Seydou Keita : 50 Works
Seydou Keita
50 Works
C. Pigozzi, April 30, 2018
Seydou Keita, 1952-1955_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1952-1955_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


Seydou Keïta was one of the most celebrated West African photographers. Born in 1921, Bamako, Mali, Seydou Keïta’s photographs eloquently portray Bamako society during its era of transition from a cosmopolitan French colony to an independent capital. Initially trained by his father to be a carpenter, Keïta’s career as a photographer was launched in 1935 by an uncle who gave him his first camera, a Kodak Brownie Flash, which he had purchased during a trip to Senegal. During his adolescence Keïta mastered the technical challenges of shooting and printing; he later purchased a large-format camera. The larger format not only offered an exceptional degree of resolution, it also made it possible for Keïta to make high quality contact prints without the aid of an enlarger. In 1948 he opened his own studio in Bamako and he quickly built up a successful business.

Seydou Keita, 1949-1951_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1949-1951_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


Seydou Keita, 1952-1955_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1952-1955_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


Seydou Keita, 1954_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1954_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


Whether photographing single individuals, families, or professional associations, Keïta balanced a strict sense of formality with a remarkable level of intimacy with his subjects. Like many professional photographers, he furnished his studio with numerous props, from backdrops and costumes, to Vespas and luxury cars. He would renew these props every few years, which later allowed him to establish a chronology for his work. Keïta commented 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.”

Seydou Keita, 1958_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1958_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


Seydou Keita, 1956_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1956_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


Seydou Keita, 1956_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1956_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


Keïta went to exceptional lengths to bring out the beauty of his subjects and the brilliant patterns of his backdrops proved a particularly effective foil. He worked intuitively, reinventing portrait photography through his search for extreme precision. In 1962 the newly installed Socialist government made Keïta its official photographer; shortly thereafter he closed down his studio, although he remained active until his retirement in 1977. His archive of over 10,000 negatives was gradually brought to light in the early 1990s; Keïta has since achieved international recognition. Inventive and highly modern, his emphasis on the essential components of portrait photography -light, subject, framing - firmly establishes Keïta among the twentieth-century masters of the genre.

Seydou Keita, 1952-1956_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1952-1956_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


Seydou Keita, 1952-1955_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1952-1955_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


Seydou Keita, 1959-1960_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1959-1960_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


From his studio in the centre of Bamako, Mali, located behind the prison, Keïta took about 20,000 portraits between 1949 and 1963. He was a self-taught photographer, first experimenting with a Kodak Brownie camera, but quickly switching to medium and large-format cameras for their sharpness and clarity. His vibrantly patterned backdrops were all locally sourced cloths – the first of these was actually his own bedspread. Keïta also developed the angled portrait, a composition which emboldens the sitter and increases the dynamism of the overall image.

Seydou Keita, 1951_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1951_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


‘A photograph is a souvenir, a work of art, and a document’, Keïta said. At the peak of his career, hundreds of people queued outside his studio every day. Clients wanted to ‘dress up’ for their portraits and often brought precious objects or favourite items of clothing with them. They also frequently borrowed from Keïta’s in-house selection of dresses, suits, uniforms and jewellery. As many of these items repeat from picture to picture, it is difficult to make assumptions about a sitter’s occupation, wealth or personal interests.

Seydou Keita, 1952-1955_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1952-1955_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


Seydou Keita, 1949-1951_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1949-1951_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


The photographs on display here are on loan from the Contemporary African Art Collection (CAAC), Geneva, which was founded in 1989 by Jean Pigozzi and curated from the beginning by André Magnin. The largest private collection of its kind, the CAAC has helped many African artists to show their work in major institutions around the world.

Seydou Keita, 1949-1951_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1949-1951_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


Seydou Keita, 1952-1955_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1952-1955_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva


Seydou Keita, 1952-1955_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva
Seydou Keita, 1952-1955_Bamako, Mali_C.A.A.A.C_Pigozzi Collection_Geneva