The work of veteran photographer James Barnor is to be included in a major exhibition marking Ghana’s 60th independence anniversary, to be held at the Osu Castle,the former government seat in Accra,Ghana on Monday.
The Ghanaian top photographer and photojournalist James Barnor who was awarded the country’s highest honour,Member of the Order of the Volta in last year October,will be included many of his images tracking Ghana’s road to self – rule in the 1950s,with a number of historic photographs of founding father Kwame Nkrumah on the campaign trail.
A solo show of Barnor’s works will also be on display tab the Jamestown Cafe in Accra,which lies close to the studios where he began in his career,first as portrait photographer,then as a newspaper snapper and photojournalist.
From there he moved to London,where he made a name for himself in the ‘Swinging Sixties’ before returning to Ghana to pioneer the technique of colour processing.Despite a substantial body of work amassed over six decades recognition has come late for the 87 – year – old.
Until now his only outing in Ghana was a small display at the Accra Mall that followed on from his major solo retrospective in London in 2010.Since then he has enjoyed international acclaim with shows in Amsterdam,Chicago,Boston,Toronto,Cape Town and Paris.
In an exclusive interview to World Today press Journalist,Angela Cobinnah,Mr James Barnor said “It is wonderful to be going home at last and I am looking forward to it enormously.”
Barnor will be among the speakers at a five – day conference marking the independence anniversary at the Labadi Beach Hotel in Accra,Ghana.
The veteran photojournalist continued saying that “I call myself ‘Lucky Jim’ and my greatest luck is that I have long enough to witness my own renaissance.” Born in Accra’s seaside district of Jamestown in 1929,it was his family connections with the world of photography that dictated his choice of career.
In 1947,his cousin J P Darku – Dodoo,a well – known portrait photographer,invited him to begin a two year apprenticeship with him.As an added bonus,Barnor also received support from another cousin,Julius Aikins,who was working for the West African Photographic Service in nearby Adabraka in Accra.
Barnor had intended mto become a police photographer but just before he was to begin his training with his uncle,Willie Ankra,retired as a professional photographer and presented him with his entire set of photographic equipment, including a valuable full plate camera.
He then decided to go it alone and began running the Quick Photo Service from his rented room near the West End Arena in Jamestown,specialising in portraiture.The business proved successful and in 1953 he opened Ever Young studio nearby, so – called because Barnor would confer eternal youth on his sitters by manually touching up negatives.
Located next to the popular Seaview Hotel,Barnor enjoyed a steady stream of clients, from families on a day out to dignitaries and revellers.Meanwhile,the West End Arena had become the rallying ground of Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party,giving Barnor a bird’s eye view of the march to independence.
His access to Ghana’s future president was boosted when he became a staff photographer for the the new Daily Graphic newspaper and,with his local know – how and familiarity with the movers and shakers of Accra society, he quickly built up a body of work that is unrivalled in its depiction of a country on the move.
Barnor also worked for South Africa’s Drum,at the time Africa’s premier news and culture magazine that was attempting to redefine the way the continent was reported.As a photojournalist, he captured hitherto undocumented events with an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right times well as key events, in particular Independence day on March 6,1957.
In 1959,Barnor travelled to the UK to develop his skills, working at the the Colour Processing Laboratories in Edenbridge,Kent,before receiving a scholarship from the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board to study at the prestigious Medway College of Art.
After graduating in 1961,he renewed his acquaintance with Drum,which had an office in Fleet Street and worked mainly as a fashion photographer, using black models posed in iconic London settings like Trafalgar Square.His lens also captured celebrities like Muhammad Ali,who was in London defending his boxing title.
In 1970,Barnor returned to Ghana to work as an agent and technical consultant for Belgian multi – national Agfa – Gevaert,setting up the country’s first colour processing lab.He later worked for President Jerry John Rawlings Provisional National Defence Council and the US Information Service.
In 1994,Barnor returned to London but it was not until 2003 that his work was aired publicly,at the community – based Acton Arts Forum.Wider recognition proved slow but accelerated after Mr Barnor’s Independence Diaries,an exhibition at the Black Cultural Archives marking Ghana’s 50 years of independence.It came to the attention of the London – based Autograph APB(Associated of Black Photographers),which went on to organise an exhibition of his work at Harvard University in 2010 with the WEB Dubois Institute.
Later that year,Autograph presented James Barnor to the world with an exhibition in London.Titled Ever young, it received critical acclaim and went on to be shown at the the Impressions Gallery in Bradford,UK, and the South African Art in Cape Town.
Since then he has appeared in a group exhibition at Tate Britain,another London where his 1967 image of the Ghanaian broadcaster Mike Eghan on the steps of Piccadilly Circus graced the cover of an accompanying book of the same name, and the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Staying Power,focusing on the work of British based black photographers a,as well as numerous other London shows.
As a veteran off the art of photography whose oeuvre covers a remarkable period in history, bridging continents and photographic genres,James is a much in – demand figure and last year he gave talks at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Schomburg center in New York.
In 2015,barnor’s first monograph,EVER YOUNG,was launched in Paris offering an overview of his career.