Seydou Keïta, The Master Of Portraiture
A big event is coming up! For the first time the Grand Palais in Paris curates a retrospective of the great Seydou Keïta, and brings together an exceptional collection of nearly 300 photographs, including modern prints in black and white, sized 120×180 and 50×60, as well as unique prints from his time.
Born in Bamako in 1921, Seydou Keïta died in Paris in 2001. He is considered as one of the greatest photographers of the second half of the 20th century, equal to the most famous portrait painters, like Richard Avedon or August Sander. Showing off his subjects to best advantage, his mastery of framing and light and the modernity and inventiveness of his compositions all earned him a huge success. He retired in 1977 after having been the official photographer of a Mali that had become independent. His work constitutes an exceptional testimony to the Malian society of his time.
Seydou Keïta’s art is full of poetry. We love his work, if you are in Paris take time to visit the exhibition, it is a must-see for sure.
Seydou Keïta’s photographs eloquently portray Bamako society during its era of transition from a cosmopolitan French colony to an independent capital. Initially trained by his father to be a carpenter, Keïta’s career as a photographer was launched in 1935 by an uncle who gave him his first camera, a KodakBrownie Flash, which he had purchased during a trip to Senegal. During his adolescence Keïta mastered the technical challenges of shooting and printing; he later purchased a large-format camera. The larger format not only offered an exceptional degree of resolution, it also made it possible for Keïta to make high quality contact prints without the aid of an enlarger. In 1948 he opened his own studio in Bamako and he quickly built up a successful business. Whether photographing single individuals, families, or professional associations, Keïta balanced a strict sense of formality with a remarkable level of intimacy with his subjects. Like many professional photographers, he furnished his studio with numerous props, from back drops and costumes, to Vespas and luxury cars. He would renew these props every few years, which later allowed him to establish a chronology for his work.
Keïta commented on his studio practice, “It’s easy to take a photo, but what really made a difference was that I always knew how to find the right position, and I was never wrong. Their head slightly turned, a serious face, the position of the hands . . . I was capable of making someone look really good.”
Keïta went to exceptional lengths to bring out the beauty of his subjects and the brilliant patterns of his backdrops proved a particularly effective foil. He worked intuitively, reinventing portrait photography through his search for extreme precision. In 1962 the newly installed Socialist government made Keïta its official photographer; shortly thereafter he closed down his studio, although he remained active until his retirement in 1977. His archive of over 10,000 negatives was gradually brought to light in the early 1990s; Keïta has since achieved international recognition. Inventive and highly modern, his emphasis on the essential components of portrait photography—light, subject, framing—firmly establishes Keïta among the twentieth-century masters of the genre.
Exhibition organized by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais with the collaboration of the Contemporary African Art Collection (CAAC) – The Pigozzi Collection.
From March 31st to July 11, 2016 – Grand Palais – 3, avenue du général Eisenhower, 75008 Paris, France.
Photos : courtesy of Seydou Keïta Official.
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