Friday, January 28, 2011

Niger: Postcolonial Optimism, Music and '60s Photography

"Couples dancing". Niamey, c. 1970/ Philippe Koujina/ Gaia Catalogue

In a prior blog post discussing the influence of Malick Sidebe's photography on music videos, we also touched on the point that the youthful, glamorous, postcolonial optimism in those photographs from the 1960s by the likes of Seydou Keita and Sidebe were rooted in the dance clubs and the American music wafting through them, a combination of excuse and social solvent for the boys and girls to get closer to one another and have those moments captured on film.

This July 2010 episode of Aljazeera Witness previews Photo Souvenir, a film by Paul Cohen and Martijn van Haalen, which looks back at a rock n roll '60s Niger through the photographs of Philippe Koudjina - a popular photographer in the 60s, who opened a studio in Niamey in '72 but has since fallen on hard times. It's worth the price of admission if only for the scene in the film where those, who in their youth had embodied postcolonial optimism and were the subject of those photos, sit around a studio table in a daze of nostalgia listening to the music of the 60s and to a lady describe with fondness how the boys--Koudjina especially--were all over her.

For readers of Stephen Sprague's work on Yoruba photography or West African studio photography in general and have wondered why only Sidebe and less than a handful of African '50s and '60s studio photographers are celebrated in the West, the filmmakers also tracked down Andre Magnin, the art promoter who found Sidebe, in a bid to explain the vagaries of the art market, especially the need to limit the field thus creating rarity where there is none.

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