James Barnor

Published · Online

Feature · James Barnor
Words · Izzy Bilkus

Exploring the nuances and societal transitions in the 1950s and 1960s, as London was blossoming into a multicultural capital

London’s Serpentine Gallery presents an overview of the career of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor. Working over two continents and over six decades as a studio portraitist, photojournalist and Black lifestyle photographer, Barnor’s career covers a multitude of photographic genres and offers a wider social commentary, documenting major socio-political changes in London and Accra.

On the cusp of Ghana’s Independence in the early 1950s, Barnor set up his famous Ever Young studio in Accra. Arriving in London towards the end of the decade, he began working with the South African magazine Drum, capturing the experiences of the African diaspora and the style and creative spirit of the period. Barnor returned to Ghana in the 1970s, where he continued his work with portraiture, established himself in the music scene and created the country’s first colour processing lab.

Barnor’s street photography explores the nuances and societal transitions in the 1950s and 1960s, as London was blossoming into a multicultural capital. Returning to the city 1994, Barnor’s work focussed on documenting the Black communities that had settled in London – something that had previously been documented by mostly white, European photographers. His portraits of the African diaspora in London focus on the members of the Black Power Movement, while also capturing different fashion trends present in Britain’s Black community during the 1960s.

Barnor’s body of work spans six decades and possesses a clarity of vision and a sense of community and sensitivity that he both extends towards and brings out in his subjects. The Serpentine’s exhibition displays Barnor’s work from 1950-80 and draws from his archive of around 32,000 images, all mapping the flourishing cultures of two cities and reflecting Barnor’s ceaseless uplifting and creative energy.

‘James Barnor: Accra/London’ runs until 22nd October at the Serpentine North Gallery.

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