Life & Afterlife in Benin

ISBN13: 9780714845135
Release Date: July 6th 2005
Published by: Phaidon Press
Pages: 136

"This collection of portraiture, comprising the work of nine photographers from Benin, mostly working during the 1960's and 1970's, opens a new chapter in the history of African photography." "Most people's knowledge of West African photography is limited to the Bamako school of Mali, whose masters Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibe were widely discovered at the beginning of the 1990's. But where Keita and Sidibe worked predominantly to establish the modernity of their lives, here in Benin, photographers such as Sebastien Mehinto (otherwise known as Pigeon) often travelled miles by bicycle to find their clients in far-flung villages, and sometimes developed their exquisitely crafted photographs in makeshift darkrooms constructed in the bush. Marked by dark dramas and deep mysticisms, their portraits record a people caught between a pre-colonial past and a post-colonial future. For many of the people in the photographs it would be their first and last encounter with a photographer. Amongst the weddings and communions, the courting couples and proud parents, lie astonishing images of revenants and ju-ju men; voodoo priests and priestesses; thieves and murderers; prostitutes and pimps - and most startlingly, an extraordinary sequence of apresmort or deathbed portraits. For if you happened to live in the People's Republic of Benin (formerly known as the Kingdom of Dahomey) during the 1960's and 1970's, photography was likely to play a role not just in your life - but in your afterlife." It is a commonly held belief, and source of fear, in many African cultures that a person's soul lives on, trapped, within the photograph. In Benin, with its mixed spiritual traditions of Catholicism and voodoo (born in Benin and now its official religion), the photograph came to play a fascinating role in rituals of death. The Catholic and colonial legacy of funerary portraiture, joined to a traditionally African belief that the photograph steals the spirit, created the context for some

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