The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Bethany, Connecticut, has recently restored a bank of photographic treasures from one of the masters of the medium. The previously unseen archive is the work of the renowned Senegalese photographer Roger DaSilva, working mainly during the 1950s and 60s where he captured the postwar landscape of France. In this recent discovery, the Albers foundation has brought to life DaSilva’s work from the early beginnings of his career.
He documented a pivotal yet little documented period of Senegalese culture during the latter half of the 20th century. Photographing this crucial change in social and political change in his birth country, the rare images showcase Dakar’s changing social scenes and a mixing of cultures as the Independence movement began to emerge. From bridal and child studio portraiture, to snapping interracial couples getting down on the dance floor mid-groove, DaSilva’s restored archive also features some familiar faces from back in the day. In his striking monochrome photographs of 50s soirées, Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton make an appearance while, in DaSilva’s street scenes, the political leaders Lamine Guèye and President Leopold Senghor are glimpsed from the corner of DaSilva’s lens.
The Albers Foundation was first alerted to daSilva’s unseen archive when Nicholas Weber, executive director of the foundation, met the photographer’s son Lucas. “We saw that Lucas was working hard with his organisation Xaritufoto on maintaining the legacy of his father’s work,” says Matthias Persson, director of artists’ residencies at the foundation and Le Korsa, a Senegalese non-profit organisation supporting the arts.
“We immediately noticed the importance of this work and thought: ‘these photos should be seen by everyone in Senegal and abroad! Not just us’.” Almost immediately, the Albers Foundation started work on the incredible archive, restoring the photographs to their original glory and revealing the worldliness of the Senegalese capital, Dakar, in its wake.
“People speak a lot about contemporary Dakar at the moment,” continues Matthias, “and this photographic celebration is relevant to people in Senegal – it’s their city and part of their cultural history.” Alternatively, for others outside of Senegal, “the photos break stereotypes and offer a refreshing perspective on Senegalese cultural history.”
He plucks out the party photos as his personal highlights within the collection for their energy. Poetry meets jazz and other art forms in these images; the subjects are joyful, adorned in beautiful garments and appear to be enjoying the mix of cultures in the room. “I feel a strong presence of the people in these photos, almost as if I have been there at the party when the photo was taken," says Matthias. "It’s as if I can hear the music and laughter.”
Of the 100 photos restored by the Albers Foundation, a selection of the photos will be on display and for sale at AKAA (9-11 November) with all proceeds going towards the non-profit organisation Le Korsa, which encompasses the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation’s philanthropic work in Senegal.
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