James Barnor: Crossing Continents

The Fashion Photographer and Photojournalist Who Chronicled a Changing World

James Barnor is famed in his birthplace, Accra, as one of the first Ghanaian photojournalists. He cut his teeth working out of his own makeshift studio (which he christened “Ever Young”) taking portraits of sitters from all walks of life, from civil servants to newly-weds. In the late 50s, Barnor moved to London to work as a fashion photographer, and began to capture unique images of Africans living in Britain. His covers and fashion shoots for Drum, the most widely read magazine in Africa at the time (established by British poet Jim Bailey), were taken while Barnor was based in the UK, and placed black models dressed in western, 60s fashions in typical London settings: in front of a red telephone box, exiting a tube station, or surrounded by pigeons in Trafalgar Square. He shot famous faces, too––Mohammed Ali preparing to fight Brian London in 1966, and Roy “Black Flash” Ankrah, after he became the first black person to win the British Empire featherweight boxing title in 1951. The pictures have become slices of history, documenting race and modernity in the post-colonial world. But according to the 81-year-old, the message he conveyed through his work was an accidental one; he always worked from commissions. “Through my entire career I never chose many subjects, they just came. I live happy-go-lucky,” he says, “I call myself Lucky Jim.” Ever Young: James Barnor, the first comprehensive exhibition of the photographer’s street and studio work runs until November 27 at Autograph ABP at Rivington Place, London.

James Barnor shares his experience of growing up in Ghana, and hitting swinging 60s London here.

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