Portraits bigger than their frames

Seydou Keïta (1921 — 21 November 2001)

Exhibitions this good are rare to find but when you do it inspires you to be better.

Seydou Keita’s at La Grand Palais isn’t one to miss if you’re heading to Paris.

The majority of Keita’s photographs were taken during his long career pursued at his home studio in his backyard in Mali between 1941-1960.

His models were mainly young Malian professionals who were looking to capture a sense of Western culture into their portraits by using props found within Keita’s studio, (the Italian Vespa scooter features many a time throughout his portfolio).

Whilst I’m standing there with a relatively good Canon camera, it’s difficult to grasp how talented this man was, with limited resources and technology whilst he was working over 50 years ago.

photography exhibition paris
The two elements to Keita’s work that make it so impressive, are the clarity and charisma spread across his whole portfolio. From young children dressed in their finest, to middle-aged gentlemen in their work uniforms, each shot had a story that couldn’t have been airbrushed, sharpened or retouched in Photoshop.

1 fabric background, 1 camera, 1 shot

The real beauty of the exhibition was unearthed through a film at his home back in the 90s. Seydou Keita guided the interviewee through his process of shooting a model and it wasn’t until then that it became clear how portrait photography was second nature to Keita. It is beautifully mind-blowing to see how he accomplished absolutely stunning portraiture with only the most basic of equipment.


It wasn’t until this point that it made you realise that no matter how advanced technology is it will never beat traditional methods and captures from the past. Photography is a beautiful medium and it can be only truly be appreciated when it’s up on the wall where you can reminisce that moment in time.

One scroll on an Instagram feed could cover 50 photographs in under 2 seconds, but one framed photo on a wall could last a lifetime.

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