James Barnor

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James Barnor (born 6 June 1929) is a pioneering Ghanaian photographer whose career spans six decades. In his street and studio photography he represents societies in transition: Ghana moving toward Independence, and London becoming a multicultural metropolis. He is credited with introducing colour processing to Ghana.[1] Appreciation of octogenarian Barnor's work as a studio portraitist, photojournalist and Black lifestyle photographer[2] has been heightened since 2010 as a result of a series of exhibitions of his work in the UK, the USA, France and South Africa. His photographs have been collated by the London-based charity Autograph ABP during a four-year project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and in 2011 became part of the new Archive and Research Centre for Culturally Diverse Photography.[3]


James Barnor was born in Accra, in what was then the Gold Coast, West Africa. Explaining how he came to choose his career he has said: "Photography was in my family. My two uncles were photographers. My cousin was a photographer, and I found out later when I got into it that another cousin was also a photographer."[4]

In 1947, Barnor was apprenticed for two years to his cousin J. P. Dodoo, a well-known portrait photographer,[5] and after finishing the apprenticeship set up his own freelance photographic practice in a makeshift street studio in the Jamestown area of the capital, using a backdrop outside his rented room.[4] When his landlord wanted to reclaim the room, from 1953 Barnor began to operate his Ever Young Studio.[6] Its name derives from the subject of an English comprehension extract he had studied as a schoolboy, entitled "Iduna's Grove", about a Norse goddess giving out magic apples to grant eternal youthfulness; it was also an allusion to the expected practice of retouching sitters' faces to perfection - "Long before Photoshop existed you would use a pencil. I would retouch the pictures to make people look younger."[2][7] Located close to the once-famous Seaview Hotel, the studio "soon drew a mixture of clients from families to night revellers and dignitaries".[4] Among those whom Barnor photographed were Ghana's future first president Kwame Nkrumah, pan-Africanist politician J. B. Danquah, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke (last British governor of the Gold Coast), the Duchess of Kent and then American Vice-President Richard Nixon (when he attended Ghana's Independence ceremony in March 1957).

At the same time as freelancing, Barnor became the first staff photographer employed by the Daily Graphic newspaper[8] when it was established in Ghana in 1950 by Cecil King of the London Daily Mirror Group.[4] Barnor also sold photographs to other publications, notably the South African magazine Drum, with whom he established an ongoing relationship.

In December 1959 he travelled to England to develop his skills, working at Colour Processing Laboratories Ltd,[5] Edenbridge, Kent, and attending evening and other part-time classes before being awarded a Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board scholarship to study full-time at Medway College of Art in Rochester, Kent. Subsequent to this course, he continued working as a photographer and technician, before in 1969 going back to Ghana, where he set up the country's first colour processing facilities.[6] For the following 24 years he worked as a professional photographer, was the official African representative for Agfa-Gevaert (at the time the leading company for imaging technology), and was also given work by the American embassy and Ghanaian government agencies under the auspices of J. J. Rawlings.

In 1994, Barnor returned to London, where he still lives.


From 24 April to 24 June 2007 the exhibition "Mr Barnor’s Independence Diaries" took place at Black Cultural Archives, curated by Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, as part of Black Cultural Archives’ Ghana Jubilee Season marking the 50th anniversary of the nation's Independence.[9][10]

Barnor's first US exhibition took place in spring 2010 at the Rudenstine Gallery, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, in association with Autograph ABP.[11]

The first major solo retrospective exhibition of Barnor's photographs, Ever Young: James Barnor, was mounted at Rivington Place in London from September to November 2010, curated by Renée Mussai.[12][13] Documenting life in Ghana from the late 1940s to 1950s, and African life during London's "swinging sixties" (famous faces include Muhammad Ali, who defended his world heavyweight title against Brian London at Earl's Court in 1966) as well as later decades, the exhibition received wide and favourable coverage within the UK media.[4][14][15] As one reviewer noted, "The pictures have become slices of history, documenting race and modernity in the post-colonial world."[16]

The exhibition was subsequently shown at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town in 2011.[17] His photographs have also had recent (June/July 2012) showings in Ghana,[18][19][20] in Paris, France (Paris Photo 2011,[21] Galerie Baudoin Lebon),[22] and elsewhere and Barnor is in demand to give talks about his work.[23]

Barnor's Ever Young exhibition, curated by Renée Mussai of Autograph ABP’s Archive and Research Centre,[24] toured to Impressions Gallery,[25] Bradford, exhibited from 5 July to 31 August 2013.[26]

Recognition and award[edit]

It has been said of him: "Photographer James Barnor is to decolonizing Ghana (and later to 1960s black Britain) what Oumar Ly is to Senegal or Malick Sidibe and Seydou Keita were to Mali."[27]

In 2011, James Barnor was honoured with a GUBA (Ghana UK-Based Achievement)[28] special "Lifetime Achievement" award. On receiving it, he revealed that it was the first award he had ever been given.[29]

Barnor had work included in the show Another London: International Photographers Capture London Life 1930–1980 at Tate Britain in August 2012,[30][31] with his 1967 photograph of BBC World Service reporter "Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London" featuring on the cover of the catalogue.[32]


  1. ^ Aarti wa Njoroge, "In Conversation with James Barnor, in Comparison with Malick Sidibé", AfricanColours, 8 May 2012.
  2. ^ a b Kate Salter, "Colour me beautiful: James Barnor's photographs for Drum magazine", Fashion, Telegraph, 7 December 2010.
  3. ^ "Work of Medway-trained photographer in new archive", BBC Kent, 7 December 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e Kwaku, "Lucky Jim, still working at 81", New African, April 2011, pp. 80–82.
  5. ^ a b Angela Cobbinah, "Following Nkrumah", NewsAfrica, 6 January 2011.
  6. ^ a b Audrey Quaye, "Upcoming exhibition of James Barnor's Photography at Harvard University's WEB DuBois Institute starting on Thursday, January 28th, 2010", Modern Ghana, 25 January 2010.
  7. ^ Renée Mussai, "James Barnor: Snapshots of Emerging Africa" (caption for 3, "Beatrice With Trademark Figurine, Ever Young Studio, Accra, c. 1955"), The Root.
  8. ^ "Ghanaian photographer to exhibit work", Daily Graphic, 28 August 2012.
  9. ^ Nana Oforiatta Ayim, "Icon(ic): Photographer James Barnor", Dust Magazine, 29 March 2012.
  10. ^ Louise Ray, "Black Cultural Archives Launches Exciting Heritage Programme to Commemorate Ghana's Golden Jubilee", Community Archives and Heritage Group, 7 March 2007.
  11. ^ "Ever Young": James Barnor, Street and Studio Photography, Ghana/UK", W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.
  12. ^ "Renée Mussai of Autograph ABP to lecture at Light Work", Light Work, 1 March 2010.
  13. ^ "Photography, Diaspora and James Barnor's Transatlantic Archive: A Missing Chapter", Iziko Museums, September 2011.
  14. ^ "1960s London seen through an immigrant’s eyes", The Observer, 19 September 2010.
  15. ^ Chloe Hayward, "James Barnor", Past Present Future London – Chronicling arts, culture and lifestyle over the last century, 5 October 2010.
  16. ^ "James Barnor: Crossing Continents – The Fashion Photographer and Photojournalist Who Chronicled a Changing World", Nowness.
  17. ^ "Ever Young: James Barnor", Iziko Museums, South Africa.
  18. ^ "Photos: James Barnor ‘Ever Young’", OkayAfrica, 28 June 2012.
  19. ^ Qirv Ventures Brings GUBA award winning Photographer James Barnor On a Triumphant return, GUBA, 7 June 2012.
  20. ^ "Ghana – A Heritage Ever Young", GHStreets.com.
  21. ^ "Paris Photo 2011: Analogue Nirvana", Lomography, 27 September 2011.
  22. ^ Galerie Baudoin Lebon – Synchronicity.
  23. ^ "Raw Social with photographer James Barnor", Whitworth Adult Programme, 19 July 2012.
  24. ^ James Barnor: Ever Young, Autograph ABP.
  25. ^ Exhibitions past: "Ever Young", Impressions Gallery.
  26. ^ Daniel Potts, "James Barnor: Ever Young, Impressions Gallery", Aesthetica.
  27. ^ Sean Jacobs, "James Barnor’s Ghana", Africa Is a Country, 26 November 2010.
  28. ^ GUBA awards.
  29. ^ "GUBA 2011 - Legendary photographer James Barnor says thank you" on YouTube.
  30. ^ David Campany, "On the hoof and shooting from the hip – Another London", Tate, 23 July 2012.
  31. ^ Another London at Tate Britain, One Stop Arts.
  32. ^ Tricia Wombell, "Another London at Tate Britain", Black Book News, 21 August 2012.

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