James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective

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From 19 May to 22 October 2021, Serpentine Gallery will present Accra/London-A Retrospective by British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor. The exhibition features major social and political changes captured by Barnor whose career spans six decades, two continents, and numerous photographic genres including studio portraiture, photojournalism, editorial commissions, Black lifestyle photography, and wider social commentary.

According to curators Lizzie Carey-Thomas and Awa Konaté, Barnor’s archive – which includes 40,000 images – amounts to a substantial survey of not just the diaspora in London, but also pre-independence Ghana, as Accra bubbled with Pan-Africanism and hopes for a new future.

The programme includes a virtual launch with participants including Artur, Naomi Campbell, Edward Enninful and Tyler Mitchell, who shot the recent Kamala Harris Vogue cover and has been influenced by Barnor.

Born in 1929 in Ghana, James Barnor established his prominent Ever Young studio in Accra in the early 1950s, capturing a nation on the cusp of independence in an ambience animated by conversation and highlife music. In 1959, he arrived in London, furthering his studies and continuing assignments for influential South African magazine Drum which reflected the spirit of the era and the experiences of London’s burgeoning African diaspora.

He returned to Ghana in the early 1970s to establish the country’s first colour processing lab while continuing his work as a portrait photographer and embedding himself in the music scene. The artist explains, “I always treated my sitters and my customers with the utmost respect. I was conscious of what people were wearing and tried to bring the best out of them.”

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