There is a moment in photography, a small window, that the photographer must tell the story. It’s fleeting, you blink and miss it, and just like that the story falls flat. Photography is story telling in imagery and Malick Sidibe tells a story of a generation past in his pictures that remain pertinent in the present. He captures pivotal moments with such effortlessness it strikes you as the most beautiful moment in people’s lives. Who knew what was going on in the periphery? It started in the late 60s in Mali, your guess is as good as mine, but these moments are telling; the spark in their eyes, the fullness of their smiles and the utter joy of their lives shine through and makes the photograph, much more than a snapshot, it’s a story, an important moment, that captures the essence of their lives and the periphery.
It was the post-colonial era, independent Mali, and his task was to show her to the world, to document the changes, reflect its heart and tell the story that encapsulates the soul through his lens. Their stories needed to be told through their own, their joy needed to be shared with the world, and in Studio Malick in Bamako, Sidibe did just that. He would frequent the clubs and photograph the young, the future, capture them in their merriment. Moments of freedom, and enjoyment of life. This is the very essence of a country in the dawn of a new era, and immortalised for the people whose lives would change with the tide of the new day.
The exhibition at Somerset House, London (until 27 Feb) is split into three periods; His early work capturing the Bamako nightlife, lively shots of youngsters at the River Niger and lastly his signature studio shots. The glimpse into the daily life of Malians across decades provides a deeper insight than any headline or analytical think piece could.
One of the most memorable moment shots is of the young pair dancing, they are brother and sister, the picture was taken in their home and immediately we are drawn to the periphery as told by the subjects, what joy and happiness captured on their faces. A celebration which is essentially at the heart of what Sidibe’s work is.
More information on the exhibition can be found here