Personal statement by the photographer, James BARNOR
"Photography was in my family. My two uncles were photographers. My cousin was a photographer, and I found out later when I got into it that another cousin was also a photographer. I was lucky to be alive when things were happening...when Ghana was going to be independent and Ghana became independent, and when I came to England the Beatles were around. Things were happening in the 1960s, so I call myself Lucky Jim." (© James BARNOR
About Ghanaian photographer, James BARNOR (b.1929)
Frederick Seton James BARNOR is a photographer who has been based in London since the 1990s. His career spans six decades, and although for much of that period his work was not widely known, it has latterly been discovered by new audiences. In his street and studio photography, he represents societies in transition in the 1950s and 1960s: Ghana moving toward independence, and London becoming a multicultural metropolis. He was Ghana's first full-time newspaper photographer in the 1950s, and he is credited with introducing colour processing to Ghana in the 1970s. He is to Ghana and photojournalism what Ousmane Sembène was to Senegal and African cinema.
In December 1959 he travelled to England to develop his skills, working at Colour Processing Laboratories Ltd, Edenbridge, Kent, and attending evening and other part-time classes before being awarded a Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board scholarship to study full-time at Medway College of Art in Rochester, Kent, graduating in 1961. Subsequent to this course, he stayed on in the UK and continued working as a photographer and technician. His images from this period document Africans in Britain, notably his work as a fashion photographer with black models against London backdrops, often for the covers of Drum, then the leading magazine in Africa. After a decade in England, Barnor went back to Ghana, where he set up the country's first colour processing facilities.
Appreciation of his work as a studio portraitist, photojournalist and Black lifestyle photographer has been further heightened since 2010. His photographs were collated by the non-profit agency Autograph ABP during a four-year project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and in 2011 became part of the new Archive and Research Centre for Culturally Diverse Photography.
Photo books on the work of James BARNOR
'James Barnor: Ever Young' (2015); 'James Barnor' (2015); 'Accra/London. A Retrospective' (2021)
In 2007, the interest taken in his work by Nana Oforiatta Ayim led to the first show on James BARNOR. "She was the first curator/ writer to organize a show of my work, and she is the first one who suggested I should do a book." From 24 April to 24 June 2007 the exhibition entitled 'Mr Barnor's Independence Diaries' took place at the Black Cultural Archives (BCA), curated by Oforiatta-Ayim, as part of BCA's Ghana Jubilee Season.
In spring 2010, his first US exhibition was presented by Autograph ABP in Boston at Rudenstine Gallery, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University. Same year, the first major solo retrospective exhibition 'Ever Young: James Barnor', was mounted at Rivington Place in London from September to November 2010, curated by Renée Mussai of Autograph ABP's Archive and Research Centre. Documenting life in Ghana from the late 1940s to 1950s, and African life during London's 'Swinging Sixties' as well as later decades. The exhibition was subsequently shown at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town in 2011 and at Impressions Gallery, Bradford, from 5 July to 31 August 2013.
In August 2012, the show 'Another London: International Photographers Capture London Life 1930–1980' at Tate Britain included work by James BARNOR, with his 1967 photograph 'Mike Eghan at Piccadilly Circus, London' on the cover of the catalogue.
His work was also featured in the exhibition 'Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s' that opened in 2015, showcasing a number of black British photographers and images of black Britain from the 1950s to the 1990s. Same year, his work was also represented in the Photographers' Gallery exhibition 'Work, Rest and Play: British Photography from the 1960s to Today' (9 May–12 July 2015), and was included alongside that of such iconic photographers as Terence Donovan, Brian Duffy, John French, Norman Parkinson, John Hopkins, John Cowan, Eric Swayne and Philip Townsend in the exhibition 'Swinging Sixties London - Photography in the Capital of Cool', which opened in June 2015 at Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, NL. In October his work was shown in Paris at the Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière in an exhibition entitled 'Ever Young' that created 'a narrative of two societies in transition'.
In September 2016, the October Gallery hosted an exhibition of his work alongside that of Daniele TAMAGNI (b. 1975).
A major retrospective of Barnor's work at London's Serpentine Gallery was announced for 2021, having been postponed from June 2020.
- 'James Barnor: Ever Young', at Rivington Place, London and at Studio Photography, Ghana/UK, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Boston, US (2010); at South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa (2011); at Impressions Gallery, Bradford, UK (2013); at Clémentine de la Féronnière, Paris (2015); at 'Black Artists' Network in Dialogue (BAND) in partnership with Autograph, BAND Gallery, Toronto, Canada and at Rebuild Foundation, Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago, US (2016); at Musée du Quai Branly, vitrine jardin, Paris (2017/18)
'La vie selon James Barnor', at 11e biennale des Rencontres de Bamako, Mali (2017/18); at Mupho Musée de la Photographie de Saint-Louis, Sénégal and at Gallery 1957, Kempinski Hotel, Accra, Ghana (2018); at Gerard Sekoto Gallery, Johannesburg (2019)
'Colors' at Galerie Clémentine de la Férronnière, Paris (2019)
'James Barnor: A Retrospective', at Nubuke Foundation, Accra, Ghana (2019/2020)
'James Barnor: Accra/London - A Retrospective', at Serpentine Galleries. (2021/2022); at MASI Palazzo Reali, Lugano (2022)
'Mr Barnor's Independence Diaries', Black Cultural Archives, London (2007)
- 'Acton Arts Festival (2004);
'Another London: International Photographers Capture London Life 1930–1980, at Tate Britain, London, (2012)
'Swinging Sixties London - Photography in the Capital of Cool', at Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (2015)
'Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s, at BCA and at V & A, London (2015)
'Work, Rest and Play: British Photography from the 1960s to Today', at Photographers' Gallery, London, (2016)'Daniele Tamagni and James Barnor', at October Gallery, London, (2016)'It’s great to be young, photographies de James Barnor et Marc Riboud', at Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière, Paris (2017/2018)
'Daniele Tamagni and James Barnor', at October Gallery, London, (2016)
'It’s great to be young, photographies de James Barnor et Marc Riboud', at Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière, Paris (2017/2018)