West Africa Like You’ve Never Seen Before

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West Africa Like You’ve Never Seen Before

Saturday September 09, 2017 Written by Suzi

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Follow your curiosity down an unexpected rabbit hole and the results can be sublime. When writer and music producer Florent Mazzoleni was researching the music of the land-locked West African country, Burkina Faso, he came across some album covers shot by Sory Sanlé. (That’s a younger him in the selfy, above.)


Mazzoleni was so struck by the cover images, he set about tracking down the 74-year-old photographer and fronted up to his little studio in Bobo-Dioulasso, the cultural capital of Burkina Faso. There, the photographer shared with his visitor a treasure trove of photographs capturing weddings, portraits, a flourishing music scene and an effervescent youth culture of the 60s, 70s and 80s.


Sanlé followed bands like Volta JazzDafra Star and Echo del Africa. His images capture the sense of energy and freedom driving the culture of a country that gained independence from France in the year he opened his studio. Of the era, Florent Mazzoleni said, “The 60s and 70s were a time when everything felt possible. They were the happy times for Burkina Faso’s people and Sory’s photos were a way for them to dream big. He captured the smiling reality of the time; not the images people might expect of war and poverty. Sory makes everyone he meets feel comfortable.”


Determined to preserve “the great wealth of culture” of Sanlé’s images, Mazzoleni created an official website for the photographer, helped him launch exhibitions of his work, and authored a book, 'Sory Sanlé, Volta Photo 1965-85', set to hit shelves later this month.

“Sory was a democratic photographer in a good sense,” Mazzoleni told The New York Times earlier this year. “Rich people, poor people, religious people, artists, musicians, everyone could become a hero at his Volta studio.”



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In a short online doco, Sanlé said,“Photography is a witness to everything, marriages, baptisms… for me, without any photos, nothing actually happened.”

View more of Sanlé’s images here