MAGNIN-A

SEYDOU KEÏTA



Né en 1921 à Bamako, Mali.
Vivait et travaillait à Bamako. Décédé en 2001.

Seydou Keïta commence la photographie avec un petit Kodak Brownie Flash en 1935, ouvre son atelier en 1948 et se spécialise dans l'art du portrait qu'il réalise sur commande en lumière naturelle et en noir et blanc. Il connaît très vite un grand succès et les habitants de Bamako, du Mali et de l'Afrique de l'Ouest accourent à son studio. On y pose seul, en couple, en famille, en groupe, entre amis, cadrés en buste trois quart, ou en pieds, presque toujours positionné par Keita, lui-même qui veut donner de ses clients la plus belle image. Dans son studio, les clients peuvent se faire photographier avec des vêtements chics, chapeaux et accessoires mais aussi poste de radio, vélo, scooter, voiture que Keïta met à leur disposition. Le photographe utilise des fonds à motifs décoratifs qu'il renouvelle tous les deux ou trois ans. Ses photographies constituent un témoignage exceptionnel de la société malienne de la fin des années 1940 à 1963. A partir de l'Indépendance, il devient photographe officiel pour le gouvernement malien et prend sa retraite en 1977. Son œuvre redécouverte au début des années 90 a été montrée dans le monde entier.  Il a intuitivement réinventé l'art du portrait à travers la recherche d'une précision extrême. Une grâce, une élégance transparaît de toutes ses images. Il décède en 2001.          

Born c. 1921, Bamako, Mali.
Died 2001, Paris, France 

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. 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.”  

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, and framing—firmly establishes Keïta among the twentieth-century masters of the genre.