s a m u e l   f o s s o

When Samuel Fosso (b. Kumba, Cameroon 1962) started shooting his black and white self portraits in 1976 he was only fourteen and was living in Bangui, capital of the present day Central African Republic. It was the time of Bokassa’s dictatorship, with a violently repressive political and cultural climate.  Fosso took his photos in the evening with the film left over from the commercial photographic studio he ran during the day. Influenced by 1970’s African studio photography – but at the same time isolated and independent in his aesthetic choices – with his self portraits and dressing up he created a playful space of self-imitation, idealisation and dramatisation. As Okwui Enwezor writes: “In fact the studio took on the look of a burlesque stage where you could show off, dissimulate, put on a mask and sing a long ballad of self-adoration and exploitation of sexual freedom.”
With few means at his disposal and in a situation of great cultural isolation Fosso, perspicaciously absorbing the few signals of modernity that got through, anticipated in an incredible way the conventions and taste for transformism and identity metamorphosis that would be characteristic of a certain kind of post-modern photography (Sherman, Ontani, Morimura).
Discovered in 1994 at the first “Rencontres de la Photographie” event in Bamako, many years after his first shots, Fosso pursued his career in the wake of those early experiments but with greater awareness: his ironic metamorphoses in recent years have involved stereotypes and icons of African culture, with the exoticism that still surrounds it in the postcolonial era. Or he has depicted – again in the form of self portraits – the figures fundamental to African or Afro-American history, as in the latest photographic series African Spirits of 2008.
Fosso’s photographs have been collected not only by private individuals, but also by such museums and institutes as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Los Angeles County Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris and the National Graphics Institute/Chalcography in Rome.


Samuel Fosso’s solo exhibition You will be handsome, stylish, sensitive and easy to recognize,curated by Christian Lacroix,ison show from July 8 to September 14, 2008, on the occasion of the Rencontres d'Arles Photographie 2008.

Samuel Fosso takes part in Street & Studio. An Urban History of Photography, curated by Ute Eskildsen and Bettina Kaufmann at Tate Modern, London. The group show includes a section of Fosso’s self-portraits from the famous 1976 b/w series. Until the 31th of August 2008.