Photo Cameroon: Studio Portraiture, 1970s-1990s

July 1–December 5, 2021

Photo Cameroon: Studio Portraiture, 1970s-1990s features over 110 black-and-white images by Jacques Toussele, Joseph Chila, and Samuel Finlak. These photographers worked in the post-independence era, during decades considered to be the height of studio photography in Cameroon. Selected from archival sources, the images reveal the dynamism of the studio space—where photographers took pictures for government mandated IDs as well as individual portraits of the same community members. The sitters themselves knew that by choosing specific types of dress, props, and poses they could reveal something of their cultural, political, and religious affiliations, musical preferences, important relationships, vocations, leisure activities, or more. The photographs ended up pasted into family albums, framed in living rooms, shared among friends, and sent to distant relatives. While studio photography was common across West and Central Africa at this time, Toussele, Chila, and Finlak’s portraits expand our knowledge of life and individuality in a less frequently represented country—Cameroon—and offer glimpses of communities that were, and continue to be diverse, vibrant, and responsive to change.

The exhibition is organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA and curated by Erica P. Jones, Fowler Curator of African Arts, with co-curator David Zeitlyn, Professor of Social Anthropology, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford. Support comes from the Fowler Museum Exhibition Fund and the Jay T. Last and Deborah R. Last Endowment.

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