fbpx James Barnor, Past, Present, Future | CIRCA 2021

James Barnor, Past, Present, Future

1-30 April, CIRCA 2021

A new series of films celebrating the work and legacy of British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor will be presented by CIRCA in collaboration with Serpentine on the Piccadilly Lights screen throughout April: revisiting the past to shoot a new cover for Vogue Italia (ideated by Ferdinando Verderi), a photographic archive remixed for today (created by Olu Michael Odukoya) and a future showcase of creative talent on the rise from Africa and the diaspora (curated by Culture Art Society) ‘Past, Present, Future’ celebrates Barnors archive as a fertile body of work that continues to inspire emerging artists today.

Barnor’s studio portraiture, photojournalism and lifestyle photography spans six decades and has gained increasing recognition as among the most important records of societies in transition during the postwar period.

The presentation of Barnor’s work on the Piccadilly Lights screen completes a journey that began more than half a century ago, when Barnor photographed BBC Africa Service presenter Mike Eghan against the backdrop of Piccadilly’s neon signs in 1967. That electrifying image was the inspiration behind Ferdinando Verderi’s Vogue Italia cover, with Barnor remote-shooting model Adwoa Aboah standing in the exact same location to create a present reflection on the past.

This is the first partnership between CIRCA and a major gallery to find new collaborative ways of presenting world-leading artists in the public realm. Serpentine will host a major survey of Barnor’s work James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective from 19 May (dates subject to government guidelines). Focusing on the period 1950-1980, the exhibition selects from more than 40,000 available images, all distinguished by Barnor’s unmistakable eye and indelible connection to his sitters.

Barnor’s ‘Past, Present, Future’ will be broadcast in three films, each showing for 10 days, throughout April:

Past (1-10 April) A visual journey through Barnor’s photographs taken in London throughout the 1960s, directed by Ferdinando Verderi, Creative Director of Vogue Italia, from Black models such as Erlin Ibreck and Marie Hallowi, to street observations of Pearly Kings and Covent Garden market traders, culminating with the making of a present day Vogue Italia cover.

Present (11-20 April) London-based creative director Olu Michael Odukoya will revisit and reinvent the archive of James Barnor exploring three themes that have synergies jointly across Barnor’s and Odukoya’s work using sound performance, video, animation and graphics.

Future (21-30 April) A spotlight on five emerging photographers from Africa and the diaspora: David Nana Opoku Ansah, Silvia Rosi, Thabiso Sekgala, Adama Jalloh and Lebohang Kganye, curated by Culture Art Society (CAS) to reflect on their shared trajectories to Barnor’s archive, and supported with funds raised by the #CIRCAECONOMY.

James Barnor HonFRPS (born 6 June 1929) is a Ghanaian 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, Barnor represents societies in transition in the 1950s and 1960s: Ghana moving toward independence, and London becoming a multicultural metropolis. He has said: “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 60s, so I call myself Lucky Jim.” 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. It has been said: “James Barnor is to Ghana and photojournalism what Ousmane Sembène was to Senegal and African cinema.”

Barnor has spoken of how his work was rediscovered in 2007 during the “Ghana at 50” jubilee season by curator Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, who organised the first exhibition of his photographs at Black Cultural Archives (BCA). Appreciation of his work as a studio portraitist, photojournalist and Black lifestyle photographer has been further heightened since 2010 when a major solo retrospective exhibition of his photographs, Ever Young: James Barnor, was mounted at Rivington Place, London, followed by a series of exhibitions including in the United States and South Africa. 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.

Barnor’s photographs have also in recent years had showings in Ghana, France (Paris Photo 2011, Galerie Baudoin Lebon; Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière), The Netherlands. The first monograph of his work, entitled James Barnor: Ever Young, was published in 2015, including an extensive conversation between Barnor and Margaret Busby with Francis Hodgson.