Age-old question here, guys.
Does art imitate life? Does it mimmick it? Does it create it?
For the people of Benin, the 195 years old art of photography poses the fearsome prospect of having ones soul trapped in a photograph, thus forcing one to live on, eternally attached to a bit of developed film. Or so the tales of old say.
Could there be any truth to ancient beliefs? Has the question been answered? Does art then, capture life?
Photographer Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou assures that he’s no mystic, but merely an artist trying to give back to his community, highlighting the value of his country’s culture for everyone to see.
His exposure to photography dates back to his childhood. His father, Joseph Moise Agbodjelou, was a paramount photographer in West Africa, and a great deal of what he knows he learned from him.
Nowadays, Leonce is arguably the most renown photographer from Benin. As the founder and director of the first national school of photography, the president of the country’s Photographer’s Association, and his work being internationally recognized, it is fair to say that Leonce has not only achieved, but surpassed, his goal of injecting value back into his culture.
His work is centred mostly around everyday people in Benin, specifically those who inhabit its capital, Porto Novo, where the photographer resides. This is something he has in common with his late father’s work. Although the influence and parallelisms are visible while examining the work of the father and son, Leonce has undoubtedly developed his own stylistic independence. And rather successfully if we may add.
The photographer’s ongoing series Citizens of Porto Novo, spotlights the pervading limbo between tradition and modernity that Benin currently finds itself enraptured by. Portraits from the series ranging from masked subjects doning traditional Yoruba robes, to figures dressed in camo print and sunglasses, quaintly blending into the backdrop.
Source: carnaval digital
Source: carnaval digital
Leonce’s signature use of backdrop is also something his father passed on to him. In fact, while working as his predecessor’s assistant, they would create backdrops using textiles, paint, or other materials. These days, the photographer creates his own sets, skillfully matching the decor to the subject, so as to create the perfect symbiosis with one another. In the words of the Leonce himself, a harmonious marriage.
The photographer truly has a knack for capturing those cultural nuances which an untrained eye might miss. No doubt fruit of having the art of photography basically ingrained in his DNA.
Take a look at some of his work, and judge for yourself.
Source: Google Arts&Culture
Also, maybe, possibly, concievably… When culture is represented from within, particularly that which time and time again has been misrepresented and miscontrued by heedless foreign hands, the countless shades of beauty and candour shine through. Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou wouldn’t be the first photographer to prove this, and thanks to his work in photography both in the field and educational positions, he most definitely won’t be the last.