|MALICK SIBIDE / SEYDOU KEITA (MALI)
FRENCH-SPEAKING PHOTOGRAPHERS OF AFRICA
AN EXHIBITION OF THE CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART COLLECTION, THE PIGGOZZI COLLECTION / GENEVA
ORGANIZED BY THE FRENCH INSTITUTE OF THESSALONIKI
NATIONAL BANK CULTURAL FOUNDATION, THESSALONIKI CENTER
GALLERIE GILLES CARON, FRENCH INSTITUTE OF THESSALONIKI
STRATOU AV 2Á / 855-303
MO - SÁ 11.00-2.00, 18.00-21.00
"Until the age of 16 I went to school at Bougouni, 160 km from Bamako. One day the headmaster,
who had noticed that I was good at drawing, asked me to make three drawings, because the Governor
of the Sudan Territories was coming to inspect us. He (the headmaster) was the one who helped me
get into the National School of the Arts in Bamako in 1952, where I graduated in 1955 with a
craftsman jeweller's diploma. As a Peul, this was not particularly to my taste, since the people of that
ethnic group are not by tradition craftsmen. At the end of the 1955 school year Gerard Guillat, known
as 'Gege la pellicule' ('Gege the film'), came to the School of the Arts looking for a student to
decorate his studio-shop, Photo Service. The lot fell to me. Once I had finished that job, Gege invited
me to go on working for him. And so I became his apprentice, doing all the odd jobs in the studio:
drying, glossing, trimming and delivering the prints. It was at this time that I took my first photos, in
his studio, mainly serving his Malian clients.
In 1956 I bought my first camera: it was a Brownie Flash, and with it I started taking photographs on
my own account; I also used it for my first photo-journalistic work for the studio, on which Gege gave
me a commission. When he left the studio in 1957-58, Gege asked me if I wanted to take over as
manager, but I didn't feel I could handle it. A number of managers passed through the studio between
then and 1962, when I left to open my own studio, "Studio Malick". I had an Agfa 6x6 with a simple
view finder (...)
Photography has enabled me to perform a social service. My house was always full of people, I
couldn't even sleep in my own room, there were people everywhere! I fed all these people, too: they
used to say that my house was the People's Republic of China! (...) I've always worked in black and
white, and I still do.
I knew nothing whatsoever of foreign photography. We had no source of information, there were no
magazines or books like that, here. What we knew of Europe we knew from the cinema."
Bamako, February 1995.
Reminiscences recorded by Andre Magnin.
Malick Sidibé was born in Soloba, Mali, in 1936. He lives and works in Bamako.
"I took up photography in 1945, in Bamako, by myself, knowing absolutely nothing about it, with a
6x9 camera my uncle had brought me from Senegal. He also gave me money to buy films. (...) In the
beginning I took pictures of my family. Some poses turned out, some didn't. I really got off to a pretty
poor start: the people kept moving, and I must have been shaking too a bit. In the prints, they looked
like skeletons. You see, I had no training at all. (...) And if the pictures didn't turn out, then I was in
trouble: my clients were not happy at all - but it was their own fault, for moving!
At that time (1948) there were four photographers in Bamako (...) We all did portraits, but people said
mine were the best. I had a stamp "Photo KEITA" that I stamped the prints with. In 1949 I acquired a
room and began to use 13x18 negatives. The prints were the same size, which is why I preferred the
13x18 format. On the walls of my studio I hung lots of models and samples of my work: heads of men
and women, singles, couples, as many as six at once; full length shots, standing, alone or in groups,
whole families... My clients would come and say: 'I want to be photographed like that, you see?
That's what I want' And I would do it. But sometimes it didn't suit them at all. I would suggest a
different position, one that would suit them better, and I always got it right. (...)
With the 13x18, my first back-drop was my bedspread. Afterwards I changed the back-drop every two
or three years: that's how I can date the pictures now. Sometimes the back-drop went really nicely
with the people's clothes, especially the women. But that was a question of chance. At that time, the
culture of our ancestors was beginning to crumble: the city-dwellers were beginning to dress in
European style, influenced by France. But not everybody was able to dress like that. In the studio I had
three different European suits, complete with tie, shirt, hat and shoes... the works. I had props, too,
for my clients: pens, plastic flowers, a radio, a telephone."
Bamako, August 1994.
Reminiscences recorded by Andre Magnin.
Born in Bamako in 1923.
Lives and works in Bamako.