The untold story behind Seydou Keïta’s stunning portraits of malian youth — i-D
A new exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris showcases the photographer’s striking compositions, the amazing mid-century fashion of his subjects, and the story of how they were almost lost forever.

Untitled, 1956, Genève, Contemporary African Art Collection
© Seydou Keïta / SKPEAC
photo courtesy CAAC - The Pigozzi Collection, Geneva

The vibrancy of the fabrics, the painstaking folds of the clothes, the deeply solemn expressions: these are the signatures of Malian photographer Seydou Keïta's striking black-and-white images, which feature mid-20th-century youth in his native Bamako. A new eponymous exhibition, opening today at the Grand Palais in Paris, is the broadest retrospective of the photographer's work to date, bringing together almost 300 photographs.

Keïta was born around 1921 in Bamako, then the capital of French Sudan, now Mali. An uneducated carpenter's apprentice, he received his first box camera, a Kodak Brownie, from his uncle, during his childhood. By 1939, he was making a living as a photographer, and in 1948 he opened a studio on his family's land, attracting travellers from West Africa as well as a local youthful clientele.

Keïta specialised in black-and-white portraits, featuring individuals but also couples and groupings of friends, siblings, and young families. Always relying on [...]

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