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James Barnor Festival to Celebrate Legendary Photographer to Take Place in June

The events, spread across various venues and art spaces in Accra and Tamale will commence with an official press conference on the 31st of May. Nuku Studio in Tamale will host a Photo Exhibition dubbed, James Barnor: A Retrospective, to celebrate the legendary Ghanaian photographer's beautiful and thoughtful work.

“I came across a magazine with an inscription that said, ‘A civilization flourishes when men plant trees under which they themselves never sit.’ But it’s not only plants – putting something in somebody’s life, a young person’s life, is the same as planting a tree that you will not cut and sell. That has helped me a lot in my work. Sometimes the more you give, the more you get. That’s why I’m still going at 90!” – James Barnor to the Guardian in 2019.

And this is exactly what the legendary Ghanaian Photographer of over six decades, James Barnor, will be doing for his 95th birthday with the James Barnor festival. The James Barnor 95 Festival is a series of exhibitions, concerts, screenings, and workshops from the 29th of May to the 30th of June in Accra and Tamale.

The events, spread across various venues and art spaces in Accra and Tamale will commence with an official press conference on the 31st of May. Nuku Studio in Tamale will host a Photo Exhibition dubbed, James Barnor: A Retrospective, to celebrate the legendary Ghanaian photographer’s beautiful and thoughtful work. This will be a great opportunity for many art and photography enthusiasts who have yet to interact with his work to see and appreciate a true pioneer who captured Ghana and the UK diaspora at a very crucial time in the history of both cultures.

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At e-Ananse in Accra Central, a Photojournal workshop (Contemporary art through the street) will take place on the 1st of June. With the focus on providing participants with practical skills and insights into photography, photographic techniques, composition, and creating compelling stories through images.

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Jamestown Cafe will host ‘Vanishing Past: A Community Archiving Program’ from the 7th to the 9th of June at their Accra High Street location. For this 3-day workshop, participants are encouraged to bring old photographs, documents, and objects to be digitalized and archived.

Much of Ghanaian history is untold because of the lack of photos, and documents that tell and back these stories. The workshop is aimed at preserving and unlocking the limitless stories that exist in Ghana’s varied history and recognizing James Barnor’s contribution to Ghana’s cultural legacy. Participants are encouraged to come and share stories about family and help preserve the collective history of Ghana by archiving old family and personal photographs and documents.

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BOLD will also speak on the theme of archiving. BOLD (an Exhibition) will be held at the Institute Museum of Ghana from June 1st to 15th. BOLD will highlight the importance of archiving in preserving societal values, underscoring the crucial contribution of women in shaping these values. Throughout James Barnor’s long and illustrious career, he had the unique privilege of taking images of lots of women, from his humble days as an apprentice, to his ‘Ever Young’ studios and later in the UK for Drum magazine, where he captured models as a regular feature in the magazine. James is credited with taking images of the very first police women in Ghana in the 1950s. His Institute Museum of Ghana exhibition will also feature Nordol fellow, Dela Anyah, whose creations reflect concepts of preservation and metamorphosis through sculptures and installations, utilizing discarded tire tubes.

James Barnor’s work is as important now as it was in 1957 when Ghana had just gained independence, being the first in sub-Saharan Africa to do so. James Barnor has always been interested in people and cultures, and his images showcased candid shots of people in the process of change.

Who is James Barnor?

James Barnor (b.1929) started taking photos at the age of 16. Through various apprenticeships with his cousins, James Barnor was able to set up the FS James Barnor Quick Photo Service. He later set up his ‘Ever Young’ studios where he did portraiture and random photography in 1953, and his studio became the go-to place for a lot of socialites at the time.

When Daily Graphic started operating in Ghana in the 1950s, he was their first Photo Journalist from 1950 to 1953. In 1959, James moved to the UK where he furthered his knowledge in photography and learned about the then-novel color photography. In the UK, he did lots of work for the Accra and Nigerian version of the South African Drum magazine. He captured lots of the diaspora in the UK as the nation became more cosmopolitan. After his decade of stay in the UK, he returned to Ghana again in around 1969 and stayed for 2 decades. James Barnor is credited with being the first person to bring colored photography to Ghana. He returned to the UK again in 1994, where he has been living till date. Throughout his career, he has captured a culture on the brink of change, taking photos of famous people like Muhammad Ali, Kwame Nkrumah, J.B Danquah, Mike Eghan, etc. Has extensively taken images of women and children, families, social events, and the Ghanaian diaspora in the UK as well as numerous models. His work and photojournalism span from fashion to culture, politics, music, and sports.

As he celebrates his 95th birthday in June, we are only in awe of his life and how important his photos have been for our culture and the stories these images hold. Archiving is something that has been lost on us as a culture and it is incredible how much of his life and work has been preserved until now. With the James Barnor 95 festival, more young people will get to know and appreciate his phenomenal work, and with more focus on archiving, we will be telling great Ghanaian stories for generations to come. For additional information on the festival, follow James Barnor Festival on Instagram.

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