Photo: Soirée familiale, 1964-2008 gelatin silver print
“Man tried to imitate God by drawing; then we invented the photo,” Malick Sidibé observed. Indeed, there is a sense of the eternal, ethereal soul that resides below the flesh, deep in the bone in the photographs of the man from Bamako. Born in Mali in 1936, Sidibé has lived and worked in his native land for six decades, becoming one of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century. His iconic images from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s take us back to a time of transition as African countries gained their independence from foreign imperial powers in Europe.
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Sidibé began his career in 1955 as an apprentice, purchasing his first camera, a Brownie Flash, one year. In 1958, he opened Studio Malick in Bamako, and grew to become the premier photographer of youth culture. Whether at the clubs or at sporting events, on the beach or in the studio, Sidibé brilliantly captured the vibrant joy and energy of the first generation of free Malians.
Malick Sidibé, on view at Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, now through April 23, 2016, presents a selection of lesser-known works by the master to provide a context for the vast range and diversity of his vast archive. The exhibition extensive, charting a dynamic path through Sidibé career from a new vantage point, offering a selection of images that complement our sense of the photographer’s world and way of life.
“I wanted to be the photographer of happiness,” Sidibé revealed, and In his work we can witness that spirit revealed. There is a sense of hope, of the pleasure of possibility, of the spirit that embodies youth and all of its dreams. Whether in the club or on the street, Sidibé brought the heat, capturing regular people enjoying life, experiencing the joy of being completely in the moment. He observed, “People said if [I] was at a party, it gave it prestige. I would let people know I’d arrived by letting off my flash… You could feel the temperature rise right away.”
The photographs on view in Malick Sidibé are an exquisite collection of work that speak to the timeless nature of the medium. Included in the exhibition is the recent series, Vue de Dos (2001—ongoing), which depicts women turned with their often bare backs to the camera. This series marks an important shift in his career. Previously, Sidibé had never considered himself a fine artist, but the female nude has changed his perception to his role in the creation of the photograph. Considered risqué, Sidibé resists exhibiting this work in his native country and so it is here in our milieu that we can consider the work on its own terms.
Sidibé challenges us to look at the photograph, as it really is. He observes, “It’s all the same. It’s the same face. We always look for an idea, for the same face, for the same position. There is no such thing as a ‘European’ or an ‘African photography.’ It’s all the same thing.”
All photos: Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.