James Barnor (b.1929) is now widely recognized as of Ghana's most pioneering photographers. Taught by his cousins J. P. D. Dodoo and Julius Aikins, and gifted with equipments from his uncle Mr. William Ankrah, his career began modestly.
Determined and dedicated, Barnor became the first photojournalist at the inception of the Daily Graphic newspaper in 1950. Three years later, he opened Ever Young, his first photographic studio in Jamestown.
Taking innovation in his stride, Barnor moved to London in 1959 to develop his practice. He returned to Ghana a decade later to establish the first color photo-processing laboratory for Sick-Hagemeyer and a place of his own, Studio X23, in Accra.
With an expansive oeuvre amassed over 70years, Barnor's archives unearthed stories told through negatives. It was an intimate process working meticulously and looking through his collection was breathtaking.
Ever the vivid story teller, Barnor was trusting enough of my interrogations to recollect decades-old details. This is how we know one of his many muses, captured in the elegant silhouette portrait of 1971, is Margaret Obiri Yeboah. It is also how we understand the broader political context for the National Liberation Movement in Kumasi, 1956, to the historical gem of Kwame Nkrumah with Komla Agbeli Gbedemah at Osu castle in 1958.
Every image serves as an artifact of his overarching photography to celebrate and capture. Life itself has been reflected in this exhibition, across eight themes: Family Affair; Governance and Order; Sports; Muses; Iconic; Community; Rhythm and Young at Heart.
Barnor's voice is defiant as his lens. It was crucial to frame each image with a soundscape that cascades between each memory to heighten the context. The audio that accompanies the exhibition was created by Edwvn, with references to Highlife highflyers, King Bruce; The Black Beats; and the selections from E. T. Mensah's music catalogue from the 70s. This spotlights the music that means the most to Barnor.
The retrospective offers space to meditate on the lives that lived and their experiences. The question for us remains how we can reflect on documented history to celebrate the past and take heed for the future.
Nubuke Foundation exists to preserve, record and promote Ghanaian history, heritage, and culture. It is only befitting to acknowledge Barnor as our inaugural exhibition in our new gallery.
Curator: Bianca Ama Manu