“Photo Cameroon: Studio portrait, 1970s-1990s”
is the first exhibition in the United States to examine in depth the work of Cameroonian photographers Jacques Toussele, Joseph Chila and Samuel Finlak.
The trio of artists, along with their well-known counterparts from Mali and Senegal, helped define the golden age of studio portraiture in West Africa. Combining technical mastery with an imaginative and sometimes playful eye, they nurtured their clients’ desire to be represented and seen through this versatile medium.
Through more than 100 black and white photographs selected from the artists’ archives, the exhibition sheds light on the aspirations, allegiances and beliefs of Cameroonians since 1960, when their nation gained its independence. Clients collaborated with photographers on the choice of clothing, poses and props, jointly shaping the image they wanted to project, and artists used a range of locations, from formal studios with electric lighting to outdoor settings. ad hoc that relied on natural light. Divided into six themes, the exhibition reveals the dynamism of the workshop space as a place of civic and individual identity construction.
âThe photographs in this exhibit will give viewers a glimpse of the incredible diversity that characterizes the Grassfield region of Cameroon,â said Erica Jones, Curator of African Arts at Fowler. âThe wardens introduce us to a range of religious and cultural groups in the region, their urban and rural experiences, and various moments in private and public life. “
Ordering a portrait from a studio photographer was common practice in postcolonial Cameroon as personal cameras were scarce, and from the mid-1950s the government required all adults to carry an ID card. with a photo. The steady income from taking passport photos has allowed photographers to offer lower rates on more complex studio commissions – portraits of families, couples, friends and social gatherings – making them accessible to a wider clientele.
Toussele, Chila, and Finlak were adept at helping babysitters convey different aspects of their identity: national or neighborhood affiliations, membership in a cultural group or sports club, religious beliefs or profession, family ties or friendships. Babysitters chose hairstyles, popular figure T-shirts, boom boxes, and motorcycles to express their prosperity or aspirations. Items reflecting local traditions, such as long, flowing clothing, hand-dyed indigo fabrics (“ndop”) and other accessories, have served as important indicators of community status in the Grassfields region of Cameroon, which is home to dozens of kingdoms and the birthplace of all three. artists. Taken together, the photographs present a vivid panorama of a nation embracing its traditions and local cultures, as well as globalization.
The co-curator of the exhibition is David Zeitlyn, professor of social anthropology at the University of Oxford. It is supported by the Fowler Museum Exhibition Fund and the Jay T. Last and Deborah R. Last Endowment.
Entrance to the museum is free. For museum hours, parking information and more, visit the Fowler Museum website.