Barnor in Leiden (2016)
6 June 1929 |
Accra, Gold Coast
James Barnor (born 6 June 1929) is a pioneering Ghanaian photographer who has been based in London, UK, since the 1990s. 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: 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." He was Ghana's first full-time newspaper photographer in the 1950s, and he is credited with introducing colour processing to Ghana in the '70s. It has been said: "James Barnor is to Ghana and photojournalism what Ousmane Sembène was to Senegal and African cinema."
Now an octogenarian, Barnor has spoken of how his work was rediscovered in 2007 during the "Ghana at 50" jubilee season by curator Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, who organised the first exhibition of his photographs at Black Cultural Archives (BCA). Appreciation of his work as a studio portraitist, photojournalist and Black lifestyle photographer has been further heightened since 2010 when a major solo retrospective exhibition of his photographs, Ever Young: James Barnor, was mounted at Rivington Place, London, followed by a series of exhibitions including in the United States and South Africa. His photographs were collated by the non-profit agency 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.
Barnor's photographs have also in recent years had showings in Ghana, France (Paris Photo 2011, Galerie Baudoin Lebon; Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière), The Netherlands, and elsewhere and he remains in demand to give talks about his work.
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."
At the age of 17 Barnor was teaching basket weaving at a missionary school and the headmaster gave him a camera "to play around with––it was a Kodak Brownie 127, made of plastic". In 1947, Barnor started an apprenticeship with his cousin J. P. Dodoo, a well-known portrait photographer, "mostly taking pictures of people because when you take pictures of flowers and places there's nobody to pay for them. I did that for two years but I had always wanted to be a policeman. I applied to be a police photographer and was accepted, but before I could start my training my uncle gave me the camera he used for photography."
Ever Young Studio
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. When his landlord wanted to reclaim the room, from 1953 Barnor began to operate his Ever Young Studio. 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."
Located close to the once-famous Seaview Hotel, the studio "soon drew a mixture of clients from families to night revellers and dignitaries". Among those whom he photographed were Ghana's future first president Kwame Nkrumah (pictured kicking a football in one of Barnor's shots), 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), as well as boxing champion Roy Ankrah.
Photojournalism with Daily Graphic and Drum
At the same time as freelancing, Barnor became the first staff photographer employed by the Daily Graphic newspaper when it was established in Ghana in 1950 by Cecil King of the London Daily Mirror Group. Barnor also sold photographs to other publications, notably the South African magazine Drum, which covered news, politics and entertainment, and with whom he established an ongoing relationship, using the magazine's Fleet Street office as his base when he first went to London.
1960s in the UK
In December 1959 he travelled to England to develop his skills, working at Colour Processing Laboratories Ltd, 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, graduating in 1961. Subsequent to this course, he stayed on in the UK and continued working as a photographer and technician. His images from this period document Africans in Britain, notably his work as a fashion photographer with black models against London backdrops, often for the covers of Drum, then the leading magazine in Africa.
After a decade in England, Barnor went back to Ghana, where he set up the country's first colour processing facilities. For the following 24 years in Ghana 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.
Return to London: 1994–present
In 1994, Barnor returned to London, where his work latterly began to be discovered by a new wider audience, through exhibitions at venues such as Black Cultural Archives (2007), Rivington Place (2010), and elsewhere.
"At the age of 79, I was recognised," he told his audience at a talk at Chelsea Theatre in 2013. His 85th birthday in June 2014 was marked with a showcase of his work in the London Borough of Hounslow, where he lives in sheltered accommodation.
Barnor continues to exhibit and give talks on his work, including in 2016 at the V&A (as part of the Paul Strand photography and film exhibition season), at Photonook Bristol and at the October Gallery.
In 2007, the interest taken in his work by Nana Oforiatta-Ayim led to Barnor's first show; as he has said: "She was the first curator/ writer to organize a show of my work, and she is the first one who suggested I should do a book." From 24 April to 24 June 2007 the exhibition entitled Mr Barnor's Independence Diaries took place at the Black Cultural Archives (BCA), curated by Oforiatta-Ayim, as part of BCA's Ghana Jubilee Season.
In spring 2010, Barnor's first US exhibition was presented by Autograph ABP in association with the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute in Boston at the Rudenstine Gallery, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University.
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 of Autograph ABP's Archive and Research Centre. 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. As one reviewer noted, "The pictures have become slices of history, documenting race and modernity in the post-colonial world." For art historian Kobena Mercer,
"Barnor captures the mood of a nation on the cusp of self-determination.... Cutting across the divide between periphery and metropolis, Barnor’s images suggest that 'Africa' has never been a static entity, confined to the boundaries of geography, but has always had a diasporic dimension....
The rediscovery of Barnor's images today reveals how photographs have a diasporic life of their own. By virtue of mechanical reproduction, which undercuts the distinction between the original and the copy, photographs are vulnerable to a process of decontextualisation – making them orphans, thrown into the world without a fixed 'home'. But in the research process of retrieval and reassembly that has unified Barnor’s disparate images into a holistic body of work, we have a kind of homecoming in which previously orphaned images are given a second life."
The exhibition was subsequently shown at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town in 2011. Ever Young: James Barnor also toured to Impressions Gallery, Bradford, exhibited from 5 July to 31 August 2013.
In August 2012, the show Another London: International Photographers Capture London Life 1930–1980 at Tate Britain included work by Barnor, with his 1967 photograph of BBC World Service reporter "Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London" featuring on the cover of the catalogue.
Barnor is featured in the exhibition Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s that opened in 2015, the culmination of a seven-year collaborative project between the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, showcasing a number of black British photographers and images of black Britain from the 1950s to the 1990s.
His work was also represented in the Photographers' Gallery exhibition Work, Rest and Play: British Photography from the 1960s to Today (9 May–12 July 2015), and was included alongside that of such iconic photographers as Terence Donovan, Brian Duffy, John French, Norman Parkinson, John Hopkins, John Cowan, Eric Swayne and Philip Townsend in the exhibition Swinging Sixties London - Photography in the Capital of Cool, which opened in June 2015 at Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
In October 2015 Barnor's work was shown in Paris at the Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière in an exhibition entitled Ever Young that created "a narrative of two societies in transition". Sarah Preston, who initiated the production of the book about Barnor that was launched alongside the exhibition, says: "When I discovered James Barnor's work for the first time — on Baudoin Lebon's stand at Paris Photo 2011 — it felt like a breath of fresh air. Saturated by French collections of West African studio photography, seeing outdoor images of every day life in Ghana in black and white, through the eyes of a Ghanaian rather than a white photographer, was a revelation. Discovering Barnor's colour work from the 70s was the icing on the cake. Why had I never seen this before? Why had it not been exhibited? The question of the importance of showing archival material comes to mind. But also one wonders: how much stuff are we missing?"
In September 2016, the October Gallery hosted an exhibition of Barnor's work alongside that of Daniele Tamagni (b. 1975), an Italian photographer who trained as an art historian before travelling worldwide to document style and fashion subcultures, which pairing was described as giving "a sumptuous view of the continuing legacy of African style".
- 2007: Mr Barnor's Independence Diaries, Black Cultural Archives, London, UK
- 2010: James Barnor: Ever Young, Rivington Place, London, UK
- 2010: James Barnor: Ever Young, Street and Studio Photography, Ghana/UK, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Boston, US (28 January–26 May)
- 2011: James Barnor: Ever Young, South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
- 2013: James Barnor: Ever Young, Impressions Gallery, Bradford, UK (5 July–31 August)
- 2015: Ever Young, Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière, Paris, France
- 2016: Ever Young — James Barnor, Black Artists' Network in Dialogue (BAND) in partnership with Autograph, BAND Gallery, Toronto, Canada (28 April–29 May)
- 2016: James Barnor: Ever Young, Rebuild Foundation, Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago, US (23 June–3 September)
- 2012: Another London: International Photographers Capture London Life 1930–1980, at Tate Britain, London, UK (27 July–18 September)
- 2015: Swinging Sixties London - Photography in the Capital of Cool, Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (11 June—2 September)
- 2015: Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s, BCA (15 January–30 June) and V & A (16 February–24 May), London, UK
- 2015: Work, Rest and Play: British Photography from the 1960s to Today, Photographers' Gallery, London, UK (9 May–12 July)
- 2016: Daniele Tamagni and James Barnor, October Gallery, London, UK (8–30 September)
James Barnor: Ever Young, the first monograph of his work, was published in 2015 (Clémentine de la Féronnière / Autograph ABP, ISBN 9782954226644) alongside his Paris exhibition, including an extensive interview with Barnor in conversation with Margaret Busby and Francis Hodgson.
Recognition and honours
In October 2016, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the development of Ghana, Barnor was awarded the Order of the Volta, conferred by President John Dramani Mahama at the National Honours and Awards Ceremony held at Accra International Conference Centre.
- Kwaku, "Lucky Jim, still working at 81", New African, April 2011, pp. 80–82.
- Aarti wa Njoroge, "In Conversation with James Barnor, in Comparison with Malick Sidibé". Originally in AfricanColours, 8 May 2012. Reprinted in Digital Photo Times.
- James Barnor biography at Victoria and Albert Museum.
- Tiffani Jones, "Secret History of the Black Pinup: Drum Magazine and James Barnor", Coffee Rhetoric, 23 August 2012.
- "James Barnor: 'My advice to young photographers: fall in love with books'", Photobook Bristol, 9 March 2016.
- "Black Cultural Archives Launches Exciting Heritage Programme to Commemorate Ghana's Golden Jubilee", Community Archives and Heritage Group, 7 March 2007.
- Kate Salter, "Colour me beautiful: James Barnor's photographs for Drum magazine", Fashion, The Telegraph, 7 December 2010.
- "Work of Medway-trained photographer in new archive", BBC Kent, 7 December 2010.
- "Photos: James Barnor 'Ever Young'", Okayafrica, 28 June 2012.
- Qirv Ventures Brings GUBA award winning Photographer James Barnor On a Triumphant return, GUBA, 7 June 2012.
- "Ghana – A Heritage Ever Young", GHStreets.com.
- "Paris Photo 2011: Analogue Nirvana", Lomography, 27 September 2011.
- Galerie Baudoin Lebon – Synchronicity.
- Clémentine Mercier, "James Barnor, Flash-Backs Ghanéens", Libération, 13 November 2015.
- "Raw Social with photographer James Barnor", Whitworth Adult Programme, 19 July 2012.
- "Special events: Who is James Barnor?", Westminster Reference Library, City of Westminster, 12 May 2016.
- "Picture This – Photographer James Barnor Looks Back at 60 Years Behind the Camera", Nowness, 25 September 2010.
- Angela Cobbinah, "Following Nkrumah", NewsAfrica, 6 January 2011.
- 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.
- James Barnor page at Autograph shop, audio of Barnor speaking.
- Renée Mussai, "James Barnor: Snapshots of Emerging Africa" (caption for 3, "Beatrice With Trademark Figurine, Ever Young Studio, Accra, c. 1955"), The Root.
- Angela Cobbinah, "Ghanaian photographer features in London exhibition", Africa Briefing, 30 March 2015.
- James Barnor: Ever Young, Autograph ABP.
- "Ghanaian photographer to exhibit work", Daily Graphic, 28 August 2012.
- "Medway Ghanaian Association Celebrations to mark the 57th Anniversary of Ghanaian Independence Day, 8th March, 2014", The Lieutenancy of Kent.
- Amma Sarfo, "Getting To Know Legendary Ghanaian Photographer James Barnor", Global Fusion, 4 April 2011.
- Ade Sawyerr, "Preserving the past to inspire the future:everyoungjba.org". The Ade Sawyerr Blog.
- "Black & White Memories: Colonialism Through the Lens of James Barnor", Creolita, 11 December 2013.
- "Photography Exhibition", Studio 700, Hounslow Library.
- "James Barnor and the Mayor of Hounslow at his 85th birthday and photographic held at the Library in the Treaty Centre", 21 June 2014.
- "Switching The Lens – Ever Young and Portraits of Modernity", V&A, 10 June 2016.
- "Daniele Tamagni and James Barnor: 8 - 30 September 2016", October Gallery.
- VIDEO: Nowhere Else But Here - Nana Oforiatta-Ayim > Africa is a Country, Posthaven.
- Korantemaa Larbi, "Curating Cultures: Nana Oforiatta Ayim", Design233, 26 August 2013.
- Nana Oforiatta Ayim, "Icon(ic): Photographer James Barnor", Dust Magazine, 29 March 2012.
- Louise Ray, "Black Cultural Archives Launches Exciting Heritage Programme to Commemorate Ghana's Golden Jubilee", Community Archives and Heritage Group, 7 March 2007.
- "Ever Young: James Barnor, Street and Studio Photography, Ghana/UK", Hutchins Center, Spring 2010.
- "Renée Mussai of Autograph ABP to lecture at Light Work", Light Work, 1 March 2010.
- "Photography, Diaspora and James Barnor's Transatlantic Archive: A Missing Chapter", Iziko Museums, September 2011.
- "1960s London seen through an immigrant’s eyes", The Observer, 19 September 2010.
- Chloe Hayward, "James Barnor", Past Present Future London – Chronicling arts, culture and lifestyle over the last century, 5 October 2010.
- "James Barnor: Crossing Continents – The Fashion Photographer and Photojournalist Who Chronicled a Changing World", Nowness, 25 September 2010.
- Kobena Mercer, "People get ready – A new exhibition of James Barnor’s photography provides a route-map of Afro-Modernism", New Humanist, 10 November 2010.
- "Ever Young: James Barnor" (7 September 2011–29 January 2012), Iziko Museums, South Africa.
- "Exhibition Ever Young: James Barnor — Iziko Museums of South Africa", Artslink.co.za, 9 September 2011.
- Exhibitions past: "Ever Young", Impressions Gallery.
- Daniel Potts, "James Barnor: Ever Young, Impressions Gallery", Aesthetica.
- Shaila Hamid, "James Barnor 'Ever Young': Review", NewFocus, 19 July 2013.
- David Campany, "On the hoof and shooting from the hip – Another London", Tate, 23 July 2012.
- Another London at Tate Britain, One Stop Arts.
- Tricia Wombell, "Another London at Tate Britain", Black Book News, 21 August 2012.
- Ruth Waters, "Staying Power at the BCA", Brixton Blog, 9 February 2015.
- "Black Cultural Archives: Staying Power", The Africa Channel, 2015.
- "Staying Power", Victoria and Albert Museum.
- Maya Jaggi, "‘Staying Power’ at Victoria and Albert Museum", The Financial Times, 20 February 2015.
- "Work, Rest and Play ... Info", The Photographers' Gallery, 26 March 2015.
- "Swinging Sixties London — Photography in the Capital of Cool", Amsterdam Art.
- "Prolific works by Ghanaian photographer, James Barnor go on exhibit in France", EbonyLife TV, 10 November 2015.
- Yatta Zoker, "Legendary Ghanaian Photographer James Barnor’s Portraits Of Post-Colonial Ghana & Black London’s ‘Swinging Sixties’", Okayafrica, 10 September 2015.
- James Barnor - Ever Young, at RRB PhotoBooks, 5 October 2015.
- Tom Seymour, "Africa’s Fashion Tribes and London’s Subcultures", British Journal of Photography, 24 June 2016.
- Miss Rosen, "Africa Shines in the Photographs of Daniele Tamagni and James Barnor", Crave, 21 September 2016.
- "James Barnor: Ever Young", Press Release, Impressions Gallery.
- "Ever Young — James Barnor", Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.
- "James Barnor, Ever Young", Rebuild.
- "Another London: International Photographers Capture City Life 1930–1980", Press Release, Tate, 19 April 2012.
- "Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience, 1950s – 1990s", Media Diversified, 13 January 2015.
- "Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience - in pictures", The Observer, 9 February 2015.
- "British Photography from the 1960s to Today", Photographers' Gallery Blog, 13 July 2015.
- Clémentine Mercier, "James Barnor, Flash-backs Ghanéens", Libération, 13 November 2015.
- "James Barnor – Ever Young", Autograph.
- Sean Jacobs, "James Barnor's Ghana", Africa Is a Country, 26 November 2010.
- GUBA awards.
- on YouTube.
- Jonas Nyabor, "Mahama confers national honors on 33 personalities", Citifmonline, 30 October 2016.
- "James Barnor recognised at the Ghana National Honours and Awards Ceremony", Future of Ghana, 31 October 2016.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to James Barnor.|
- Electric Avenue: a special photo essay curated by the NS, "Introduction: Electric avenues" by Sukhdev Sandhu, New Statesman, 1 August 2012.
- James Barnor portfolio at Autograph ABP website.
- Zaneta Denny, "James Barnor: legendary Ghanaian photographer", Community Channel, 27 May 2012.
- "James Barnor at Galerie Baudoin Lebon (Paris Photo 2011)".
- James Barnor's Artist Talk, recorded at Impressions Gallery on Saturday, 10 August 2013.
- "Ever Young: James Barnor" on Vimeo.
- "The Photography of James Barnor", Voices of East Anglia.
- "For EVER YOUNG: The Iconic Photography of James Barnor", ACCRA [dot] ALT Radio, 29 June 2012.
- Ade Sawyerr, "Preserving the past to inspire the future:everyoungjba.org". The Ade Sawyerr Blog.
- "James Barnor" at Victoria and Albert Museum.
- Video interview with James Barnor, 3 July 2015 (in connection with "Swinging Sixties London" exhibition at Foam, Netherlands).
- "James Barnor: 'Comme photographe noir, vous ne pouviez pas faire de la photo de mode'" (interview in French), Le Monde, 14 October 2015.
- "Celebrating James Barnor – the first photographer to shoot Ghana in colour ", The Guardian, 22 September 2016.