Samuel Fosso (born 17 July 1962) is a Nigerian photographer who has worked for most of his career in the Central African Republic. His work includes using self-portraits adopting a series of personas, often commenting on the history of Africa.
He won the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands in 2001.
Fosso was born in Kumba, Cameroon, to Nigerian parents. He grew up in Afikpo, his ancestral home, until he had to flee to Bangui in the Central African Republic in 1972 in the wake of the Nigerian Civil War.
Here he began to work as an assistant photographer when he was twelve, and a year later as a portrait photographer with his own studio in Bangui, 'Studio Photo Nationale'. Initially he made self-portraits to fill up the unused parts of his photographic films. These photographs were destined for his mother, who had stayed behind in Nigeria. The making of self-portraits became an objective on its own for him.
For his self-portraits he used special cloth backgrounds, in front of which he dressed up in costumes that varied greatly: authentic European costumes, African folk costumes, navy uniforms, karate keikogis, boxer shorts, and so on.
Fosso's style is somewhat comparable with that of Diane Arbus, in that his self-portraits show a glimpse of our own humanity. Arbus's photography has been said to show that everyone has their own identity, that is to say what remains when we take away the rest. In contrast Fosso's varying costumes are said to show that identity is determined partly as well by things over which humans lack control. His work has therefore also been characterized as having a disclosure of how humans can in fact create their own identity.
On 5 February 2014, amidst looting after sectarian violence, Fosso's home studio in Bangui, containing his complete archive, was ransacked. This was discovered by chance by photojournalist Jerome Delay, who, along with fellow photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale, and Peter Bouckaert (Emergency Director at Human Rights Watch), rescued the majority of its contents, estimated at 20,000 negatives and 150 to 200 prints, though Fosso's cameras were stolen. Fosso was in Paris at the time.
- 1994: 1st Prize, African Photography Encounters (Rencontres de la Photographie), Bamako, Mali
- 1995: Prix Afrique en Creations
- 2000: First Prize, photography category, Dak'Art - Biennale de l'Art Africain Contemporain, Dakar, Sénégal
- 2001: Prince Claus Award, Netherlands
- 2010: 1st Prize in Visual Arts Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
- Samuel Fosso. Seydou Keita. Malick Sidibe. Portraits of Pride. West African Portrait Photography. Raster Forlag, 2003. ISBN 978-9171006776.
- Maria Francesca and Guido Schlinkert. Samuel Fosso. 5Continents, 2008. ISBN 978-8874391011.
- Simon Njami and Samuel Fosso. Samuel Fosso - PHotoBolsillo International, Revue Noire, 2011. ISBN 978-8492841622.
Fosso's work is held in the following public collection:
- Jeune Afrique - Les 50 qui font le Camerou (April 28, 2009) biography (in French)
- Brigitte Ollier, "Samuel Fosso, le Narcisse noir" Libération, 3 August 2010. (in French)
- Henley, John (19 June 2011). "Photographer Samuel Fosso's best shot". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
- Museum of Art Ulrich, biography
- Taylor, Jessica (27 June 2002). "Here's looking at me". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
- Beaumont, Peter (6 February 2014). "Rescued from war-torn Bangui: photographer Samuel Fosso's life work". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
- Delay, Jerome (6 February 2014). "Looted, but Not Lost: An African Artist's Life Work". The New York Times Company. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
- Peter, Bouckaert (5 February 2014). "Dispatch: Discovering Beauty Amid the Carnage". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
- Prince Claus Fund, Awards
- "Samuel Fosso. Untitled from the series African Spirits. 2008". Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2018-09-07.
- Noorderlicht, photo impression