Ghana’s most prolific photographer, James Barnor, has captured images that detail more than sixty years of significant historical moments. His subjects include the country’s leaders (Kwame Nkrumah, Jerry Rawlings + A.Q.A. Acheampong), world prizefighters (Muhammad Ali + Adjetey Sowah), pop culture starlets (Marie Hallowi + Erlin Ibreck), and plain old regular folk.
Barnor’s immortalizing imagery of everyday people culls the magic from the mundane. He shows us the striking dignity, confident awareness and rippling pleasure of those being photographed.
Barnor not only opened Ghana’s first color photo lab, Ever Young in James Town (the center of historic Accra) but he went on to travel the world as a photographer with Drum Magazine, the leading African culture publication of the 1950s + 1960s.
Barnor’s images of a nation in transition – from colonization to independence – provide a mesmerizing blueprint of the possibilities of human experience. And his distinct cinematic vision pushes Ghanaian photographers to contribute brave new work to an unfolding national archive.
Here Barnor shares his Ever Young story (via Nowness) :
So in 1950, aged 21, I rented a small shop in James Town in Accra and opened a studio and dark room. I painted the signboard myself––I named it EVER YOUNG, after a story I’d heard when I was younger about a goddess who lived in a pretty grove of the same name. The goddess knew she was really old, but a hero came to give her an apple that, as soon as she had eaten it, made her feel fresh and young again. That brings back the magic of retouching in photography––filling all the lines and ridges to make the person look young.
There was no electricity there when I started so I used the daylight for shoots. There was no running water either, so I had to walk to a communal tap at the end of the road to collect water for developing. I went on to work as a photojournalist at the two main publications in Ghana––the newspaper The Daily Graphic, and Drum, the leading magazine in Africa, which covered news, politics and entertainment.
Covering politics was where Drum had trouble, because when African countries were becoming independent, and you bring out stories some people don’t like, they would do anything. Drum was banned in Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana at one time.
If you are interested in seeing more of James Barnor’s photographic journey, check out “Ghana – A Heritage Ever Young” – a three-day exhibit featuring exclusive photos and never-seen-before prints from Barnor’s archive. The exhibition will take place June 30 – July 2nd at the Silverbird Lounge in Accra Mall.