After the brilliant success of Malian photographers Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, André Magnin goes to Nigeria in the late 1990s, to the heart of the improbable megalopolis that is Lagos. In Bowles Bar, one of the high places of jazz at that time, he discovers a wall covered with countless black and white portraits, 9 x 13 cms. They were very beautiful original prints on matt cream mimosa paper, (used for “artistic” photos). Embossed on the bottom right-hand corner of all the prints was written : "Paramount Photographers", Lagos, Nigeria.
A short time later in Lagos, André Magnin met, by chance, Mama J., the daughter of "Paramount Photographers". He bought several hundred prints from her. The story of the photographer as told by his daughter seems too vague and strange to be true. He left his wife and children to go to Hollywood where he was a chauffeur, then a still photographer before returning to Lagos and setting up his own studio. The plural "Photographers" suggests that the photographer managed a renowned, commercial studio with several operators. It is difficult to put an exact date on these prints, however the paper used, the haircuts and clothes of the customers/models seem to correspond to the period from the late 50s to late 60s.
The portraits of "Paramount Photographers" leave no room for a psychological or metaphorical approach to the subject. The photos are deliberately cold, without decoration or sets, with neutral or no background. They are portraits without affectation, very concrete and contrary to those of Seydou Keïta, who controlled the pose.
If we had to compare Seydou Keïta of Mali and Paramount Photographers of Nigeria, two portrait photographers from the same generation, their photos reflect two different personalities. One soft and romantic, the other distant, frontal, almost brutal. They also reflect two nations who did not experience colonization in the same way.
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
Luminós/C/ity.Ordinary Joy: From the Pigozzi Contemporary African Art Collection, Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
12 Oct -18 Février
Exhibition catalogue. Published by TF Editores & FMGB Guggenheim Bilbao Museum.