for their superior production value.”—Publishers Weekly


“This is a pleasing volume, which resonates with the voices of the photographers, and one to which I shall certainly return. The beautifully reproduced photographs are a delight. . . . What emerges from the interviews is the strong social need for photographs, to record one’s success, to maintain one’s public face and to hold the present in the future.”—Elizabeth Edwards, History of Photography

Won First Place in the New England Museum Association 2002 Publications Design Award in the Books Under $10 category
ISBN: 9780300091885
Publication Date: August 11, 2001
Publishing Partner: Distributed for the Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge
100 pages, 7 1/2 x 10
79 duotones