Portraits photographiques - puiser dans les mythes et les traditions [Photographic Portraits – Drawing on Myths and Traditions]

The exhibition held at the Galerie du Fleuve in Saint-Louis encompassed a panorama of themes, such as a love of people, a love of the living tradition of folk tales and the importance of preserving the memory of Senegal’s former photography studios, which have now become a visual legend. This exhibition combined the work of seven contemporary international photographers – Fatoumata Diabaté, Malika Diagana, Omar Victor Diop, Élise Fitte-Duval, Djibril Sy, Adama Sylla and Ibrahima Thiam – with photographic treasures from private collections and original prints from the collections of the Centre de Recherches et de Documentation du Sénégal (CRDS) in Saint-Louis.

Photographs are a reflection of humanity, particularly in the case of portraits. Like other Senegalese cities, Saint-Louis had a vibrant and active photography scene throughout the 20th century due to its commercial studios. The different social classes and historical developments have left their mark on history to such an extent that these photographs represent a mirror of the past. In the words of Adama Sylla, who has worked as a photographer in Saint-Louis since the 1950s, "The daily life of today will become the history of tomorrow." For contemporary photographers, these images from past eras represent a national visual treasure, in which they take great pride. For this exhibition, Ibrahima Thiam created an installation entitled Photo Souvenir using photographs from his private collection. In this work, as in the exhibition presented in the Off-Programme of the 2015 Bamako Biennale, Thiam’s installation proposes that visitors view the exhibition as part of this photographic tradition.

Portrait photography is always full of life, and young photographers express their interest in their contemporaries through the portraits they take. Some photographers make use of this collective visual memory of archives, reinterpreting them with humour as they "copy" the traditional styles of portraiture and revitalize them with the use of vibrant colours or the novel idea of setting up a mini-street theatre open to everyone. Others take inspiration from myths and legends, traditional folk tales and fables, and the traces left behind by ancient traditions which remain alive today, using them to enrich their contemporary work in portraiture. These traditional stories are brought to life in the present day, such as at the Simba Festival or the legend of the Lingeer Women. Wrestling has acquired a mythical status in Senegal, with photographers today giving a face to these men and their histories.

The Galerie du fleuve, Institut Français, Saint-Louis, Senegal