James Barnor, the 93-year-old Ghanaian photo master, shot against the shifting tectonic plates of Africa’s colonial liberation and the British Swinging Sixties and Windrush generations: political, sporting and media personalities; fashion and album covers; the African diaspora community; and everyday people. His intimate images have a formalism in their framing and lushness in their prints – but above all there is love.
“I never saw myself as separated from my clients, my subjects,” Barnor explained candidly through a video interview from his London home. “I want to be a part of them, and I want them to be a part of me.” His carefully composed mise-en-scene – the artist visualizes his photographs beforehand – is as much about Barnor’s collusion with his subjects as it is about the subjects themselves.
From July 4 to September 22, LUMA Arles, the arts center, will spotlight James Barnor: Stories. Photos 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 will run concurrently 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 traveling to the Detroit Institute of the Arts (opening May 2023).
It’s been a long road for Barnor, whose life, in his narration – he’s an animated and heartfelt narrator – is like a feature film, and whose long-awaited recognition didn’t come until he was nearly 80.