By John Owoo
Over three dozen photographs by the late J.K. Bruce Vanderpuije, that were shot during the first half of the 20th century are currently on display at the District Museum in the Malian capital, Bamako.
The exhibition forms part of the 2009 edition of “Encounters of Bamako”, the African Photography Biennial, which is currently showcasing hundreds of works by African photographers on the continent and the Diaspora.
One of the pioneers of photography in West Africa, Vanderpuije, who set up the Deo Gratias Studio in 1922, is reputed to have documented diverse occasions during the colonial period, which by and large bring nostalgic feelings to people who have vivid memories of the period.
His photographs know no racial boundaries – indeed, his lenses covered activities of the British colonialists, Indian merchants and the black aristocracy in Accra revealing in the process a myriad of activities that characterized life in Accra during the period.
Countless photographs ranging from social gatherings like weddings, pristine coastlines, the main post office in Accra, notable landmarks including a high profile super market (now Swanzy Shopping Arcade), lodge members, colonial soldiers and students of Achimota School including Ghana’s first president Dr. Kwame Nkrumah with their British teachers adorned the exhibition hall.
Others are royalty from Northern Ghana, antic furniture/carpets, football clubs, passage rites, colonial architecture, Supreme Court building and other images that reveal life in colonial Ghana that may excite and provoke the present generation into deep thought and probably a mute journey into the not so distant history of Accra.
Pictures by Vanderpuije invoke history, culture, religion, trade, architecture, politics, education, fashion and many others that reveal the bare practicality of life in Accra during the 1930s and 40s. They provide a deep insight into activities and situations that may never be seen again, especially the architecture of the era, which is being replaced by buildings with borrowed designs from the west owing to lack of policies to protect and preserve them.
Interestingly, photos by Vanderpuije are not characterized by delicate mists and cloud-like effects, which were in vogue during the mid and late 19th century and were particularly popular with spiritualists who believed such images posses the ability to capture the body’s spiritual aura.
One of J.K Bruce Vanderpuije's works currently on display.
The pioneering photographer, who embarked on a mission to document day to day activities of his times, has certainly contributed to the recording of the rich history of Accra and its people that characterized the period leading to the struggle for independence.
Vanderpuije’s works were exhibited at the Bamako Biennnial with the kind courtesy of the French Embassy in Accra following a workshop/exhibition of works by selected Ghanaian photographers and the subsequent publication of a catalogue, which was under the direction of Valarie Lebros, the French cultural attaché in Accra.
Launched in 1994, “Encounters of Bamako” constitutes an opportunity for exchange and dialogue enabling African photographers to showcase their artistic creations while engaging in a much needed discourse among themselves as well as the colleagues from other continents.
It also offers a professional selling space dedicated to photography from the African continent in a bid to promote African photography, which is institutionally renowned and appreciated by professionals but unfortunately under-represented on the international art market.
“Bamako Encounters” was initiated and organized by Culturefrance, an agency for international cultural exchanges under the umbrella of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Culture and Communication, the Malian Ministry of Culture with support from a host of organizations.
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