James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective

The London gallery Serpentine presents a major survey of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor, whose career spans six decades, two continents and numerous photographic genres through his work with studio portraiture, photojournalism, editorial commissions and wider social commentary.

by GRIOT - Published on 30/03/2021
James Barnor, Drum Cover Girl, Erlin Ibreck, London, 1966, Courtesy Autograph @autographabp

A major survey of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor, whose career as a studio portraitist, photojournalist and Black lifestyle photographer spans six decades and records major social and political changes in London and Accra.


Portrait of James Barnor in front of some of his photographs, Accra, 1957, COURTESY Autograph
James Barnor, Self Portrait with Nkrumah, Roy Ankrah and his Wife, Rebecca, Accra, COURTESY Autograph

Born in 1929 in Ghana, James Barnor established his famous Ever Young studio in Accra in the early 1950s, capturing a nation on the cusp of independence in an ambiance animated by conversation and highlife music. In 1959 he arrived in London, furthering his studies and continuing assignments for influential South African magazine Drum which reflected the spirit of the era and the experiences of London’s burgeoning African diaspora.

His career spans six decades, and although for much of that period his work was not widely known, it has latterly been discovered by new audiences. In his street and studio photography, Barnor represents societies in transition in the 1950s and 1960s: Ghana moving toward independence, and London becoming a multicultural metropolis. He has said: “I was lucky to be alive when things were happening… when Ghana was going to be independent and Ghana became independent, and when I came to England the Beatles were around. Things were happening in the 60s, so I call myself Lucky Jim.”

James Barnor, Miss Sophia Salomon, Kokomlemle, Accra, c. 1972. COURTESY Autograph
James Barnor, Wedding guests, London, 1960s. COURTESY Autograph
James Barnor, A shop assistant at the Sick-Hagemeyer store, Accra, 1971. COURTESY Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière

He returned to Ghana in the early 1970s to establish the country’s first colour processing lab while continuing his work as a portrait photographer and embedding himself in the music scene. He returned to London in 1994. It has been said: “James Barnor is to Ghana and photojournalism what Ousmane Sembène was to Senegal and African cinema.”

JAMES BARNOR: ACCRA/LONDON – A RETROSPECTIVE
30 Mar — 24 Oct 2021
Serpentine Gallery
London, United Kingdom

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