Seydou Keïta (1921-2001) was a self-taught portrait photographer from Bamako, Mali. He was the eldest in a family of five children. His father, Bâ Tièkòró and his uncle, Tièmòkò, were furniture makers. Keïta developed an interest in photography when his uncle gave him a Kodak Brownie in 1935, after returning from a trip to Senegal. In the beginning, Keïta worked as both a carpenter and photographer, first taking portraits of his family and friendsand later of people in the neighborhood. His early education in photography came from Pierre Garnier, the owner of a photographic supply store and from Mountaga Traoré, Keïta's mentor. In 1948 Keita set up his first studio in the family house.

As a self-trained photographer, Keïta always preferred the direct control that black and white studio portraits afforded. From 1949 to 1964, he developed a remarkable reputation; meticulously creating and preserving thousands of exceptional photographs. Although formally posed, the studio portraits are not contrived or pretentious. Keïta often used bedspreads and other readily available material as backdrops to his portraits. He offered costumes and props for his sitters, although many arrived already carrying their most prized possessions and dressed in their finest attire; some came in traditional tribal costume, others adopted the attire of the western businessmen, while most combined both indigenous and western elements. Simultaneously a historical and sociological record of life in Bamako, the photographs reveal, with immediacy and intimacy, the beauty of the individual. They capture not only how the sitters appeared, but also how they saw themselves and how they wanted to be seen by others.

Now internationally recognized as a master of the photographic portrait, Keïta's works are included in the collections of many prominent museums and have been exhibited worldwide, including solo exhibitions at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Centre National de la Photographie, Paris and Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris.
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