Portrait of a Woman, Senegal, ca. 1910

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Portrait of a Woman, Senegal (Unknown Artist / The Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York, Gift of Susan Mullin Vogel) ca. 1910

Portrait of a Woman, Senegal (Unknown Artist / The Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York, Gift of Susan Mullin Vogel) ca. 1910

The photograph, snapped by an artist as anonymous as the picture’s star, was part of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art titled “In and Out of the Studio: Photographic Portraits from West Africa” (August 31, 2015–January 3, 2016)
In a culture in which the body had to be covered by clouds of crisp textiles, the face, hands, and feet were often all that was visible. Here, the woman’s hands, resting on top of one another on her abdomen, play an active role in the composition. The gesture allows the sitter to display an extensive array of jewelry: a silver ring, filigree-work bracelets, two necklaces, earrings, and golden pendants decorating her coiffure, which is set in a style called Nguuka. Created using black wool to produce two symmetrical voluminous spheres held by a textile on top of the head, this hairdo became popular in the first decades of the twentieth century among married women.
Few glass negatives have survived in Senegal from the early twentieth century. African art specialist Susan Mullin Vogel acquired this negative in Dakar in 1975. New York photographer Jerry L. Thompson produced the accompanying gelatin silver print that same year.
The exhibition, curated by Yaelle Biro with research from specialist Giulia Paoletti, explores how photographic technologies — which became available on the continent in the 1840s — evolved in local communities as a way of mining identity in an ever-changing space.
Instead of focusing on the European photojournalists and documentarians who visited the countries throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the show celebrates the local studios and artists who made the medium their own.
Exhibition Overview – This exhibition presents one hundred years of portrait photography in West Africa through nearly eighty photographs taken between the 1870s and the 1970s. These works, many of which are being shown for the first time, are drawn from the Metropolitan Museum’s Visual Resource Archives in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, with additions from the Department of Photographs.
The installation seeks to expand our understanding of West African portrait photography by rendering the broad variety of these practices and aesthetics. It juxtaposes photographs, postcards, real photo postcards, and original negatives taken both inside and outside the studio by amateur and professional photographers active from Senegal to Cameroon and from Mali to Gabon. These photographers explored the possibilities of their medium, developing a rich aesthetic vocabulary through compelling self-portraits, staged images against painted backdrops or open landscapes, and casual snapshots of leisurely times. Regardless of their unique place in the history of photography in West Africa—from the formality of the earlier studio poses to the theatricality of Fosso’s fantasies—the sitter’s self-assured and unabashed presence fully engages the viewer.
Photography allowed artists and patrons alike to express their articulation of what modernity looked like—one that was constantly reinvented.
Pioneers of Photography – Photography arrived on the African continent as early as the 1840s. In a relatively short time, local communities adapted this new medium according to preexisting visual codes and traditions of portraiture. Starting in the 1860s, West African, Asian, European, and even African American photographers traveled along the Atlantic coast and founded temporary and permanent studios that catered to the local elite. At these studios, patrons carefully picked their style of dress and coiffures, and inaugurated the poses that would become the canon in photographic practices.
Sources/More to Read:
Met Museum: In and Out of the Studio, Photographic Portraits from West Africa
FOTOTA – Perspectives africaines en photographie: Interview with Giulia Paoletti, co-curator
The Huffington Post: Captivating portraits from West Africa reveal 100 Years of life across the Atlantic

A related post, in Colorem:
Solomon Osagie Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria, ca.1950’s

Portrait d’une jeune fille dans une cour, Tunis, ca. 1910

Portrait of a young girl in a courtyard, Tunis, circa 1910

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Le portrait d'une jeune fille dans une cour, (Lehnert et Landrock) circa 1910

Le portrait d’une jeune fille dans une cour, (Lehnert et Landrock) circa 1910

Lehnert & Landrock is the name of a photographic duo active in North Africa in the early 20th century, consisting of: Rudolf Franz Lehnert & Ernst Heinrich Landrock.
Lehnert (1878-1948) was born in Bohemia, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Landrock (1878–1966) in Reinsdorf, Saxony.
In 1903 a walking tour across Europe led Lehnert to Palermo and from there to Tunisia. Overwhelmed by the beauty of the country he began what would become a lifelong career as a photographer. On his return to Europe Lehnert met Landrock in Switzerland and showed him his photographs. The two men returned to Tunis together where in 1904 they started their photographic atelier and business, publishing their works as: by “Lehnert & Landrock”.
Although the photographs they produced were signed with both their names, it was Lehnert who was the photographer and Landrock the businessman who made them possible. Landrock ran the studio in Tunis, managed the laboratory, organized Lehnert’s caravans into the desert, and marketed their products.
“People will still talk about my photographs after 200 years!” Lehnert used to say to his friend, when impatiently accuses him for his two months long desert safari in Tunisia. The photographs, which published in Leipzig, Germany, bring the expected success and reached worldwide fame.
There are several distinguishing features in Lehnert’s photography. Desert scenes are simple, but formally composed reflecting his early training as a painter and art student. Lone figures dwarfed by sand dunes forming one of his favourite motifs, the power of the desert over man.
There is also a large body of female nude work and of eroticized male adolescent images. These nude images often say more about the fantasies and culture of the photographers than about the portrayed cultures. From the 1860s onwards photographs of people with different cultural values and sexual morality became popular for artistic and erotic reasons.
In 1914 Lehnert starts another caravan trip; he rents camels to carry his heavy photographic equipment, dresses himself like the Bedouins, lives according the strong rules of the desert. When he returns to Tunis, he is shocked. In the meantime, the outbreak of the First World War took place, their shop was confiscated and Landrock, according to the German-French agreement, is interned to Engelberg in Switzerland. Lehnert, because of his Austrian citizenship accused of espionage and jailed in Algeria and Corsica. Thanks to the efforts of Landrock, later he interned in Davos, Switzerland until his release.
After the war, Lehnert and Landrock married Jenny Schmitt and Emilie Singer-Lambelet, respectively.
In 1919, Lehnert changed his citizenship to Czech, as Bohemia became part of Czechoslovakia (allied with France) and he get all his photographs back.

Lehnert & Landrock bookshop in 44 Sherif St. Downtown, Cairo, Egypt

Lehnert & Landrock bookshop in 44 Sherif St. Downtown, Cairo, Egypt

In 1924, Lehnert and Landrock re-established their studio in Cairo.
In 1930, Lehnert moved with his family to Tunisia and opened a photo studio in Tunis. Landrock continued in Cairo and in close partnership with his son-in-law Kurt Lambelet, overseeing the transformation of “Lehnert and Landrock” into a centre for fine art prints.
In 1938, Landrock sells his share to his stepson and returns to Germany. The company then firmed under the name Lehnert & Landrock – K. Lambelet.
In 1939 Lehnert retired to Carthage and when his wife died in 1944, he settled with his daughter and son-in-law at the Tunisian oasis of Gafsa, where he died in 1948.
Landrock never returned to Egypt and in 1966 he died in Switzerland.
The family of Kurt Lambelet expanded the business in Cairo, focusing more on books and art prints. Kurt Lambelet passed away in 1997 at age 92. His son Edouard Lambelet is now owner of the Lehnert & Landrock Bookshop and Art Gallery in Cairo.
There have been numerous articles and monographs about Lehnert & Landrock work and increasingly are becoming recognized as one of the best studios of its time.
Sources/More to Read:
Wikipedia: Rudolf Franz Lehnert
Wikipedia: Rudolf Franz Lehnert (en français)
Wikipedia: Ernst Heinrich Landrock
Luxor – West bank: The history of the two “Ls”
Deutsche Welle: The dangerous job of selling books in Cairo
Boudoir-Cards.de: Oriental (Erotic) Postcards
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Solomon Osagie Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria, ca.1950’s

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Gaius Ikuobase Obaseki, government member of the Benin Kingdom, Benin City, Nigeria, ca. 1950's (Photo: Solomon Osagie Alonge)

Gaius Ikuobase Obaseki, government member of the Benin Kingdom, Benin City, Nigeria, ca. 1950’s (Photo: S.O. Alonge)

Seated man with hat, Benin City, Nigeria, ca. 1950's (Photo: Solomon Osagie Alonge)

Seated man with hat, Benin City, Nigeria, ca. 1950’s (Photo: S.O. Alonge)

The kingdom of Benin, home of the Edo-speaking peoples, is located in the tropical rain forest region of what is now Nigeria. An oba, or king, and his court have, from around 1300 C.E., governed the kingdom from Benin City, the capital. Within the kingdom, specialized artists belonged to guilds with hereditary membership and worked solely for the oba.
Oba Akenzua II (reign 1933–78) understood the significance of photography in documenting and preserving the 20th-century history and traditions of the Benin kingdom. During his reign, he reinstituted many social, political, and traditional practices prohibited by the British after the destruction of the royal palace and the exile of Oba Ovonramwen, during the punitive Expedition of 1897. When Akenzua II, took over in 1933, Solomon Osagie Alonge became his court photographer.
“Chief” Solomon Osagie Alonge (1911–1994) was a self-taught photographer and pioneer of Nigerian photography. He was the first official photographer for the royal court of Benin City, Nigeria, and a chief in the Iwebo palace society. Alonge’s record of Nigerian royalty and social class is one of the most extensive and well-preserved collections from the period.
Alonge learned English at the Benin Baptist Elementary School and at the age of 14 moved to Lagos where he developed an interest in photography and took on an apprenticeship. In 1930, Alonge returned to Benin and began practicing photography from his home. In 1933, he became the photographer of the royal court.
Alonge’s work spans half a century and record the reigns of Oba Akenzua II (1933-1978) and Oba Erediauwa (1979-present). Alonge photographed the political and social events surrounding the royal palace, including the royal wives and children, visiting dignitaries and politicians, and annual festivals and court ceremonies. In the late 1930s, he became a founding member of the Benin Social Circle, a group of businessmen, leaders, and the educated elite.
In 1942, he created the Ideal Photo Studio in Benin City. Alonge’s studio portraits of Benin residents provide rare insight into the early history and practice of studio photography in Nigeria. In the 1930s and 1940s, many Nigerians patronized photography studios for the first time, presenting themselves and their families to the camera in ways they wished to be photographed. At that time, it cost two to three shillings for a professional portrait, an amount that was unaffordable to many. Those who could afford it dressed up in the latest fashions or in distinctive traditional textiles to get their portrait taken. Some individuals expressed themselves with their own cosmopolitan style of dress and hairstyles, while others dressed alike for special occasions such as funerals or to express their solidarity with extended family, social, and political groups.
Alonge’s photography preserves an important historical record of Benin arts and culture during the periods of British colonial rule and the transition to Nigerian independence during the 1950s and 1960s. Over 3,000 of Alonge’s photographs have been archived at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. His work is exhibited in the Museum until January 2016.
Sources / More to Read:
Wikipedia: Solomon Osagie Alonge
Smithsonian National Museum of African Art: Solomon Osagie Alonge
Wikipedia: Benin Empire
Wikipedia: Benin Expedition of 1897
The Obaseki Family of Benin, Edo State of Nigiria

Eleanor Xiniwe of the African Choir, 1891

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Mrs Eleanor Xiniwe (nee Ndwanya) of the African Choir, 1891. Photographed by London Stereoscopic Company studios. Courtesy of Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mrs Eleanor Xiniwe (nee Ndwanya) of the African Choir, 1891 (Photographed by London Stereoscopic Company studios. Courtesy of Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The African Choir were a group of young South African singers that toured Britain between 1891 and 1893. Inspired by Orpheus M. McAdoo’s Virginia Jubilee Singers, they were a Christian choir on a mission to raise funds for a technical school in Kimberley in the Cape Colony (South Africa). The Choir’s members, drawn from seven different South African tribes, included Paul Xiniwe and his wife Eleanor, Sannie Koopman, Charlotte Makhomo Manye, Johanna Jonkers, Josiah Semouse and a Miss Gwashu. Their best known performance was before Queen Victoria at Osborne House, the royal residence on the Isle of Wight.

(Mrs. Eleanor Xiniwe) is a young lady-like, native woman, the regularity of whose features despite her sable complexion, vies with most European faces, and who has dignified and rather stately manners. – London Illustrated News, August 29, 1891

The Illustrated London News, August 29, 1891

The Illustrated London News, August 29, 1891

At some point during their stay, they visited the studio of the London Stereoscopic Company to have group and individual portraits made on plate-glass negatives. They are the first black people ever photographed in Britain. That long-lost series of photographs, unseen for 120 years, was the dramatic centrepiece of an illuminating new exhibition called Black Chronicles II. “The portraits were last shown in the London Illustrated News in 1891,” says Renee Mussai, who has co-curated the show at London’s Rivington Place alongside Mark Sealy MBE, director of Autograph ABP, a foundation that focuses on black cultural identity often through the use of overlooked archives. “The Hulton Archive, where they came from, did not even know they existed until we uncovered them while excavating their archive as part of our research project.”
The London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company specialised in carte de visites – small photographs printed on cards that were often traded by collectors or used by performers for publicity purposes – and, as their name suggests, they were all in stereo which, when seen through a special viewer, gave the illusion of a three-dimensional photograph.
Sources:
Guardian
Autograph ABP: Black Chronicles II
Lasca Sartoris.tumblr.com

 

Algerian man, ca. 1906-1914

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

algerian man

Photo: Augustus F. Sherman, New York Public Library

Augustus Frederick Sherman worked as a clerk at Ellis Island in the years 1892-1925. He was an untrained, yet highly gifted photographer who created hundreds of images documenting the new arrivals to America. Fascinated by the diverse origins and cultural backgrounds of his subjects, Sherman created a riveting series of portraits, offering viewers a compelling perspective on this dynamic period in American history.
Wikipedia

Ellis Island, in New York Bay, was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States as the nation’s busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954.
Arrivals were asked 29 questions including name, occupation, and the amount of money carried.
Those with visible health problems or diseases were sent home or held in the island’s hospital facilities for long periods of time. More than three thousand would-be immigrants died on Ellis Island while being held in the hospital facilities. Some unskilled workers were rejected because they were considered “likely to become a public charge.” About 2 percent were denied admission to the U.S. and sent back to their countries of origin for reasons such as having a chronic contagious disease, criminal background, or insanity.
Ellis Island was sometimes known as “The Island of Tears” or “Heartbreak Island” because of those 2% who were not admitted after the long transatlantic voyage.
Ellis Island Foundation

Από το 1892 μέχρι το 1954, η νήσος Έλλις ήταν η πύλη είσόδου της Αμερικής. Σ’ αυτό το διάστημα εκατομμύρια μετανάστες απ’ όλο τον κόσμο έφτασαν εκεί μετά από ταξίδι μηνών με πλοίο.
Οι ντόπιες αρχές τους κατέγραφαν, τους εξέταζαν και αποφάσιζαν αν θα τους επιτραπεί η είσοδος. Για το 2% απ’ αυτούς, η νήσος Έλλις ήταν το μόνο μέρος της Αμερικής που θα έβλεπαν ποτέ. Δεν τους επιτράπηκε η είσοδος για λόγους υγείας, εγκληματικού παρελθόντος ή γιατί θεωρήθηκε ότι δεν θα μπορούσαν να ενσωματωθούν. Αυτοί ήταν υποχρεωμένοι να διασχίσουν πάλι τον Ατλαντικό για να επιστρέψουν στην πατρίδα τους. Γι αυτό, η νήσος Έλλις ονομάστηκε και “Το Νησί των Δακρύων”.
Ο Augustus Frederick Sherman, ήταν ένας απλός υπάλληλος στο Ellis Island. Ήταν όμως και ένας ταλαντούχος ερασιτέχνης φωτογράφος. Γοητευμένος από την πολυπολιτισμικοτητα των νεοφερμένων έβγαλε εκατοντάδες πορτραίτα που σήμερα αποτελούν ντοκουμέντα της ιστορίας της μετανάστευσης στην Αμερική. “Ο Αλγερινός” είναι μία από τις φωτογραφίες του.

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