The great African portraitist Seydou Keita lived in Bamako, Mali from 1921 to 2001. A self-taught photographer, he opened a studio in 1948 and specialized in portraiture. His photographs eloquently portray Bamako society during its era of transition from a cosmopolitan French colony to an independent capital.
His numerous clients were drawn by the brilliant quality of his photos and his great sense of aesthetics. Many were young men, dressed in European style clothing. Some customers brought in items they wanted to be photographed with but Keita also had a choice of European clothing and accessories – watches, pens, radios, scooter, etc. – which he put at their disposal in his studio.
Seydou Keita worked primarily with ambient light and for economic reasons took only a single shot for each picture. Commenting on his studio practice, “It’s easy to take a photo, but what really made a difference was that I always knew how to find the right position, and I was never wrong. Their head slightly turned, a serious face, the position of the hands … I was capable of making someone look really good.”
The photographer’s archive or nearly 10, 000 negatives were gradually brought to light in the 1990s and he has received international recognition since then. His first solo exhibition took place in 1994 inParis at the Fondation Cartier. This was followed by many others in various museums, galleries and foundations worldwide. He is now universally recognized as the father of African photography and considered one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century.