What do you do when you have enough time on your hands and nothing to do? Why you hop on a plane to Paris of course. Its only natural ;). Paris is joyous in Spring time, absolutely beautiful. This was to be the only sunny day in the city for a while, every other day forecasts showers, so it was equally serendipitous. Now, whilst it is not my favourite city, I adore Paris, it makes me want to return because there is always something to do, an exhibition to see, a restaurant to eat in, the eiffel tower, pastries, Saint Germain…It is down the road from me, quicker than my commute into London, so I didn’t need much of an excuse.
Forever, I don’t remember how long, but FOREVER I’ve wanted to see the work of Seydou Keita, forever and ever. Rare and refined. Poignant and perfect. More than a moment in time, it was the definition of a moment in African history, the time we started to tell our stories. Along with Malik Sidibe, very few artists, photographers etc. resonate with me. So when we heard there was an exhibition in Paris at the Grand Palais, we booked a cheap ticket and hightailed it to Paris. We didn’t want to deal with the stress of the Eurostar especially from Sussex when the trains are jacked up on the weekends. So a ten minute train ride to Gatwick followed by a 45 minute plane ride, we touched down in De Gaulle, got on the B line to Châtelet Les Halles, on the 1 to Champs Élysées and alighted for Grand Palais.
Keita, born in Bamako, got interested in photography at the age of thirteen when his uncle presented him with a Kodak Brownie camera he bought from Senegal. At the time he was a carpenter’s apprentice with his father but was fascinated enough with the camera that he went on to teach himself and master in prints whilst learning under Mountaga Dembele. He bought two more cameras and by 1949 began taking more professional photographs of clients other than family and friends. His studio, an open courtyard in a compound in Bamako Kura, was a popular stop for travellers and the high society set. After the independence of French Sudan, now Mali, he was appointed as personal photographer to President Modibo Keita.
His pictures are unique, of a particular point of view, the background was often one of his patterned curtains that gave a vivid and complimentary contrast to person. The lighting was natural and the atmosphere controlled, despite so much going on in the background, but it never diminished the personality of the focus. This was much more than just taking a picture, this was a narrative of a newly liberated country trying to tell its story to this wider world whilst holding on to its identity.
What Seydou Keita did with his photographs was to highlight African photography, give it an identity as opposed to that which was western told and could often be clichéd. His shots were about the person, shot in a way that did not separate the subject from the atmosphere. The person, the beauty, the uniqueness, in one single photograph Keita captures so much, whether its the slight manoeuvre of the hand, the haunting vividness of the eyes, an attitude, a stance. Its a softness, sharpness, a singular moment that gives so much more.
If you are in Paris between now and 11th of July, go see this and thank me later.
After the exhibition, we were suitably hungry so we grabbed lunch at Cafe Grand Palais, where the bagel was just not an ordinary bagel, warm and fresh, it came with a huge salad. After that we indulged in warm slimy snails and delicious garlic butter you can mop up with french bread, because it would be rude not to when you’re in Paris. Its a rite of passage; when you’re in Paris you live like a Parisian.
After lunch we jumped back on the 1 to Saint Paul for my favourite food group- dessert! But not macarons, Eclairs, specifically L’eclair de Genie, Christophe Adam. Outrageously expensive, at 5 EUR a piece, but insanely divine and possibly well worth it, you be the judge but I enjoyed every mouthful.
We jumped on the train back to De Gaulle in time for our 5pm flight back to Gatwick. Home in time for supper. The only way to kill a day.