James Barnor: Ghana’s photography genius

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From crawling babies to ‘cool Constance’, Barnor spent decades capturing his country’s independence and the diaspora experience during the swinging 60s.

Alfred Quarshie by the advertising board of the Ever Young Studio, circa 1955.

Stories: Pictures from the Archive (1947-1987) focuses on the life and work of Ghanaian photographer James Barnor. The images in the book, many previously unpublished, journey from Accra to London and back again to provide a kaleidoscopic overview of his work from studio portraits to press commissions. The publication of the book coincides with the first major retrospective of Barnor’s work in France at Luma Foundation, part of Rencontres de la Photographie, Arles

James Barnor was born in 1929 and opened his first photography studio in Accra in 1949. He also worked for the press, capturing in photos the movement that led to his country’s independence in 1957.

Peter Dodoo, Yoga student of ‘Mr Strong’, Ever Young Studio, Jamestown, Accra, c1955.

Living in the UK from 1959 to 1969, he documented the experience of the diaspora in the Swinging London of the 60s.

Muhammad Ali preparing for his fight against Brian London in a London gym, August 1966.

He branched out to colour photography and returned to Ghana in 1970 to cultivate the use of the technique.

Sick Hagemeyer, shop assistant, as a 70s icon posing in front of the United Trading Company headquarters, Accra, 1971.

Barnor was 17 and teaching basket weaving at a missionary school when the headmaster gave him a Kodak Brownie 127 with which to experiment

Naa Ayeley Attoh, James Barnor’s niece, in a psychedelic dress on Lutteroot Circle, near Jamestown, Accra, 1974

‘I always treated my sitters and my customers with the utmost respect,’ Barnor once said. ‘I was conscious of what people were wearing and tried to bring the best out of them’.

Baby on All Fours, Eric Nii Addoquaye Ankrah, Ever Young Studio, Accra, c1952

‘Every walk of life needs photography. You need to use it to teach and in order to record an instance’.

A taxi at a bus stop on Ring Road, Accra, 1974

‘People and portraiture are the most important thing: when you go to a place it’s the people you meet that will be the thing you remember’

Miss Biney leaning against a coconut tree in front of James Fort prison, Jamestown, Accra, c1953

Until his 2010 show, Autograph, Barnor was largely unknown in the British photography world

Evelyn Abbew washing prints at the Ever Young Studio, c1954

Barnor is 93 years old and celebrated having a major retrospective at the Serpentine in 2021

Margaret Obiri-Yeboah, a friend of James Barnor outside the Sick Hagemeyer store, Accra, c1972

Barnor created many black fashion images that inspired a new generation of artists

Constance Mulondo, a student and singer from Uganda, AKA ‘Cool Constance’, posing for the cover of Drum magazine at the Campbell-Drayton Studio, Gray’s Inn Road, London, 1967

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