The amazing Malick Sidibé has a vast body of documentary photography and portraiture taken in Mali in the 60’s and 70’s. Here at the GG studio we are constantly inspired by stripes; these images kept popping up on our google feed with their fantastic stripy back grounds and clashing geometric patterns, so we decided to look into the man behind the lense.
Born in Bamako, the capital city of Mali, Sidibé was born to a peasant family who raised animals. He was chosen to attend the local white school in for his education where he showed great promise in art. As a result he was selected to go to the prestigious School of Sudanese Craftsmen where he was approached by a photographer and learned the skills which he would use for the rest of his life.
Following an apprenticeship with Gérard Guillat-Guignard’s Photo Service Boutique, Sidibé bought his first camera in 1956, and opened his own studio ‘Studio Malick’ in 1958 where he still works to this day. This is where these fantastic images were made.
In the 60’s Sidibé specialised in documentary photography focusing particularly on the youth culture of Bamako. He took pictures of sporting events, the beach, night clubs, concerts and even followed young couples on dates. The aim was to capture his subjects when they were comfortable; behaving as they would if the camera wasn’t there. Mali became independent from France in 1960 which brought great freedom to young people. With the arrival of rock and roll, boys and girls were suddenly allowed to get close to one and other. They could hold hands and dance closely together which would never have been allowed pre independence.
By photographing normal Malian people in this way, we are given a rare insight in to African culture of the second half of the 20th Century. Sidibé immortalizes the unique grace and exuberance of a generation of Africans, newly independent and full of pride.
In the 70s Sidibé concentrated on studio portraiture, trying to position people so that they appeared alive in the photographs rather than static and still.
Of his subjects Sidibé said ‘They’d pose with their Vespa’s, show off their new hats and trousers and jewels and sunglasses. Looking beautiful was everything. Everyone had to have the latest Paris style. We had never really worn socks, suddenly people were so proud of theirs, straight from Saint Germain des Près!’
The photographs show a mix match of texture, pattern and attitude. Beautiful people dressed up in their best clothes holding their favourite, most prized possessions, sometimes as a statement of wealth, sometimes to complete their outfit.
They are visual feast of style intimacy, energy and joy.
In 2007 Sidibé became the first African and the first photographer to be awarded the Golden Lion award for life time achievement at the Venice Biennale. What an incredible man!