After apprenticing with a professional and learning how to use a Rolleiflex twin-lens camera and process prints, Sanlé Sory opened his independent photographic studio in 1960. Only a few months later, Upper Volta, the country now known as Burkina Faso, gained independence from France. Located in Bobo-Dioulasso, the cultural capital of Burkina Faso, Sory’s VOLTA PHOTO was soon recognized as the finest photography studio in the city. Sory’s studio portraits served as key documents of the vibrant youth culture during the two decades that followed independence.
Photographs show Fula, Malian and Voltaic teenagers and young adults in their twenties posing and holding props in front of backdrops painted by artists from Ghana and Benin. Operating between tradition and modernity, some dress up as their favorite music icons, while others show off their modern fashion or gym physiques wielding props ranging from Air Afrique flight bags, radios, telephones, lamps, record players, and motorbikes – something to “help people make the picture their own”.
Over three decades, Sory created a comprehensive body of work documenting the escape from everyday life in a rapidly changing place. In some ways, his subjects reveal the remoteness and melancholy of a landlocked state while also conveying the dynamic excitement for a new future flourishing from postcolonial independence. Using his camera for documentary and aesthetic purposes, Sory’s photographs complicate and complement photography’s role in social and cultural shifts.
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