Malick Sidibe & Janet Jackson

Malick Sidibe is another photographer from Mali that is a generation behind Seydou Keita.  Similar to Keita, Sidibe is known for his portraits of young men and women of the 1960s.  He also documented the lives of Malian youth at special events and parties.  Looking through his photos, one can sense the youthful pride and fun captured in the photographs.  He was also a studio photographer, and he enjoyed using the studio as a way to pretend and create new lives for his subjects. When talking about his studio portraits he states in an interview:

As a rule, when I was working in the studio, I did a lot of the positioning. As I have a background in drawing, I was able to set up certain positions in my portraits. I didn’t want my subjects to look like mummies. I would give them positions that brought something alive in them.

When you look at my photos, you are seeing a photo that seems to move before your eyes. Those are the sort of poses I gave them. Not poses that were inert or lifeless. No. People who have life need to be positioned that way. It was quite different at my studio. It was like a place of make-believe. People would pretend to be riding motorbikes, racing against each other. It was not like that at the other studios. That’s why my studio was so popular, already by 1964, 1965. The studio was a lot more laid back.

I just LOVE the personal styles that are presented in each portrait.

So pertaining to the title of this post–what does Malick Sidibe and Janet Jackson have in common? Remember her 1997 video for the song, “Got ’til It’s Gone”? This is one of my favorite videos of Janet due to the eccentric styles portrayed. As a child, it was hard to place where and when this video was supposed to take place. The fashion styles appears it is in the late 60s and 70s in South Africa during Apartheid. However, now that I recognize the works of Malick Sidibe and Seydou Keita, I can see how the director, Mark Romanek, pays tribute to the two greatest photographers from Mali. All throughout the video, he appropriate the styles of portraiture from Keita and Sidibe. He even recreates some of their most famous photographs and if you look closely you can see the actual Polaroids of Malick Sidibe. I now love this video even more.


Seydou Keita

Seydou Keita is one of Mali’s famous photographers. He is known for his portraits of stylish men and women living in urban Bamako during the 1950s. Originally, Keita was a carpenter and was never professionally trained as a photographer. In 1945, his uncle gave him a camera as a gift and in 1948 he decided to open a studio, specializing in portraiture. His images are important and iconic because they showed a different image of Africa that the world normally did not see. His photographs show that people of Mali were modern urban citizens while simultaneously respecting their rural identity and tradition. He was very adamant for bringing out the beauty in his subjects, which I think he did extremely well.

“It’s easy to take a photo, but what really made a difference was that I always knew how to find the right position, and I never was wrong. Their head slightly turned, a serious face, the position of the hands… I was capable of making someone look really good. The photos were always very good. That’s why I always say that it’s a real art.”  ~Seydou Keita

Self Portrait with Seydou and his family

Self Portrait with Seydou and his family

seydou couple seydou man with facial scar seydou man with flower seydou man with radio seydou sisters seydou woman laying down seydou woman with baby seydou woman with purse seydou woman with radio seydou woman with tea seydou women with patterns


Inner Self Portrait

Creating an inner self portrait was difficult. How can I portray my inner self fully if I am still trying to find myself? Who am I and what do I represent? I had a numerous different ideas for an inner self portrait. Initially, I wanted to display my spirituality.  Over the last two years my faith has grown tremendously and God has become centered in my life. As I was thinking about ideas for my self portrait, I kept thinking about Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Janie’s path to self discovery.  I believe her journey to knowing herself and knowing her Truth was also a direct correlation to her relationship with God.

I am humbled by God in so many different ways each day I take a breathe. Recently, I’ve been humbled by His love for beauty and art. Of course, God is the ultimate creator and author. He created this world. And He also gave gifts and talents to people to create their own beauty. In my mind, I wanted to celebrate God’s love for creation. Somehow I was going to relate this idea back to my inner self portrait, but eventually my idea became to big with the time remaining and I decided to go another route.

My final result was this:


Video Director, Bob Harlow Showcases Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club

I enjoy watching music videos that are aesthetically pleasing pieces of cinematography. Bob Harlow directs an award winning short film for Rudimental’s “Feel the Love.”  I love this video for a number of reasons.

1. I immediately recognized that this video was shot in my hometown, Philadelphia. What gave it away? The horses actually.  Many viewers may be surprised to see a horse riding culture in such an urban area. Horses are usually portrayed to be in rural settings or in the West, and not the inner city. As I watched the young men and women parade around their neighborhood with their beautiful horses I was reminded of the horse stables I used to see in my grandmother’s neighborhood in southwest Philly.

2. This leads me to the second reason why I love this video.  Harlow brings to light a culture of urban horse riding that many people did not know about. The video showcases the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, which is a historical community that has grown in Philadelphia for 100 years. Urban Riding Club is a non profit organization that aims to provide a positive environment for young people, especially young men, to learn important lessons about discipline, responsibility, and reward. Youth are also given lessons in horse riding and horse care.

3. The last reason why I love this video is due to the countless of photographic moments captured.

Of course, Bob Harlow is not the first to display the urban horse riders of Philadelphia.  The photo stills and video reminds me of work of photojournalist, Ron Tarver:

The Basketball Game by Ron Tarver (1993)

Legends by Ron Tarver (1993)



As a black woman, this is why I’m interested in photography.

Images are powerful. They tell a story. They help convey a message. Images have the power to capture truth in the purest form, or they can be used to spread myths. Images can define us. We learn a great deal of history through images. Black people have been portrayed negatively in images over time. In many cases, the camera was used as a weapon to perpetuate stereotypes of African-Americans as being inferior. However, there are images and representations to challenge the negative portrayal in media. Since the invention of photography in 1840, there have been black image makers and viewfinders that are committed to portraying real black American life through their lenses. I would love to see this documentary in full so I can learn more about the history of black photographers.

This is the trailer for the documentary work-in-progress “Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People” produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker, Thomas Allen Harris. The documentary is co-produced by noted scholar, curator, and author, Deborah Willis PhD who is Chair of the New York University, Tisch School of the Arts department of Photography & Imaging. Willis has authored over thirty publications on African-American photography including, “Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers from 1840 to the Present” and most recently, “Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs.”