seydou keita

He was quiet for most of the bus ride there; watching, observing, enjoying his teammates enjoying themselves. Do most people remember that he received the FIFA World Youth Championship Golden Ball in ‘99 or realize that he has won 11 cups in his career thus far? His isn’t the first name you think of when you hear the word ‘Barça,’ he’s never received a standing ovation at the Camp Nou and his primary playing position is almost exclusively reserved for the great Xavi and Iniesta. There was no deafening uproar when he ran onto the pitch as his name was called, or when he took the mic to speak that night; and yet there he stood— moved to tears.

Seydou Keita, you mean more to this club than you’ll ever know.

10

Another great find I found in my dad’s photo collection in Aba, Nigeria this week- old studio photographs from many of the photo studios that were active in Aba during the mid 20th century. These include Paragon, Glamour and Elias studios. Of those I can confirm that Elias studios is still active (at least in some capacity, even if not in name) as some of the descendants of the founding Elias are still shooting as professional photographers in Aba. One of them shot an event for my dad just a few years ago.

It was really great finding this collection and also seeing just how many different studios there were in Aba in the mid 20th century (at least 3)- something I wouldn’t have expected personally despite Aba’s position as a big historical trading center for that part of Igbo land. And not only were there multiple studios in Aba- they were all cranking out incredible work. The competition was clearly stiff and the artistic quality was absolutely spectacular too.

In the last few months I’ve been awed by the mid 20th century work of Malian photographers including Seydou Keita (my personal favorite photographer of all time) and Malick Sidibe. But Nigerian photographers were also active at the same time producing incredible work.

A few weeks ago I went to the National African Art Museum’s exhibit of Chief S. O. Alonge’s work as the court photographer for the Royal house of Benin. His work was stunning and I would highly recommend people go see it if they haven’t already. Besides him though I did not know of any other early-mid 20th century work by Nigerian photographers. “Most of the action in African photography at the time couldn’t have been limited to Mali, though, right?” I wondered. Then I came across this treasure trove of amazing work just sitting in my dad’s library from studios active in Aba around the same time as Keita and Sidibe in Mali. Simply amazing and these are just a small sample of the photos I saw from these Aba studios which I quickly snapped with a low res photos from my iPhone.

There is so much amazing African photography that inspires me as a Nigerian American photographer today. And I hope that despite the lack of coverage of our art and predecessors in many Western circles, that we can continue to document and record the amazing work of the African artists who came before us.